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.