The Windows 8 Challenge


I’ve configured a system given to me that’s generally similar to my main desktop system with Windows 8.1 Pro. My intent is to use it for a month.

I’ll offer new posts as this goes on, but I’m about 48 hours into this and the rules are set.

My Thinkstation S20 is in the closet, not to be used. I’ve also set aside my Thinkpad and Mac mini which both run Windows 10.

Let’s see how this goes!

Comments (56)

56 responses to “The Windows 8 Challenge”

  1. ErichK

    One thing from that era that remains that I still use to this day -- full screen Start. Love it.

    HOWEVER -- I can no longer deny that removing the actual Start button itself was ... just wrong. I decided to be an advocate for Windows 8 anyway, considering all of the improvements they made underneath the hood.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to ErichK:

      All MSFT had to do to have made Windows 8.x a success would have been to have included a Windows 7-like Start menu as an option. Perhaps not the default, but as easy to choose as adding or removing Windows Media Player. Why didn't MST? Because it wanted (believed it needed?) to force PC users to get used to the Windows Phone Live Tiles UI.

      Some people liked that, but it seems a lot of people didn't.

      • maethorechannen

        In reply to hrlngrv:

        All they needed to was make it switchable but have a sensible default - full screen on an 8" tablet and traditional on a desktop. 2 in 1s could be treated like a tablet, at least out of the box.

        It wasn't just Microsoft that lost the plot when pundits declared that we were now in the Post-PC era. Ubuntu did the exact same thing before Microsoft did, but with more dire consequences (it pretty much ended Ubuntu as the go to Linux Desktop distro for a lot of people). At least Microsoft didn't have to face people giving up and switching to "OS/2 Warp 10".

        • Paul Thurrott

          In reply to maethorechannen:


          But it wasn't "pundits" declaring the post-PC era. Microsoft has been looking past Windows for over 20 years, and by the time Windows 8 came around, they were the ones who believed it was time.

          We gotta get past this "shoot the messenger" mentality. Microsoft made Windows 8. It was their choice.

          • gregsedwards

            In reply to paul-thurrott:

            To be fair, though, I recall there a period leading up to and even following Windows 8's release when there was some real enthusiasm for it among most tech pundits, including yourself. I recall episodes of WW from the summer of 2012, just before Windows 8 RTM, where you referred to it as "insane and beautiful" and saying that you "really like Windows 8 on the desktop." At the time, you lauded its simple, digital-first design and iconography. You liked the way it put the focus on the information and de-emphasized the UI. You were optimistic that the rise of tablets were going to make it a game changer. Mary Jo was the one calling it a disaster at the time.

            It's really easy to look back and point out all the bad decisions and missed opportunities, but I think Windows 8 was quite innovative and visionary in its own way - for the time. Had tablets taken off like Microsoft expected/hoped, then the touch-first UI might have been ideal. Had Windows Mobile not failed, then having a familiar user experience across multiple devices might have been a real advantage. The fact is they were following a model that had just brought Apple phenomenal success, but it just didn't resonate the same way with their audience.

            So, it's not as much "shoot the messenger" as "shoot the Monday morning quarterback." ?

            • hrlngrv

              In reply to gregsedwards:

              Had tablets taken off like Microsoft expected/hoped, then the touch-first UI might have been ideal.

              If we can believe Statista, there are about 1.25 billion tablets in use worldwide in 2019. Hard to argue tablets didn't take off. OTOH, MSFT absolutely didn't expect/hope that Android would be on 2/3 of them, iOS on the other 1/3, and anything from MSFT no where to be found. Raising a question: why did Windows fail so abysmally as a tablet AS TABLET OS? I figure price: Apple didn't need to pay itself royalties for iOS, and Google didn't charge for Android. By the time MSFT discovered that it had to give Windows away for free on 6-8" tablets in order to have a slight hope for making money from web services, it was too late.

              Had Windows Mobile not failed, then having a familiar user experience across multiple devices might have been a real advantage.

              Debatable. I'd love to see MSFT's telemetry showing the % of users who either use a 3rd party Start menu replacement or have NO live tiles at all on their Start menu. In 2012 I figure there were at least 10 times more people who would have preferred Windows 8 looked and worked more like Windows 7 than like Windows phones.

              I figure Windows phones failed for the same reason small Windows tablets did: cost of the OS for OEMs. The alternatives may have lacked live tiles, but they had A LOT MORE APPS and cost less for hardware manufacturers.

              Putting it another way, MSFT believed it could do to small tablets and phones what it had done to PCs, but for some reason 3rd party hardware manufacturers didn't go along. Maybe they learned from PC OEMs?

            • robincapper

              In reply to gregsedwards:

              It's main problem, which amazingly still persists in Windows 10, was the UI was unfinished, inconsistently applied, and their was almost no user migration to help adjust to the new UI.

              I still find few know about the (quite good) "Tips" app resource in Windows 10.

            • boots

              In reply to gregsedwards:

              In some ways Windows Phone had a more traditional, less touch-first UI than Windows 8 did. Windows phone had an always visible Start button, Context menus when long pressing certain items, a "..." menu at the bottom of apps, and close buttons for apps in the task switcher. Windows 8 took "touch-first" too far and unnecessarily hid all this behind gestures and hot-corners, which made it less user friendly than Windows Phone and far less user friendly as a desktop OS.

        • hrlngrv

          In reply to maethorechannen:

          If you mean Unity fubarred Ubuntu, many shared that opinion. Drove me off to Linux Mint MATE (lighter than Cinnamon) and Crunchbang died and reborn as Bunsen Labs. Then again, as bad as Unity may be, it's still better than plain, unaugmented Gnome 3. There's a desktop environment which put developers orthodoxy over usability and users.

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to ErichK:

      I can't support the full-screen Start experience. :)

      But you're right about the underpinnings, it was a huge improvement over Windows 7. It's a shame the UX killed it for everyone, and it would have been easy to just make it optional.

    • jimchamplin

      In reply to ErichK:

      We may be some of the only folks who think that. I still enjoy the corner gestures, personally. It made using it feel so interactive. Closest we could feel to Minority Report! ?

    • Greg Green

      In reply to ErichK:

      I think Win 8.1’s failure was due to clueless marketing. All they had to do is say The Desktop is Back. But they didn’t. All advertising images I saw in flyers, on retail websites, even MS’ website showed the tile desktop display on PCs and laptops, leaving the masses with the impression it was still the wrong Windows.

  2. justme

    I also had almost forgotten this experiment. Any updates, Jim? Are you still running 8.1 Pro? Have you added it to any other machines? Or have you gone back to 10?

  3. boots

    You don't mention it. Do you have a touchscreen or are using a Keyboard and Mouse?

  4. justme

    Windows 8.1 Pro is the OS on my primary machine, and my preferred version of Windows. You should have almost zero problems. For myself, I couple it with Start8, and have a version of Windows that is better than being WIndows7 than Windows7 (IMO).

    • jimchamplin

      In reply to JustMe:

      I didn’t expect any issues either. I just thought it would be fun. ?

      So far, so good! I may even go nuclear and replace 10 on my Thinkstation when the month is over.

      No joke. The experience is just more consistent and polished.

  5. anderb

    Hey Jim! It's been a month.

    I'll give you my own update: I didn't even bother to install Classic Shell. I have found Windows 8.1 to be a totally fine replacement for Windows 7 as-is.

  6. ErichK

    Ha! I forgot about this little experiment...

    So how goezit Jimmy?

  7. jimchamplin

    I had absolutely forgotten to post the results!

    Okay, it went quite well! I did switch back to 10 on my main system just because there are several store apps I need still.

    I did switch my Dell convertible to 8 though, since it’s used almost entirely as touch, and with 4GB of RAM, not for anything beyond browsing.

    Moreover, the experiment made me think about OS choice. In the end, do I need every application available on every system? When I arrive back home later, I’ll expand on this.

  8. jimchamplin

    So, regarding OS choice I mentioned earlier, this has made me think differently about the topic than I had before. Is Windows 10 the best fit for every system it can run on? Certainly it’s the best from a performance standpoint, being more optimized and tuned. Does that mean that it’s the best choice every. Single. Time?

    In the case of one system I mentioned... no, not really. Because of its low specs (Atom, eMMC storage) the benefits of 10’s improvements are essentially lost. Windows 8.1 is really nice on it though! Being a detachable convertible, 8.x’s far superior touch UI is a dream to use.

    Another low-spec system (Celeron, eMMC and only 2GB of RAM) just crawls with Windows, no matter what version. It now runs Neverware Cloudready, a distribution of Chromium OS that runs on pretty much any PC. It’s quick, it’s smooth and slick. And yeah, it does the awesome transparent updates like a “real” Chromebook.

    These are just a couple of things I came through thinking more about.


    • infloop

      In reply to jimchamplin:

      You have a point, and when you think about it, you realize that you just need the right tools for the job. And then it doesn't really matter what you use. Be that Windows, macOS, Linux, or Chrome OS. And that you don't need to have every application on every system all the time.

    • justme

      In reply to jimchamplin:

      Its all about the right tools for the job. In some circumstances, W10 may make sense. In others, it certainly doesnt.

      My "grand" W10 experiment was to put W10 on my SP3 that originally had W8.1 on it. I did it at the start of the year to coincide with the final year of W7 support because as a PC gamer I know I will eventually have to run it - currently my SP3 is my only non-work machine that runs W10. What I am finding is that there is no compelling reason to upgrade any other machine I have running W8.1. I will likely keep the SP3 on W10, at least until it is replaced - at which point I will image the machine (backups == good;) and convert it to Linux (at least, that is my current plan).

  9. Tony Barrett

    If you can look past the awful start screen (or even use a replacement), 8.1 is very usable, and more like Win7 than 10 in many ways.

    When 8 came out, everyone compared it to 7, and said how bad it was, but many were only concentrating on the start screen. Comparing 8.1 to 10 is a different thing altogether, and if you don't like the direction 10 is heading, 8.1 offers a consistent, familiar UI with 'old school' updates and none of the forced features MS keep throwing out the door that seem to break as many things as they fix.

    • jimchamplin

      In reply to ghostrider:

      The Start screen isn't awful.

      Honestly, the Windows 10 tablet mode is a weak and shitty shadow of the Windows 8.x touch UX. Microsoft showed their corporate cowardace when they showd 10's "Tablet mode" because it's weak and shitty.

      Weak and shitty.

      If I could, I'd choose the Windows 8 UI over 10 right now. The interactive element makes it a joy to use for those who aren't scared.

      I'm not seeking opinions of Windows 8.x.

      I'm only here to report my experience.

      And I just had a night of gaming on Blizzard titles like Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm. I'm playing on Nvidia GeForce NOW beta, and have experienced no issues. I'm getting far-faster than native FPS at higher settings than my hardware (AMD Phenom x4 and Nvidia GeForce GT 730) would allow. (Normal system is a quad Xeon E5530 (HT-enabled for 8 virtual cores with GeForce GT 1030)

      GeForce NOW outclasses all of my native hardware and delivers amazing performance! My roomie and I can play Overwatch together and I don't experience any degredation! Good service. Please check it out.

      Wraa wraa wraa...

      Stuff works lookin' out my back door.

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to jimchamplin:

        Honestly, the Windows 10 tablet mode is a weak and shitty shadow of the Windows 8.x touch UX.

        You're not the only one who's made this point. Me, I don't like the Windows 8.x launcher, but I can accept that for those who do it's better than what Windows 10 provides. Leads me to believe that MSFT doesn't listen to customers. Obviously it didn't listen to customers who wanted to keep using a Windows 7-like launcher, and it seems MSFT is also at best indifferent to those who believe Windows 8.x fullscreen Start is better than Windows 10's.

        MSFT still makes it possible for Windows users with sufficient privileges to change parts of the Windows shell, e.g., Start10 and Classic Shell (but, sadly, no longer LiteStep, Emerge Desktop, BBWin). You may want to ponder the implications of no 3rd party developer trying to recreate the Windows 8.x Start screen as an alternative for Windows 10.

        • jimchamplin

          In reply to hrlngrv:

          In both cases, they did the same thing. Just wholesale replaced what was there with no option to switch back.

          If 8 had the option to switch to the previous Start, there would have been no problems. If 10 could switch to a pure 8 mode, well... >shrug< Well at this point it's neither here nor there, but there's an alternate universe where Microsoft didn't screw up and Windows is still on top.

          • hrlngrv

            In reply to jimchamplin:

            . . . and Windows is still on top

            It still is on PCs, and likely will remain so for at least another decade unless thin clients really catch on.

            In no other market was it ever on top, so still doesn't apply.

            If you mean it's a shame Windows Phone/Mobile isn't a thriving mobile OS, OK, but I figure MSFT would have done a lot better calling their mobile OS something other than Windows.

            • Greg Green

              In reply to hrlngrv:

              It was on top of all personal computing, now it’s on top only on desktops and laptops. Number one personal computing device is now the smart phone. In less than a decade MS went from 90% to 40% of the personal computing market.

        • lwetzel

          In reply to hrlngrv:

          It is impossible for Microsoft to provide a product that would satisfy everyone. I liked Windows 8 and I like Windows 10. I don't like parts of both. I do however understand I have to live with some and enjoy others. Overall I feel it is the best they have ever put out. It is the best operating system I have ever used. I've been dealing with computer since before Apple's first came out.


          . . . and Windows is still on top

          It still is on PCs, and likely will remain so for at least another decade unless thin clients really catch on.

          In no other market was it ever on top, so still doesn't apply."

          Linux has never been on the top of the market for PC's and Apple was on the top of the market on Apple hardware (since they are the only hardware) so, it is not really a valid point you try to make.

          I think this is more than a computer thing though. I think it is a societal issue. We are inclined to care only about what we want and what others like, think, or need is of no interest.

  10. Paul Thurrott

    I think this will go well.

  11. anderb

    Not that much of a challenge really. Install Classic Shell and you effectively have a version of Windows 7 that is supported until 2023. It’s a legitimate way to avoid all the ads, telemetry, forced updates and quality issues that plague Windows 10 for another 3 years.

    • jimchamplin

      In reply to anderb:

      Won’t be doing that though. Gonna use it straight from the box. Maybe after the month, though!

      • anderb

        In reply to jimchamplin:

        It's still the standard operating environment at the company I work for. I've had to use it for the last 3 years and it's been rock solid. MS could have buried the touch UI for non-touch devices with the 8.1 update but I guess that would have been admitting they screwed up big time.

        Pretty sure I'll be updating my home Windows 7 box to 8.1 instead of 10 when support for 7 ends.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to anderb:

      With Classic Shell one has the option of going all the way back to a Windows 2K Start menu. Simplicity of that menu plus a search box.

      • warren

        In reply to hrlngrv:

        An under-discussed and under-appreciated aspect of the Windows 10 Start menu is that you can make it single-column. This hasn't been possible since Windows Vista.

        To set it up:

        1. Remove all the tiles
        2. Grab the right-hand side of the start menu and drag it all the way left
        3. In Settings -> Personalization -> Start, turn on "Show app list in Start menu", and optionally turn off "Show must used apps".
        4. Go into "Choose which folders to appear on Start", turn on "Settings" and whatever else you'd like to have. ("Personal folder" is particularly nice because it'll open Explorer in your profile root directory; there's no easy way to get there once Explorer is open)

        • hrlngrv

          In reply to warren:

          "Personal folder" is particularly nice because it'll open Explorer in your profile root directory; there's no easy way to get there once Explorer is open

          Other than clicking in Explorer's address bar and entering %USERPROFILE%, then pinning the profile directory to the Quick access list.

          Who stores anything in their top-level profile directory? OK, I have one program, Euler, which puts its working directory there rather than under %APPDATA%, but that's it.

          • warren

            In reply to hrlngrv:

            It's a good directory to put things in if you've got a roaming profile, but you don't want certain files to roam. Git source code repositories, for example.

            A lot of cross-platform applications put their configuration files in dot-files in the profile root as well. .azure, .vscode, .viminfo, .eslintrc, .ssh, .dotnet, .nuget, .omnisharp.... you get the idea. There's no Unix equivalent of a per-user "app data" folder, and files/folders starting with a . are hidden by default, so that's how we ended up with this.

            • hrlngrv

              In reply to warren:

              %APPDATA% is for roaming, %LOCALAPPDATA% is for machine-specific.

              Re vim, I use a Linux-like %HOME% on a drive other than C:. A lot of other FOSS also looks for %HOME% first.

              There's no Unix equivalent of a per-user "app data" folder

              ~/.cache, ~/.config and ~/.local/share aren't analagous?

              Granted LOTS of older and overly traditional software dump dot-files and dot-directories in ~, e.g., .adobe, .cups, .dropbox, .gconf, .gnome-commander, .googleearth, .macromedia, .mozilla, .themes, .vimrc, .zshrc.

  12. madthinus

    I really liked Windows 8. It was fast and clean and had some really good refinements for the Desktop. The full start screen was jarring, but I like the all app view and start search was supper easy to use. By the time we got to 8.1 they had a solid thing going. Charms however, was always stupid.

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