Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Windows 8 Experience

My working day starts and ends on the computer. It starts with e-mail telling me where I need to go this what flight plans I need to file. I look at the GFAs and specifically check the weather for the places I'm asked to go, and other places I know we could end up. I pull up NOTAMs for all the major airports in the region, scan them, and then search the resulting list for the strings "CYR" and "fuel" in case I missed something important. Good gods, if someone at Nav Canada would like to become a pilot celebrity and leave a lasting legacy, they could please revamp the existing NOTAM system. But that's the NOTAM experience, not the Windows 8 one. I turn off the computer, eat breakfast, go to the airport and do piloty things to and in the airplane for ten or twelve hours and then shut off the airplane, chock it and go back to the computer. The day ends back on my computer, with my paysheet, my duty time log, and sending base the TTAF hours and a report of any trends or operational issues.

The efficiency of my computer therefore is a determining factor in my ability to enjoy breakfast, and how soon I get to go to bed. My new computer runs Windows 8, the operating system that pretends your computer is a touch screen, just to see how many fingerprints it can trick you into putting on the screen.

It's has pretty giant icons for everything you use, which it helpfully rearranges into the order you use them, so that you won't develop any bad habits like muscle memory based on knowing where the Excel icon was last time you turned it on. Somewhere in there is probably a "Hey Windows, honey, I put those icons there for a reason, don't rearrange them, please" option but I haven't found it. Windows probably doesn't want me to. Windows doesn't even want me to know my own directory structure.

By default, or by some option that seemed perfectly reasonable at the time, Windows slideshows all my photographs in a big thumbnail on the front page. I've got to admit it's kind of cool looking at all my photos, and exciting wondering when a naked one will pop up, but when I click on the displayed photo it doesn't go to that photo. It goes to a different photo, and from that different photo I can click on an arrow and go to an even prettier full screen collage of my photos that come up semi-randomly in date-based themes like "2008" or "November". Half of the photos are either aircraft issues being reported to maintenance or company paperwork--I photograph and e-mail the operational flight plan to the flight follower. The resulting collage is still fascinating, even mesmerizing, because I like my life, but there's no way to interact with the photos. If I see one I like and I want to view it fullscreen, or copy it, or post it on my blog, I can't edit it nor see its file location nor select it in any way.

There's an orange icon (I think they're called something else now) labelled "Trending" and when I first turned the computer on it told me that the trending topics were: Justin Bieber, NHL scores, Canadian dies in Cuba. Those same topics were "trending" for the first five days I had the machine. I thought it was stuck, but couldn't be sure. Justin Bieber and NHL scores are a pretty constant interest of certain, but mostly non overlapping, segments of the population. And Cuba is like Florida and Arizona: a hot place with cheap labour where Canadians go when they're old. People must die there all the time. I'm not sure why it was news. After a few days I clicked on the "Trending" icon, but it didn't tell me more about those things and I didn't care enough to type them into the search engine, so I still don't know, and finally it changed to HIV breakthrough, Queen in hospital, Justin Bieber. I guess it is all Bieber all the time.

As part of the setup process I selected the languages I wanted to be able to type in and there is now a not terribly inconvenient toolbar item that lets me swap among them. This is cool. I specified English as my primary language, so most of my apps default to English, but the aforementioned useless app that displays my photographs, the maps feature, and the news feature are in Russian. I don't know why it hasn't figured out that it's in Canada. It gives me Canadian weather. In Russian. A friend who is a senior Microsoft developer even poked at it, confidently pulled up some settings and was then confused and defeated when it continued to be in Russian. I don't mind. It gives me Russocentric news, which refreshingly only mentions American or Canadian politicians when they actually do something of note, and procuring sex, drugs and hookers don't reach that bar.

I tried for a while to work with that opening screen, the new Microsoft way, but the apps start when you do a gesture, which is all very fine when you have a touch screen to gesture from, but it proves quite difficult to not gesture at the wrong moment when using a touchpad mouse. There's also no Start button and no shut down icon. The power switch I have set to hibernate, not shut down. The best I can tell, if I want to shut down the computer from where I am right now, typing this blog entry into Firefox (Chrome wanted to know too much about me), Microsoft seems to want me to:

  • press the Windows key
  • move the mouse pointer down to the bottom right corner of the screen and wait a moment for floating icons to appear
  • move the mouse up to the floating "Settings" icon and click on it
  • click on "Power" in the resulting submenu
  • select Shut down from the resulting dropdown.

Who ever would think I would want my Start button back? Back in the '90s I remember being vaguely annoyed at Windows 3.1 for trying to take over the operating system, but then MS-DOS called the shots and you could choose to run Windows or not in any particular session. Even if you had the command "win" in your autoexec.bat, making Windows start up automatically as soon as DOS was running, you could at any time exit Windows and go back to DOS. In later versions Windows became the base of the operating system for the user, so to run DOS commands you had to open a command prompt window within Windows, rather than by quitting Windows. The power of the command prompt is still there. I have a taskbar icon whose target is "C:\Windows\System32\shutdown.exe /p /f". That shuts down the computer, no questions asked, quite promptly on a single click. I love it. The other thing you must learn is Win-D, which exits the opening screen into the desktop or whatever application you were using.

The basic controls move around a little on airplanes. I've used trim located almost everywhere I can reach: left side, right side, behind my elbow on the armrest, roof, floor between the seats, centre console. It's been a wheel and a crank and a bicycle gear shifter, and the throttles have wandered around a little, too, but once I put my hand on them, they seem to work the same way.


Will said...


Have you considered installing Classic Shell?

It basically makes Windows 8 work like Windows 7, restoring the Start button, and even allowing you to boot directly to the normal Windows desktop. I recently bought a new laptop that came with Windows 8, and Classic Shell was the first thing I installed.

Thanks as always for the interesting posts!

Lee I said...

Well, since I do have a touchscreen on my new laptop, I often touch my accompanying Windows 8 icons. It's great for late night solitaire. I tried one of those things that installed a start button, but it disabled some of the touch features, so I removed it.

In general I go to the desktop screen and have installed all the old programs I like and use them much in the same fashion as ever. I use Zoner Photo Studio (free versions) for photos and it uses the familiar old file structure for your photos.

I toy from time to time with using it in purely Win 8 mode, and it looks like it's developing new ways to go to familiar sites.

chephy said...

+1 for Classic Shell. Win 8 is unusable without it!

Ward said...

I left Win8 on my PC at work, but I mostly use just a few programs that I have either on the pseudo-task bar or shortcuts on the desktop.

My favourite stupid feature of Win8 is that it doesn't actually do windowing... "Native" applications (aka Metro Apps) don't/can't run in a window, they take over the full screen.

There's a design/philosophy document written by someone at MS floating around, that basically says it's intended for people consuming content - surfing, getting social media updates, etc. That's fine, but what about people who actually want to do something with a PC - type documents, edit pictures, use a business-specific application?

Based on the fact that Win7 has become more readily available from big PC vendors like Dell than it was right after Win8 came out, I'm sticking with (and our company is sticking with) Win7. We buy Win7 if we can, but if a PC comes with 8, we downgrade.

Unknown said...

Windows 8 is good in graphics and provide high levels of security.

Silvester Norman

Change MAC Address

LocalFlightEast said...

Over the summer work "upgraded" all our computers to Windows 8.
I chased them off mine with a big stick because I was working on some time critical stuff and didn't have time to get to grips with a new OS and get it done.

They appear to have forgotten about me. I'm seeing how long I can hold out.

Aluwings said...

I bought my first-ever Windows-based system recently. (Mac OS guy but let's NOT go there!)

I found the big icons etc. very confusing and thankfully discovered the ability to retrograde to the Classic Shell where I have at least some familiarity. Phew!

Occaisionally I accidentally move my mouse somewhere that causes these large mysterious icons to reappear, and once all my desktop icons disappearred and I was NOT allowed to drag them from the desktop folder to the desktop... But then one day I accidentally came across some other hidden command that made them reappear.

Wow - Windows 8 really does work by PFM! But this system saved me a few $ and has wider access to the specialized files I need for the new project. A trade off... but that new Apple Stovepipe Mac Pro is looking awfully tempting. ;-)

zb said...

Are you using any applications that require a Windows machine and won't run on anything else? The trend towards mobile devices with all kinds of OSs (Android, iOS and whatnot) has brought along many applications that just need a browser and some sort of pdf, text and spreadsheet viewing or processing applications like MS Office or OpenOffice.

This way, the number of applications that must be run on a Windows machine (and nothing else) becomes smaller and smaller, and most stuff works really well on any device or box.

I don't want to pour fuel into the war between Windows vs. Linux vs. iOS (and I am aware the latter two may not even be that much different ;-). All I'm happy about is the fact that more and more applications run on any of those and this is good for users because they now have way better options of choosing the OS of their preference. Ten years ago, when using Linux, you often had to ask that your e-Mail attachments be sent in formats supported by open applications. Today, my Linux box can open and edit pretty much anything.

Here's a fun experiment I would like to suggest trying since you now obviously have a retired notebook floating around: Install Linux on it and see how far it gets you. Chances are that most of your everyday stuff runs about as fast with Linux on the old box compared to Windows with your new box. It seems the main issue you have with Windows is that it is a graphical user interface only. On Linux (and I actually think you know all this stuff anyway), the command line interface (console) is never more than a click or keystroke away because the GUI always just runs on top of it.

Linux distributions like Debian take the choices even further: They run on almost anything, be it an Apple notebook, an Intel-based PC or even something really odd.

Procky said...

I decided I was not smart enough for Windows several years ago.. .