In my younger days I spent a lot of time experimenting with a great many things in the realm of computers. New games, new software, new OS tweaks, new hardware types, new ways of doing old things. I loved being on the bleeding edge, and if something new that I tried didn’t work out, I usually fussed and fretted and pounded away at it until I made it work out. It was always abundantly clear to me that the world of technology is in constant motion, which meant that the point at which you stopped to hang on to something old was the point at which the freight train would mow you down. And besides, even if you hated that new thing, it was always due to be replaced by the next greatest thing in very short order.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten a little more set in my ways, and I’ve started to become cognizant of this fact in recent months. I’m fairly vocal in my near-total lack of understanding how the tablet computing “revolution” can possibly have any effect upon my work functions — software development and graphic design — other than to make them near impossible to carry out. I’m not at all a fan of the idea that the dumb terminal of the 1970s is coming back, bringing with it a future where all of our software, processing, and storage will be handled by the cloud (read: by someone else’s hands). But I still feel an instinctual pull toward the new and the unknown, a siren song that compels me to keep pace with the technology world and stay firmly planted in the lead car of that unstoppable technology freight train.
The latest test of my tech chops came in the form of the Windows 8 RTM, which was just made available to MSDN subscribers (like my employer) last week. I work for a Microsoft partner, and we’re a pretty small company, so we were all sitting there on Windows 8’s release day hitting F5 on our web browsers until the download appeared in our MSDN account. The first person to get a download started (which, trust me, was no easy feat given how overloaded Microsoft’s servers were) got to be the official “download-bearer” for the company — since there was obviously no need to download the same ISO a half dozen times concurrently — and that just happened to be me.
Admittedly, I was pretty damn excited about it. As much as I love Windows 7 — in fact, I think it is the pinnacle of what the Windows operating system has ever tried to achieve — my inbuilt lust for new technological arrivals had my interest solidly piqued. That night I took the Windows 8 Enterprise ISO, burned it to a DVD (yeah, my 2006-vintage computer can’t boot from USB…you can stop laughing now) and ran a full upgrade on top of my Windows 7 Enterprise install. Naturally, I took care to perform a full image of my Win7 drive first in case I had to go back for some reason.
23 hours later, I called upon the Wayback Machine and Windows 7 returned.
It’s the first time I’ve ever done that. The first time I’ve ever decided that I was going to backtrack and then wait a while before reinstalling a new Windows OS. Hell, I even bought Windows Me. Yes, it was a piece of shit and I switched back to Windows 2000 shortly thereafter, despite its NT kernel not playing very nice with a lot of my Win9x-era software. But at least I gave Windows Me a fair shake. I got rid of Windows 8 after less than a day.
Not that I didn’t have my reasons. Although I actually could have gotten used to the new Metro-style Start screen, and probably would have gotten over my initial resentment at the removal of Aero Glass (which I always really liked the look of), I encountered a number of really aggravating problems. Most of them were little things, like the pesky nits that pissed me off about Windows Vista (but which I nevertheless put up with until Windows 7 mercifully fixed them). Stuff like the inability to group tiles on the Start screen. Or the removal of desktop gadgets, meaning I can no longer see my network, CPU or disk utilization at a glance. Or the unexplained loss of a whopping 12 GB of system drive space during the upgrade. Or the fact that I really wanted to like the new Metro apps (like the built-in PDF reader) but found their lack of options and fixed fullscreen nature so limiting as to be untenable. I’m using a triple-head workstation here; stop treating me like I’m holding a fucking tablet!
But the real deal-breaker was when I realized my computer could no longer be shut down. I’d click the Shut Down button, it would actually turn off, and then it would boot right back up again. Over and over.
Now look, I’m not stupid. I know this can’t be a Windows 8 issue. (Even though merely restoring my Windows 7 image fixed the problem.) More likely, it’s something to do with how my Asus P5W DH Deluxe motherboard and Windows 8 interact. Indeed, I would not be surprised to learn that it’s related to the P5W’s “wake-enabled” USB ports, which I currently enjoy because they enable me to turn on my PC by tapping any key on the keyboard. (Kinda nice when the tower’s on the floor under a desk.) But they’ve caused some weirdness in the past — like all those times I’d come home from a vacation and find my computer running, when no one was around to start it up — so it’s probably the same deal now.
Even so, I got pretty mad. I run a pretty tight software ship, and I have things the way that I like them. When I was half of my current age I probably would’ve been willing to throw all that away just to get acclimated to the latest and greatest, but now I just feel put-upon. Like…sigh, here we go again; all of this damn stuff to figure out how to either get used to, work around or outright replace with third-party hacks — not even counting the real bugs like the shutdown issue that need to be resolved — when all I really want to do is just get something done and then go play games or read before bed, not sit up all night jacking around with an operating system.
I would have (and did) gleefully sat up all night and jacked around with Windows Vista, or XP, or 2000. But that night I installed Windows 8, for some reason, I just wasn’t feeling terribly compelled. So I went to bed, stewed over it at work the next day, and then restored my Windows 7 image when I got home.
In recent days, however, Windows 8 has been creeping back into my mind. I’ve found some potential workarounds for some of the issues I’ve had. I’ve seen Windows 8 in use on my colleagues’ computers and have started to further warm up to some of its features. And that pesky shutdown bug and its ilk are really begging me to dig in and find the solutions. More than that, as a designer, I’ve seen the positive reaction to Windows 8’s cleaner and leaner UI and, while I still think I preferred Aero Glass, I want to see if I can develop a taste for the modern. Because if I don’t, then it won’t just be my own technological tastes that become stuck in the past on some outdated version, it’ll be my design sense, too — especially because I mostly use that design sense for developing business software and enterprise apps. Stuff used by people who will probably also be using Windows 8.
In short, I owe it to my future livelihood to try and come to grips with Windows 8. To understand it. To attempt to recognize where it’s going and see how it’s going to shape what some have (nauseatingly) come to call “the post-PC era”.
A bit dramatic, perhaps, but hey, I can’t deny my ingrained love of the bleeding edge. So as an excuse to go back to that precipice, I could do worse.
This weekend I think I’ll give Windows 8 another go…and jump back on that technology train before I get stranded in BFE.