Daily Musings

Season of OS change

Posted on: June 18, 2012

2012 brings with it a sea of changes in terms of OS we use. Microsoft is all set to release Windows 8 sometime later during the year (most probably Sep-Oct). As they did with Windows 7, they started to launch a series of previews for developers/end users. Windows 8 Developers Preview was launched in the fourth quarter of 2011 and then Consumer Preview was launched sometime during Feb-March 2012. Now Microsoft has also released Release Preview which is supposed to be the pre-cursor for what we (as end users) are actually going to get with the final release.

Since the release of Consumer Preview, I had wanted to download and try out the new Windows but couldn’t do so firstly because of lack of an internet connection and then because the connection I did manage to get had a download cap of 5 GB (after which the speeds reduce to pathetically slow levels) and the Windows 8 Consumer Preview ISO file is around 3.3 GB (for 64Bit). Finally, I got hold of a copy of Windows 8 Consumer Preview (although the Release Preview has already released) in the DVD of my favorite tech magazine – Digit (http://www.thinkdigit.com). Apart from Windows 8 CP, there was another DVD which contained the latest Ubuntu Precise Pangolin (12.04) and Fedora 16 (Fedora 17 is also available for download now).

Since the days of Windows 7’s preview I got excited about the way Microsoft started to change its course in terms of the usability they started to provide and so I decided to install Windows 8 first. I created a bootable USB drive of Windows 8 using the same method I used for creating USB drive for Windows 7 (Click Here).

Installation was pretty simple (some enhancements to the installer found with Windows 7) and fast too. I was mighty impressed by the new (minimal) boot screen and the startup time of the Win 8 (I feel this is the fastest Windows by far). Win 8 seems to be directed towards touch interfaces from the ground up. Right from the login/lock screen to the start page (YES! we are greeted with a start-page akin to that found in the Windows 7.5 Phone with all the app tiles (known as Metro Interface). The start page has tiles for almost all the required apps including videos, internet, music, pictures, games, desktop etc. We still have the good ol’ desktop albeit with a change and mighty one at that! There is no start button…no menu… only a plain looking desktop (similar to that found on Win 7).

This desktop has some hot-spots (I couldn’t find another name for it) on three corners of the desktop and one hot-spot is common for Start page too. The hot-spot in top-left corner displays a list of open metro apps (this one is the common hot-spot). Another one can be found in the bottom-left corner which is a short-cut to open the Start page. Then there is another hot-spot in the bottom-right corner which brings up a transparent dock on the right hand side of the desktop. This dock has a few icons which link to 1. Start Page, 2. Settings, 3. Devices and there are two more icons which I do not remember for now 🙂

So basically, there are tons of ways to go back to the Start page which means Microsoft wants users to use its metro interface more than the desktop which brings to fore their future plan of doing away with the traditional desktop altogether (in favor of Metro Interface).

I must say Microsoft has learnt a lot from the debacle of Vista and started preparing well for future versions of their OS. And they did pretty decent job with Windows 7 and have definitely moved a step farther with Windows 8. Windows 8 is the best looking and most user-friendly OS by Microsoft IMHO. The metro interface is a refreshing change from the boring screen filled with icons. This is a department where MS has really made a change. Almost all other OSs including iOS, Android, Ubuntu (and other Linux based OS) are bland. They have got this common feel to them. The same old screen with icons feel. This is where the Windows 8 is very VERY different.

Now about the apps: The apps are nothing much to write home about. Similar features as those found in apps of today (geared towards touch based devices and inbuilt social capabilities in them). Even the desktop apps has minor tweaks which would go a long way in being more user-friendly (for those who do not have touch based devices or those who do not like the metro interface). One very good tweak is the inclusion of the ribbon in almost all the native apps (including Explorer) which makes it easier and faster to work.

But, all the prettiness of Windows 8 ends here. It looks and feels very good, but works very badly (at least my copy of Consumer Preview did). The metro apps worked for sometime and later started to hang at the start-up splash. The saving grave was that the apps terminated after a few seconds instead of throwing errors in unknown language. After searching the net, I found that other users had faced this problem too and some fixes were floating around which worked for some people. I tried 2 fixes one of which involved editing the registry and the other one was related to some settings. None of them worked 😦

After a while only the desktop was usable and so I tried it for sometime. It turned out to be good enough but if the minor tweaks of the desktop were provided as a Service Pack for Win 7 then it would have been better. Instead MS decided to release a complete new OS with an interface which doesn’t work and the one which works is not too different from the existing one.

After some online research I found that the users of Release Preview were also facing the same problem ..so its got to be a problem at the basic level and MS should fix it before the final release.

After the above mentioned turn-off I decided to try other OS too. My first thought was to install revert back to Win7 and hence I started to make a bootable USB drive of Win 7. But, to my horrors, I was not able to do so as UltraISO (the software I use to create bootable Win 7/8 USB drive) threw an error that I need to format my USB drive. After formatting I tried again only to see the same error. I again and again formatted with different options including quick, full format and tried different FS too. I even tried to format using cmd but this too didn’t help.

So, I decided to use my other USB drive and install Ubuntu. I created a bootable USB drive for Ubuntu and started to boot/install Ubuntu. To my wonders and surprise, I got problems in installing Ubuntu too. Ubuntu loaded without any problems but while installing, it showed errors. I thought it was some problem with the ISO image and hence I decided to install Fedora. Fedora started fine but I got the same problem while installing. I inferred that the partition which is using Win 8 is causing some problem. So, I formatted the partition which contained Win 8 and then tried again. This time the installation completed successfully and I booted into Fedora.

Fedora has a very pleasant interface (it uses GNOME 3+) which is a combination of both looks and usability. I really liked the Fedora interface. I had to re-install Fedora because I botched up my internet connection settings. I then used Fedora for a day or two and decided to install Ubuntu.

This time Ubuntu installed perfectly. Ubuntu too has got a pretty decent interface (it uses Unity instead of GNOME 3). I used to Ubuntu for 2-3 days and then switched back to Win 8 just to check if the problem cropped up again. This time again, the metro apps worked for a minutes and then gave in. I used Win 8 for a day and then decided to switch to Win 7 and got the same error I got while creating bootable USB drive. So I installed Ubuntu again only to create a bootable Win 7 USB drive and switched back to Win 7 last night.

In my opinion Ubuntu 12.04 has the most practical and usable interface. It has come a long way from being a buggy Linux distro to a much stable and better looking (usable too) OS. All three OS were very different in their user-interface and usability. All are good and would find their own fans. For me, it was Ubuntu. The reason why I switched to Win 7 instead of Ubuntu is because I wanted to use my computer as a virtual wifi router and share my mobile internet broadband connection with my Android phone and I didn’t have the patience to try doing that in Ubuntu 😉

A snap review of all three OS:

Win 8: Good Looks, neat, new interface, loads very fast but apps stop working after a while and difficulty in switching to other OS due to FS (so I believe).

Fedora 16: Stable, nice-jazzy interface, ultra-fast.

Ubuntu 12.04: Stable, most usable, fast.


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