Upgrading to Windows 8

Karen Hellekson's picture

I bit the bullet and upgraded my Windows 7 laptop to Windows 8, seduced by the promise of faster boot times and more security, not to mention its decent price. I downloaded the installer, had it check my system for compatibility, paid my money, and let the OS install. I did not bother backing up or migrating any info, because everything I care about is in my perfectly synced Dropbox account.

Was the upgrade worth it? After 2 solid days of attempting to tweak everything to permit functionality and productivity, I’d have to say no. My recommendation: only bother with Windows 8 if it is preinstalled on your new computer or if you have a touchscreen device. Things may get better when there are more Win 8 apps, but right now, the biggest flaw is the system’s inability to play nice with Google. If you’re waiting for official Google apps—keep waiting. Google has announced that for now, they will not be making apps for Win 8.

After 3 solid days of tweaking, I finally have things how I want them. Yet why was it so hard? I googled questions I had and followed the directions once it became clear that I could not possibly work with what came natively with Win 8. The two biggest weaknesses of Win 8 apps are the failure to include any kind of simple, light photo editor (I installed Gimp) and the failure to include software to play CDs/DVDs (I installed VLC Media Player). I had the most trouble getting the Calendar app to work usefully.

When working properly, Calendar will show me upcoming events on its live Start tile. Its biggest weakness is that if you sync it directly with Gcal, it will only sync a single calendar, the main one. There’s a hack for this, but confusingly, Calendar is tied to Mail to update and a sync may not be forced. After several false starts, I managed to sync all five calendars with the Calendar app by pushing all the calendars to my Hotmail account following these instructions. The push works one way: I update my Google calendars in a browser, and it gets mirrored everywhere else. I also have my Google calendar as a shortcut (via Chrome) on the Start menu so I can access it with a single click.

The main criticisms of Win 8 are its nonintuitive Start screen interface and its insistence on making app screens full screen. Both of these are the result of the OS’s optimization for a touchscreen device. There are many shortcuts, both with mouse and keyboard (I can’t assess touch). In general, I have no problem with the interface. The Alt+Tab shortcut still works to flip between screens. The Charms menu (Win+C) is context sensitive, so the function of the five icons differs depending on where you are. Right clicking, dragging, tabbing, using arrow keys with Ctrl or Alt modifiers, hitting return—all of these (mostly) make sense to people used to keyboard shortcuts.

The hardest part was getting Calendar to work. The easiest part was editing the Start screen to look like I wanted. Adding and grouping tiles is simple. I also love the instant search: to boot a program, flip to the Start screen and start typing its name. When the program you want comes up, hit return and it launches. Easy. Another nice surprise: I use a heavily modified version of Word, and although I had to reinstall Office 2010, the system remembered all my Word preferences. My templates and remapped shortcuts were still there.

My Win 8 Start screen
My Win 8 Start screen

Programs I installed: CCleaner, Chrome (must use as default for Google functionality), Defraggler, Dropbox, Filezilla, Firefox, FreeStudio (file conversion), Gimp, iTunes, MakeMKV, Merriam-Webster, Microsoft Office 2010, Revo Uninstaller, VLC Media Player, Windows Media Player

Free Win 8 apps I installed from the Store: Facebook Touch, Google, Multimedia 8 (does not play DVDs), password manager, Photobucket, Skype, To-Dos

Win 8 tiles I created: Computer, Control Panel, Google Calendar, My Clients, Shutdown, Videos

Built-in Win 8 tiles I kept: Calendar, Contacts, Mail, Messaging, Photos, Social, Weather

Most useless Win 8 tiles: Photos (view only), Music (actually a marketplace), Video (actually a marketplace)

Filed under: lifehack

Karen Hellekson

Publication date (from feed): 

Wed, 02 Jan 2013 18:37:25 +0000