Why I love Windows 8 (but don’t have 8.1 yet)

Update to Windows 8.1 for free on the Windows 8 app store... or so they say
Update to Windows 8.1 for free on the Windows 8 app store… or so they say

On Thursday Microsoft released Windows 8.1 into the wild. Hmmm… there be dragons!

The upgrade hasn’t gone particularly smoothly for a lot of people (including me) judging by this thread (“Couldn’t update to Windows 8.1 – 0xC1900101 – 0x40017”) on the official Microsoft Community Windows forum and this article (“Windows 8.1 launch weekend plagued by some show-stopping installation issues”) on PC World.com.

The Windows RT upgrade (for Surface tablets) was removed from the app store until they could figure out what was going on. Microsoft released a “recovery image” yesterday to try to address the issue. Time will tell if it has worked, I can’t see past the search engine results noise of it having been removed.

The Windows 8.1 upgrade disappeared from my Windows 8 store for a day or two as well, but re-appeared last night. I’m still not going to try to upgrade again until I know for sure that it will work.

Windows 8

Windows 8.1 was meant to address some of the criticisms of the original Windows 8 release, particularly the removal of the Windows start button and that Windows 8 boots to the new Modern/Metro UI start screen, rather than to the desktop.

I have to say that I have been a huge fan of Windows 8 since the beta. I had the beta installed on my laptop right until the RTM edition was launched. Since then I’ve defended Windows 8 to everyone and anyone.

Windows 8 has been, by far, the fastest, most stable, most secure version of Windows I’ve used (since my standalone, not-connected-to-the-internet version of Windows for Workgroups 3.11 in the mid-90s). My desktop PC boots up and is working within about 20-30 seconds. Compare that with my Windows 7 Dell beast of a PC at work which can take about 10 minutes to start up and become fully responsive.

Start button

As for those two criticisms about the lack of start button and not booting directly to the desktop, well Start8 from Stardock (USD $4.99) addresses both those issues.

Start8 gives me back my start button and Windows 7-like start menu
Start8 gives me back my start button and Windows 7-like start menu

Firmly ticked is the configuration option in Start8 that reads “Automatically go to the Desktop when I sign in“.

I rarely use any of the Metro UI applications (occasionally TV Catch-up, the Steam tile app, and a couple of games with the boys) so it makes sense for me to jump straight to the desktop. This application saves me a click.

To be honest I installed Start8 mostly to make the PC more accessible to my wife Jane, who uses it occasionally. I didn’t want her to have to bother with the convoluted Windows 8 nonsense of Win+C > Settings > Power > Shut down, or Win+C > Settings > Control Panel to access the Control Panel. I reality though, I use those features most.

Start screen

I also have to confess that I really like the Windows 8 start screen. My grumble about the traditional Start menu in XP, Vista, 7 is that it’s a mess. It lists everything that is installed and gives everything equal status.

The Windows 8 start screen allows me to customise it for my own needs, my own priorities.

And if I want to see everything: Win + Q takes me there.

I can pin to the taskbar those applications that I use most frequently, the rest I can pin to the start screen and arrange into named groups. It’s so easy my four year old boys can use it.

The Windows 8 start screen on my PC.
The Windows 8 start screen on my desktop PC.

I used another paid-for application from Startdock to customize the background of my start screen: Decor8 (USD $4.99).

A desktop-centric Windows 8 PC

This gives me the best of both worlds: the speed and stability of Windows 8 coupled with the desktop-centric focus of Windows 7.

In each version of Windows that I’ve used I’ve tweaked it and wrestled with its user-interface to give me the experience that works for me. With Windows 3.11 I used Calmira, in Windows 98 it was power toys and TweakUI, in XP I created my own toolbars. Why should this operating system be any different? Surely that’s one of the beauties of Windows.

I really don’t understand these grumbles of “I hate Windows 8 and the Modern/Metro UI!” To be honest, I don’t notice the juxtaposition of desktop vs Modern/Metro UI much. I ignore most of it. I don’t have a touch screen, I have all the Windows desktop applications that I need and only occasionally dabble with the odd Modern/Metro app. And Start8 and Decor8 allow me to quickly tweak the rest

Windows 8.1

And so back to Windows 8.1. I would rather like to upgrade sometime soon.

I tried it on Friday.

It all seemed to be going well until the second boot when it halted the screen that Windows 8 shows when it’s booting up. The little spinner just kept on spinning… for about 30 minutes. So I rebooted the PC… and it did the same until it quickly flashed up a blue screen of death (BSOD) and about 10 minutes later returned me to Windows 8 and a message similar to this one but with error code 0xC1900101 – 0x40017.

Couldn't update to Windows 8.1
Couldn’t update to Windows 8.1

I’ve been closely following, and contributing to the thread on the Microsoft Community. People have had limited success it would appear with certain workarounds working for some but not others: uninstall graphics card drivers, uninstall SteelSeries Engine software, unplug everything, etc.

I have a SteelSeries mouse. I could uninstall it and try the upgrade again, but do you know what? It’s 2013. Why should I have to? Modern operating systems should just work and upgrade without any kind of hardcore hardware geekery.

I’m going to wait until either Microsoft have figured out a way for the operating system to work around or quietly remove incompatible device drivers or until Steel Series have made their drivers compatible with Windows 8.1. Which in my opinion they should have done by now.

Windows 8.1 was code-named “Blue”. It looks like they omitted “…Screen of Death” at the end of it.

Disappointing, and at a time when Microsoft is fighting to stay relevant this seems to me to be a terrible blow to its reputation. As I said, I’ve been almost evangelical about the stability and reliability of Windows 8. I’m not at all confident about upgrading to 8.1 now. That’s not a good thing.

The trial continues…

Google Chrome and Flash

On Monday I blogged about Shockwave Flash crashing in Google Chrome 10.

Reassuringly/disappointingly I wasn’t the only person to experience this annoyance. PC Pro published an article on Tuesday: Chrome update takes out Flash. The article highlighted a couple of things that I hadn’t realised:

  1. Google was now ‘sandboxing’ Flash; in other words, any issues experienced with a particular website that uses Flash (e.g. malware) doesn’t spread beyond the tab that is running it.
  2. The Adobe Flash plugin was crashing when there were multiple instances of Flash on a page.

The Google Chrome support forum has been a busy place of late, and I’ve been keeping a close eye on the thread entitled Chrome 10 – Flash Crashes.

Google Chrome channels

One piece of advise was to try the developer channel of Google Chrome.

Google run three release channels of Chrome:

  1. Stable
  2. Beta
  3. Developer

I generally run the Beta channel as it tends to receive the latest features a couple of weeks before Stable does.

And sure enough, now that I’m running the dev channel version of Chrome the issue with Flash has gone.

chrome-10.0.648.134

Above: Google Chrome 10.0.648.134 beta which I’ve been having problems with.

chrome-11.0.696.12-dev

Above: Google Chrome 11.0.696.12 dev which I’ve so far had no Flash crashes with.

I really love that the image on the About Google Chrome screen on the dev channel shows that it’s not quite as polished and shiny a version as beta. Nice touch.

Shockwave Flash crashing in Google Chrome 10

20110314-shockwaveflashcrashinchrome

Probably about a year ago I moved from using Mozilla Firefox as my number 1 browser to using Google Chrome.

I didn’t mean to switch from Firefox. I’d been a huge fan of Firefox since before version 1.0 was released. Hey! I even contributed financially to Mozilla’s appeal to raise money for the launch and my name was published with thousands of others in a full-page advert in the NYTimes in December 2004.

But Google Chrome was just so fast.

It started quickly (more quickly than Opera), it rendered Web pages quickly and being built on the WebKit engine it supported Web standards well and supported the latest HTML5 and CSS3 developments.

Chrome Chrash

But since upgrading to Google Chrome 10 (and 10 beta) I’ve had nothing but trouble with the Adobe Shockwave Flash plugin crashing every few websites.  Since Chrome 5 (released in June 2010) the Flash plugin now comes built-in to the browser, rather than relying on the separate plugin installation that Firefox, Opera and Internet Explorer use.

It seems that I’m not the only person to experience this, which comes as something of a relief to me. There is currently a discussion on the Google Chrome help forum entitled ‘Chrome 10 – Flash Crashes’ which is making for an interesting read.

One suggested fix/workaround is this:

  1. Go to about:plugins
  2. Click on the [+] Details link (top right).
  3. You’ll see two listings for Shockwave Flash. I’ve got “10.2 r154” and “10.2.r152”.  The former is located in C:\Users, the later in C:\Windows\system.
  4. The advice is to disable the built-in version (the C:\Users version).

I’ve been running this workaround all evening and as yet haven’t experienced a crash.

I’ll be watching this issue very closely… who knows, I may be moving to Opera 11.1 for a while very shortly.

Update

Tuesday 15 March: that workaround didn’t last. Shockwave Flash has been crashing again this evening. So I’ve just re-enabled it, if that’s not going to do anything.

Update 2

Wednesday 16 March: I’ve now updated to the Dev channel as someone said that version 11.0.696.12 dev was working fine for him without Flash crashing.