Windows 8: Why You Should Upgrade Now, And How You Can Live With It

By now, the much-maligned Metro UI in Windows 8 has many people convinced the upgrade is just not worth the hassle, especially for an OS that appears to do nothing but make life more difficult for anyone not using a touch-based device. 

The problem is, the UI is the first thing everyone sees, and it deters most from ever looking under the hood.  And that’s about to be a very expensive mistake. 

I last posted about the upcoming pricing changes pending from Microsoft, and this should stir a little urgency amongst those still resisting the update.  Now I’d like to also share a few less-heralded, but still significant, features that make Windows 8 a worthwhile investment, as well as a work-around I like to use to live without the Metro UI that you probably don’t want to deal with.

  1. It’s faster.  Microsoft has spent a lot of time streamlining the OS in order to reduce its footprint on handheld devices.  The benefit for desktop users is that boot times are substantially faster, and the amount of processor time and memory occupied by Windows is lower.  Your Windows 7 PC will boot and run faster with Windows 8.
  2. Built-in Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware.  I have long abandoned third party anti-virus solutions, preferring the free (and less resource intense) Microsoft Security Essentials on my Win7 machines.  Now that feature is built-in to Windows 8, in the form of Windows Defender.  Out of the box, your machine has automatically updating protection, and you don’t need to spend a nickel on a third-party solution (or download a “free” solution that will nag you to “go pro” all the time).
  3. Unobtrusive updates.  Your machine patches itself once a month, and gives you a discreet warning when it’s due for a reboot. 
  4. Improved Task Manager.  I could probably write an entire article on this.  Suffice it to say, it presents a lot more detail on process utilization, and even gives you options to tweak or disable “high impact” background processes that may be affecting your performance.  It’s very simple to disable those annoying startup daemons that eat memory for no good reason other than to make sure your iTunes is up-to-date. 
  5. You get to run Metro apps.  I know.  You probably don’t want to.  But it’d be nice to have the option, wouldn’t it?  Windows 8 isn’t going away, nor is Microsoft’s app store. 
  6. Synchronization across multiple devices.  Built-in SkyDrive support and the ability to synch files and settings over multiple Win8 computers, tablets, and phones is something Microsoft has wisely copied (and even improved) from what Apple users have enjoyed for a few years now. 

As for Metro – believe me, I get it.  It’s certainly possible to get used to it on a desktop computer, but I personally never enjoyed the full-screen apps and not having a Start button and menu to drive from.  I like having multiple Windows open, and I like seeing them all lined up on my task bar.

There used to be a registry hack to restore the Start button in early release candidates of Win8, but Microsoft explicitly disabled it by the time the release candidate came out.  It didn’t take long for a number of add-ons to emerge to fill the demand for a Windows 8 Start menu, but many of them were either buggy or cost money. 

I found one that I’ve been using for months, didn’t cost me a nickel, is highly customizable (more so than Windows 7 itself was), and has worked without fail since I first installed it.  Classic Shell gives you your Start Menu, along with a Classic Explorer to bring your Windows Explorer back to the way you like it.  It’s free, regularly updated, easy to install and configure, and doesn’t introduce any noticeable overhead in system performance (on my machine, it’s using 1.1MB of RAM right now).

Don’t delay.  It gets a lot more expensive February 1. 

You can view more details of Microsoft’s current offer here.

Now is the Time to Upgrade to Windows 8

If you don’t mind spending an extra $160, by all means, wait until February 1.

Currently, you can purchase a Windows 8 Pro digital upgrade for just $39.99.  But when January is over, the price skyrockets to $199.99.

The Windows 8 Media Center Pack will also cost you $9.99 on February 1 – you can get it free right now here.

Windows 8 is not an essential upgrade from Windows 7, but it is a good one, and its worth getting cheap while you still can.

The new Metro interface has been much maligned, but I’ll be writing a future post on how you can get your familiar Windows 7 interface back with minimal effort, and still enjoy all the benefits of Windows 8.

Get the full details on Windows 8 pricing at the Windows Blog here.

Did Your Windows 8 RC Expire Yesterday?

I’ve been running the Windows 8 Release Candidate for about six months now. I’m sure Microsoft probably mentioned at some point during the installation that it would expire on January 15, 2013, but that information had been long forgotten, and, to my disappointment, the operating system that I’ve been using on my primary personal computer did NOT warn me prior to yesterday.

So, imagine my dismay when I got home from work last night and discovered that my PC was a rebooting time-bomb, crashing and re-starting itself in protest every two hours as I was running a now-unlicensed version of Windows.

“No problem,” I thought, “I’ll just pull up my MSDN subscription, grab a valid key, and keep on working, right?”

Wrong.

First, you cannot simply license the Release Candidate. You MUST install one of the retail versions, either via download or conventional media. This was a bit of a problem, as I didn’t have the media, and because I’m on a slower Internet connection at home, I could not download the media in under 2 hours.

Furthermore, Microsoft does not want you to do in-place upgrades from the RC – you can migrate your data with a retail install, but your settings and applications are effectively lost in the process, requiring the usual re-install and re-configuration. While I know the value of clean installs, and understand Microsoft’s motivation, from a supportability standpoint, for requiring this, I found this requirement exceptionally inconvenient, especially having no time to prepare for a lengthy re-configuration of my personal computer in the middle of a busy week.

To solve the 2-hour reboot problem, I was able to simply set my clock back a week on the computer, making sure to disable the Internet time updates (note – if you reboot your machine, your BIOS may “fix” this for you, so you may have changes settings there as well). This gave the machine time to complete the download of the .iso file for the install.

Additionally, some research online determined that I could “fool” the new install into accepting my RC as a valid update client by extracting the .iso to a folder on the hard drive, and editing the /sources/cversion.ini file to look like the following:

[HostBuild]
MinClient=7100.0
MinServer=7100.0

This will essentially allow you to update even the earliest developer release of Win8 to the full consumer retail versions, keeping all of your apps and settings intact.

Of course, this work around is completely unsupported by Microsoft, technically, so, don’t expect much help from them if there’s an issue. Doing a clean install is always an option of last resort. As always, be sure to have a backup of your critical files before making any substantial changes like this to your operating system.