Windows 8 from the point of view of a Mac user

So I should mention before anything else that I use Windows 8 just for fun. I work all week on my Retina MacBook Pro in OS X, and on evenings and weekends – when I want to play World of Tanks – I reboot into Windows. That’s about it. Make money on OS X, have fun in Windows. It’s kinda like the opposite of how it was in the 90’s (working in Windows, coming home to Mac).

So today when I launched World of Tanks, I realized I was in a bit of a rut, tank-wise. Quite a bit of XP in order to get the next set of tanks. What does that mean? Windows 8 upgrade time!

I was able to do the thing all online. $200. I would’ve liked to have stepped down from my Win 7 Pro down to Win 8 Home – I mean, all I do is game in the thing. Why do I need pro? But it didn’t give me a chance. Upgrade assistant was pretty reasonable. It complained at me for not having enough space – I uninstalled some Steam games to make room, and when I flipped back to the Assistant window, it had moved along to the next screen. Not bad.

As my friend Beckley and I have been discussing – Microsoft is throwing money away not making it easier for Mac people to get Windows. And making it way too expensive. If they put up an app in the App Store (presumably with Apple’s buy-in) they could put a $99 price tag on it and make some nice money. At higher margins than OEM licenses! But they’re dumb and short-sighted about things like that. Oh well.

Anyways, it still takes quite a few reboots for the install to complete. That was unexpected – but I guess that’s me not remembering my Windows-fu. Kept having to hold down the Option (alt) key to get it to boot into Windows. It threw me into a setup assistant and I somehow managed to inadvertently hook up my Xbox account to my Windows login. Freaky, but why not.

I ended up hooking up my Metro Home screen to my Facebook account too, as well as my Xbox account. I was surprised to see Xbox avatars for all of my friends pop up – relatively easily accessible from the home screen as I clicked around. I had to download some updates and the process was not as buttery as possible, but still not bad at all. My FB friends are around too. Again, not too terrible. Hooked in two of my three Gmail accounts into the Mail app. In the end, I had a brand new view of all kinds of ‘live tiles’ giving me a newfangled view of my PC.

The Start button in Windows has always been a disaster for me – it contained a billion things I didn’t care about, and 3 that I did. And when it had a scrolling view it was even worse. And that one view where it ‘automatically’ optimized where everything went? Even more of a disaster. So in Windows 8, Metro completely replaces the Start Menu. This new one actually makes sense to me. The three things I want to find? Right there, staring me in the face. I want to move them around? Easy and obvious. The one place it consistently throws me for a loop is when I want to find something that I would normally have to dig through the lesser-used folders in the Start menu to find (Start -> Program Files->SomeStupidCompanyName->DumbUtility…). That’s where my muscle-memory gets in the way. I can’t find something, I hit the ‘command’ key (Windows key) and the Metro screen comes up -> I can’t find what I’m looking for -> I click on Desktop-> I still can’t find what I’m looking for -> hit the Windows key again…

The ‘flat’ look seems timeless to me. Reminiscent of Star Trek:TNG’s LCARS pseudo-OS. No excessive curves and embossing and rounded edges and so on. Just really clean and flat. It starts to fall down a little bit when you look at Legacy Windows things – they look a little odd – trying to be flat like Metro but inheriting all the Windows baggage. And lots of things that are buttons don’t look Buttoney. So I can imagine I will find myself in a position where I have to scrub my mouse around to see if things are clickable all the time. That will certainly cause some level of UI-fail. It’ll be even worse on a touchscreen machine.

I’m even using IE10 (!) Because it shows up better on my Retina screen. I tried Google Chrome in ‘Windows 8 mode’ and it was ok – but the text was showing up too small. IE actually is not bad. I’m completely shocked by this. The font rendering still looks a touch off to me – some parts of letters look too thin maybe? I can’t put my finger on it. But I can read the screen, and that’s a nice start.

In the end, my feelings about the look/feel of the thing? I don’t see why everyone is all up in arms. It’s actually kinda futuristic-looking, IMHO. I actually find it very pleasant. Of course, I’m a bit of a contrarian – when I first used Windows Vista it didn’t bother me as much as it seemed to bother everyone else. And when I first used Windows 7 I didn’t think it was so super amazingly awesome like everyone else did. So take that into account. And also take into account – the only things I do in Windows are: play games, test things in IE, and poke around. I don’t usually try too hard to get much work done.

But as always, the devil is in the Details. And that’s where Apple tends to really knock things out of the park, and where Microsoft tends to fumble. Especially when I click on something that’s “classic” Windows from something that’s Metro, things feel janky and weird and awkward. The tile layouts in the ‘top free’ and ‘top paid’ sections of the App store are awful and useless. I can’t search the store either; if you don’t click on one of the ‘suggested’ apps, you’re screwed. The Skype integration seemed exciting – but then it was insisting on doing some kind of account merge that I didn’t want it to do. I still can’t figure out how to add a third email account. I can’t get number of unread messages to show up in the email tiles. It’s hard to get apps to show up in the Metro panel thingee if they aren’t there already. Or if you (ahem) accidentally ‘unpin’ one (oops!). My Hipchat (Adobe Air) app was all messed up and confused and it took quite a bit of cajoling to get it so I could have a normal window on my screen. (That could be Adobe’s fault, or HipChat’s fault, or Microsoft’s fault. Not sure.) As I continue to play with it, I’m sure I’ll find more to complain about. I couldn’t figure out how to open multiple windows in the Metro version of IE10 until I was doing final edits of this article (right-clicking somewhere plain on the page seems to bring up a contextual menu?)

But in the end I think Microsoft is trying some really clever stuff here. I think this Metro stuff really is the future. Apple broke with OS X precedent when it made iOS; and I think Microsoft is trying to do the same thing here with Win8/Metro. And in the same way people were up in arms and completely freaked out when Apple first removed the Floppy drive – and then later, the CDROM – I think that’s how the typical Microsoft person is responding to Metro.

I think Microsoft has latched on to Apple’s “Halo Effect” strategy. Apple had the iPod, and the iPod “Halo” started to cause a boost in Mac sales (and lead to the iPhone and iPad). Analogously, Microsoft has the Xbox. Perhaps, from this Xbox Halo, they can start to rebuild the strength of their Windows empire? Maybe. But remember – Microsoft is adopting Apple’s strategy here. And Microsoft was very good at taking someone else’s idea or product, imitating it, iterating a few versions of it, throwing in some dubious business practices, and then coming up with something that actually starts to crush the competition. They might be trying that again here. Though they haven’t really pulled that off in a while, I think.

My bet is that Microsoft-users will continue to whine and bitch and moan about how terrible and awful Windows 8 is. And we’ll have a service pack or two come out, and then maybe some kind of interim release – and then maybe people will get used to it and move along.

I think, most importantly, that if they didn’t obsolete themselves with Metro, someone else – probably Apple – would’ve done it for them. So they really had no choice.

Bravo, MS!

Never thought I’d be saying that…

But I ran into a couple of different intertube posts that talk about the new MS ad campaign that says “Macs=expensive”. (Here’s Engadget’s.)

I’m a huge Mac lover, and were technology company/human marriages legal, perhaps I would’ve married it (sorry Nicola…). But they can actually make a valid, salient, understandable point here, so more power to ’em.

Now, the real point here is the value for what you get – yes you can buy a computer for $1000 or $5000, the same way you can buy a car for $10,000 or $50,000, it depends on what you’re looking for and what value you’re getting. But, that’s a complicated argument and isn’t going to compare to: “Teh Macs are Expensives!” There’s also an undercurrent of “Macs are for latte-sippers!” and that’s pretty subtle, and also valuable.

I kinda feel like Apple has grown a little…comfortable, perhaps, lately. So I like the idea of MS really breathing down their necks to keep them from becoming too complacent.

I mean, we are in a down economy, letting people buy cheaper stuff becomes a good idea.

Most of MS’es advertising attempts have either left Apple completely unmentioned, or been just completely pointless. This is the first one that actually seems like it has a message, and could cause a little motion in the marketplace. Good on ’em. About time they did something right.

Now let’s see Apple’s response where they come out with some more ‘everyman’ style pricing.

Shitness of Windows

Every time I try to do anything interesting or nontrivial with Windows, I get let down. I feel like it has to be due to my personal ignorance of the environment. But my problem is, the more I learn about it, the less I feel like it’s ignorance and the more I feel like it’s actual, practical experience that tells me so.

For example, I have a busted windows box with a dying HD. I install ‘Doze on the “D” drive – the second IDE disk. I use this copy of windows to try to copy off the data from the C drive. It takes a long time – the disk is trying over and over and clicking and warming up and all kinds of terribleness – but eventually I get some data off it. So great. I try to do some actual work on this new install of windows and I feel like it keeps trying to look at the C drive, so I figure I’ll unmount it. Can’t. It’s a “boot” drive, even though the D drive is my ‘system’ drive. Well, fine, so I pull my dying C drive (I figure I got what I could off of it anyway). System won’t boot. Oh well, I guess I need a bootsector rewrite or something. Fine. Windows CD, recovery console, fix it…and it can’t find my windows. I might as well not have it installed. Never mind the fact that every single file that Windows should rightfully need is right there. But Recovery console can’t find anything. So I have to reinstall windows. And if I try to reinstall it right back to where it was before, it threatens to toss my files (including my recovered server volume). So I have to put it somewhere else.

Mind you, on a Linux box or a Mac, I could do this in 2 seconds. In linux, you re-lilo (showing my age there) or re-grub the disk, and that gets you a new bootable volume (BIOS permitting, HD sizes, etc, etc). On the Mac…I don’t even think you have to do that because the firmware is a bit smarter about locating disks and booting off of them. You can either use the Startup disk control panel from a CD or even hold Option during boot and it will let you pick which volume to boot from. Easy.

So now as I’m running through the Windows install I thought I would document the reboots. My policy is I install everything on the ‘express’ list.

  • When it switches from textmode to graphics mode. (OK, this one barely counts, but it is, strictly speaking, a reboot. I saw BIOS. It rebooted.)
  • When graphics mode completes, system installed.
  • New version of Windows Update requires reboot
  • Service Pack
  • 52 updates
  • IE 6
  • 9 more updates post IE 6
  • .NET 2.0 plus video driver
  • Whoops! two security updates for .NET 2.0 – edit – this did NOT require a reboot!

That’s fucking shit. What should take minutes takes hours.

Mac OS X Server

I am a huge fan of the Mac. I have been using them since the Mac Plus running – oh, I dunno, it was before system 6 and MultiFinder and all that. I’ve dabbled in PC’s, and am pretty good with them, but I love Macs. And I like Unix machines a lot too. I learned Linux In the days before the kernel was 1.0 – it was in the 0.9’s or something, I don’t remember. I ran Slackware in those days. Ah, the good ole days.

So I try to consider myself platform-agnostic. I can tell you now some things I really like about Windows boxes. Among which was the generally snappiness of them. I was running a Win2k box for a while (to help force me to test one of our application’s bugginess and behavior under the Dreaded Internet Explorer). It made me really envious. And, so long as I didn’t mess around with it too much, it performed well – especially so for a box with such low specs (as it was, I think I blogged about it before).

As such, it pains me terribly to say I fucking despise Mac OS X Server. I’m sorry, but Apple has completely blown it with this product. I don’t doubt that they are fine if you just do file and print, but this isn’t a Windows server, it’s a Mac server – it’s got Unix stuff in it – why can’t I make it do a whole bunch of things? And the answer is, because it is shit.

The number of individual problems I’ve had on OS X Server is too numerous to count. The stupid management applications crashing on me, or their effects not ‘kicking in’, or the fact that you can’t migrate NetInfo accounts to LDAP accounts, any number of things. The GUI ends up being obtuse and incomprehensible, and the command line is even more painful than that. I’ve always theorized that when you try and put a nice shiny GUI on top of an ugly (but efficient, and flexible) command line, the end result is always a terrible mishmash. I was hoping to be proved wrong with OS X server. And I have not been. The file system is shit. The Mail server is garbage. The web server – oh! the web server! – I have never seen Apache be so terribly crippled. I had to crawl around in config files and XML files for hours to repair our server, once. Awful. And we’ve taken explicit, careful pains to never mess with the command line or any binaries or anything – after all, it’s an OS X server, and we’re trying to do things the OS X way. What a disappointment.

Today, for example, I’m trying to set up a co-workers account so he can do SSH authentication to the server to run some simple SSH commands (having to do with Subversion, a version control system I’d like to switch us over to from CVS). I go into the management app, I go to my coworkers account, I see he has no ‘home’ set. That’s fine, he is not an SSH man, himself. So I try and set him one. Crash. I try and read mine so I can compare. Crash. I try and look at it again, it’s not one box for ‘what is your home’ it’s three boxes, and I can’t figure out what is what. And I’m not stupid. And any time I try and do anything to it, crash. What a fucking mess.

Now, don’t think this means I have any like for Windows servers. Because they’re just as bad – though possibly a bit less so, since they don’t have to do the “Shiny GUI to shitty command line translation” that OS X has to. To enable RIP routing on a FreeBSD box? (Mind you, I don’t know FreeBSD that well). set it to ‘yes’ in the conf file, and then launch it. Boom. New routes in routing table. Try to enable RIP on Win2k3 server? You have to enable routing and remote access (Telephony! What the fuck!), then add RIP for an interface, then all kinds of stuff – then all my route metrics are all freaky and inexplicably huge, until I find out that Windows is randomly mangling my route metrics based on interface speed (NB – win2k did not do that). What kind of lame-ass bullshit IS this? IIS also enjoys baffling and frustrating me and anyone else who is cursed with it.

Unix boxes, however, are mean. They just aren’t nice or friendly at all. Totally unapproachable. Compare an airplane cockpit with the driver’s seat in a car. The car you might be able to work out yourself, by playing with it. The airplane, you will not. There are 50,000 gajillion little controls for things. The car emphasizes just a few, and will let you get around. So the end result is it takes FOREVER to figure out what you’re doing on a Unix box, until you start getting the Zen of how it works and what its design are. You can do a hell of a lot on a Windows server or a Mac server without knowing what the hell you’re doing. And that has its advantages. And its disadvantages, when you mess with something you don’t understand and unleash unholy hell upon yourself. And Unix boxes will not only let you shoot yourself in the foot, they will load the gun and point it right at your foot, and take the safety off, and not say a word about it. Like I said, mean.

I do know this – any time I get to spec out or make any new server or computer for anyone that I have control over, it won’t be a Windows or Mac server. Maybe if it was something for simple file-and-print, and some email, I might. But not for anything nontrivial.

I should mention – it could be an issue with my own personal comfort level with these machines. I mean, I know Unix boxen pretty well, maybe not as well as I know the Windows and Mac boxen. But every time someone needs to refer to someone who knows more about these things, they always get referred to me. So it’s sad, but maybe I *do* know as much about these things as I do about the other. Because I assume there’s some bias in my knowledge here. But the scary thing is, there might not be.