Gamers, Relax, Windows 8 Is Fine (For Now)

Windows 8 has its problems. Some of these are immediate, others hypothetical (and potentially graver in nature). But I'm finding, as I write this using the operating system, having been playing games using the operating system, the negativity over Microsoft's latest Windows seems a little extreme.

Sure, the Start screen is annoying, and the way Microsoft wants to tie so much of it to a centralised account is very un-PC, but I'm a guy who uses his PC for games, writing, games, browsing the internet then more games. If you're much the same, and you're thinking about jumping in early with the new OS, you should know that it's nowhere near as bad as some will have you believe.

In the weeks leading up to Windows 8's release, people have raised a number of concerns with the OS. Concerns that very nearly had me sitting back down, enjoying Windows 7 and not bothering with an immediate update. Maybe not updating at all. But I'm glad I did. Here's why (and why you might not).

INSTALL

I have never, ever installed a version of Windows on top of an older one. I've always preferred a clean install on a wiped HDD or new PC, because technology simply couldn't handle moving all my stuff and keeping it in order once it got there. Yet I'd heard good things about Windows 8's install process. So I decided to risk it.

After a surprisingly brief install process - around an hour, give or take - my PC rebooted into Windows 8. And the transition had been as smooth as I could have hoped for. My desktop wallpaper was there, my files were all there, but more importantly, my games, game settings and even customised Steam skin was there. All my games worked, all my save games worked, and I didn't even need to re-renter my Steam account information.

START SCREEN

All the bad things you've heard are true. It sucks. On a tablet it's a beautiful interface, and practical to boot. On a desktop, it's silly. Customisation is limited, movement with a mouse and keyboard is counter-intuitive, full app support is restricted to official programs sold through Microsoft's store, and every time you turn around you're having to login to an official Microsoft account. Unless you're a casual user with a touch-screen monitor, there is absolutely no reason for this to exist. At all.

And yet...right there, when it starts, is a big button that says "desktop". Click it and you'll be zoomed to "old" Windows, with a taskbar and desktop folders, just like you know it. You'll also be sent straight there if you've got an application "pinned" to your Start screen that isn't natively supported. From here, it functions almost exactly like any other version of the OS. All your games, programs, Fraps, whatever, this is where you'll be launching most of them from, just like you always have, and they work here just like they should.

Well, with the exception of one weird oversight, the lack of a "start" button, but you can easily fix that with Stardock's excellent Start8 (note: it costs $US5).

If it absolutely kills you to see the giant buttons every time you boot up, you could try RetroUI, which not only lets you boot straight to the desktop mode, but also disable some other mildly-annoying Start screen features like "corners" (hovering your mouse in the corner of the screen brings up pop-up settings and menus).

GAMES

So your big games, the ones you ruin through Steam or Origin (or just off an .exe), should run without any problems whatsoever. You can either pin a tab to the new Start screen to launch those shopfronts, or once on the desktop execute individual games like you always would. There's really not much of a change in that regard (though a new task manager makes locked/problematic game easier to deal with). I tried all sorts of games, from indie platformers to AAA blockbusters, across Steam, Origin and standalone executables, and didn't run into a single game that had any issues, let alone that wouldn't run.

There is a change, though, when it comes to Win8's new "Games" section on the official Microsoft store. This is the place where games that can be pinned and launched from the new Start screen are bought. It's...pretty awful. Old Windows stalwarts like Solitaire are now there, instead of sitting in your old Windows menu, and the way more complex games like Toy Soldiers are available there is troubling, since there is absolutely zero need for you to be playing a game from that screen on a desktop computer.

Since most serious games will still be bought and run from a program like Steam, all Microsoft's own Games section on the Start screen is doing is splitting the feature across the OS, some casual experiences on the Start screen while the bigger stuff remains in desktop mode. In that way, it just feels like a more colourful, and prominent, version of Vista/7's "Games" section on the main menu, which itself was a total bust.

About the only thing I like about it is the way that, once signed in, you can access your Xbox 360's play history from the same section, and if you've got Smartglass installed you can even browse and boot up your games library from your desktop (as well as monitor and message with your friends).

PERFORMANCE

The install process is painless, but also unnecessary if you just...stay on your current version of Windows. The Start screen is a pain, and one that you shouldn't have to pay to bypass. Then even when you do, things look a lot like they already do on Windows 7.

So why would you bother? Because Windows 8 is faster.

While there are numbers backing up slight improvements playing 3D games, you won't really notice it. Where you do notice things, though, is when you boot the system up and move around between programs on the desktop, with the former now blisteringly fast, even on my standard (ie not an SSD) HDD. The "burden" of the Start screen lurking behind the scenes at all times doesn't affect things, either, with transitions between windows snappy and no noticeable change in game performance or boot times.

- - - -

So, yeah, surprisingly, I've been enjoying Windows 8. I didn't think I would, given the doom and gloom, but it's quickly won me over.

About the only thing I'd seriously caution against for those concerned are, as has been spelled out, the dangers lurking in the future, not the present. The way Microsoft has reigned in control of the "platform" to adhere to the new Start screen, and then tied that to its own game store, may not be a problem now, but if that store grows to become one of the biggest players in the market, you'll be facing its various niggles and restrictions on a daily basis, instead of just ignoring it like you would now.

It also would have been nice to have the option to include a "Start" button and to boot straight to desktop mode, instead of having to pay someone else for the privilege.

But those present annoyances, like most things brought up in the pre-launch discussions, are just niggles. Once you get to the desktop, everything either works exactly the way it should, or better.

With a cheap upgrade path (it's only a $US40 download for existing Win 7 owners), fast and intelligent installation and most important of all, select performance gains, I think Windows 8 is a worthy upgrade for the gamer itching to try the latest big thing, especially since all your heavy lifting - like running games in Steam - works just fine. And if you've just bought a new PC that's coming saddled with the new OS? It's the same story. Your games will work, and the sun will come up tomorrow.

If you're not dying for the latest big thing, though, and are happy enough with Windows 7, your reasons for upgrading now might be less pressing. Unless the faster boot times and desktop switching are a concern for you (they're probably more important for laptop users), seeing as the desktop mode is basically what you're already using, and you don't run into the odd accidental activation of a corner-of-the-screen shortcut, you may as well stick with Windows 7. At least until some cheaper/easier ways of tailoring the Windows 8 experience come along.

Obviously I haven't been able to go into minute detail here; if you're on the fence and have any questions about how the new OS works in the real world, ask below and I'll do my best to answer.

For a rundown on the OS in general, including the best launch apps and features, you should check out Lifehacker's excellent "Everything You Need to Know About Windows 8" roundup.


Comments

    Since you can put links to all your games on the "modern" ui, I don't see why it's any different to using a desktop? How does it suck in comparision to using the desktop to open games? How is it any different but bigger icon squares to click?

    I'm not trolling, I really want to know, I see a ton of reviewers talking about how much the new modern ui isn't good for non-touch devices and how to get the desktop + start menu going again. BUT WHY, why is the "modern" ui worse? It's just a desktop with bigger icons and a new design as far as I can tell. What is the difference between me clicking the steam/anygame icon in the modern ui or the desktop? How is it any harder or worse?

    Last edited 05/11/12 3:47 pm

      Well in Win8 you only have to click them once rather than double click the shortcuts, maybe thats too quick for some people...

      The biggest problem I've found winth Win8 is the inability to easily create your own custom tiles

        Try OblyTile (http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1899865)
        By all accounts, appears to work quite well. And there are a few threads floating around the web of people making custom Windows 8 icons, too.

        I'd suggest olbytile. It's a great little app for creating custom tiles with custom pictures. There's also a few sites that host lots of custom images for tiles for most common apps.

          Yeah I've got that bookmarked somewhere, it does as good a job as the description implies then?

        You can do this with windows 7, it's in the settings somewhere, i changed mine to one click a year ago and never looked back.

          You've been able to do it since windows 95 at least, maybe 3.1, I wasn't a tinkering user back then so I'm not sure. For some reason I don't like it on the desktop but I quite like it on the start panel.

      I dunno about other people, but for me personally it's worse because there's a whole lot less customisability. I don't have my desktop setup the way most other people do. It's hard to explain exactly how I have mine setup, but let's just summarize that so far I have found that it is impossible to set things up my way on the new start screen. I don't despise it, but I do strongly dislike it.

      I actually prefer to have a desktop without icons - it looks much cleaner. I use the start menu's search, primarily, to open programs. I use the desktop with Rainmeter to show useful information (System stats - CPU/RAM/Disk usage; RSS feeds, time, date, network usage, etc), as any programs can be found really easily with a few keystrokes via the start menu's search bar. Plus, it avoids the temptation of using the desktop as a dumping ground for random downloads or notes to look at later.
      https://dl.dropbox.com/u/2629753/desktop_laptop.png

      The main reason I dislike it is because it takes you away from everything you're doing. Some might counter by asking why use the start menu to do something else if your intention isn't to get away from what you're currently doing - to which I don't really have a good answer, other than having the decision forced upon me irks me.

      I think the main problem from the Metro UI is that is was designed for touch screens. It does work with a mouse and keyboard but is a little counterintuitive after so many years of the desktop style interface.
      I decided to buy the pro version yesterday because they were selling it for $30 or $40 till the end of the month. After using it for only a day, I quite like it. The only thing I miss is the start button so I think I'll install the start8 app to fix that. Otherwise, it's pretty good as far as I'm concerned.

    Ahhh, so refreshing to see a review that trys to dispel the horror shrouding Windows 8, I for one cannot wait to update, and all I do is game, broswe the internet and then game some more

      There are a few different things to get use to in the new OS, but seriously after using it for a few hours you will love it as long as your open about the changes. I wouldn't want to go back to Win7.

      You may well be elligible for the $15 upgrade if you bought your computer sometime in the last year or built it yourself. They didn't seem too discriminating when I did it

        Sweet, thanks for that infor Alias, I will look into that because I did build my current PC in the last year

    I've been using Windows 8 about a week now, the start menu was annoying initially but after installing start8 I've been pretty happy.
    - largest problem I've found tho is my video card and a lot of older ATI cards aren't supported (apparently... haven't looked into it properly yet) for OpenGL, so i cant play Minecraft >_<
    - moderate problem, I can't customise my mouse properly because the only version of set point that works on windows 8 doesn't work with uberoptions >_<.
    - minor problem is they changed how to created new folders (alt, f, w, f) which I've been using for years (I'm guessing there is a new easier shortcut, but I haven't looked it up yet)

    I'm not a fan of the start menu app's as they're all full screen, which seems like a massive waste of space with a desktop machine. I like to be able to see quite a few programs at the same time.
    Anyone else had similar problems... minor annoyances?

      Same here. I've been forcing myself to try it out over the past week, and it is pretty usable. Yes, the start screen sucks, especially on multiple monitors, but with a keyboard, you can get to pretty much anything in a few strokes. Win+D is also much faster than searching for the Desktop tile in the start screen. Win+X from the desktop makes it easy to get to any settings you might need, too - easier than rooting through charms, etc.
      In short, there are a bunch of keyboard shortcuts that are well worth learning if you hate the Start Screen/(ex-)Metro apps. And it is fast.
      I've found that most of my annoyances are down to multi-monitor support - which seems to end at a slight improvement to window management on the taskbar.

      Had the same problem with the ATI drivers on my laptop, the built in ones don't support OpenGL it seems. I installed the proper drivers from ATI(well, AMD) and it works fine now.
      The shortcut to make new folders is Ctrl+Shift+N ;)

        cheers, saved me some time google'ing ;)
        I'll give it a shot tonight, hopefully it will work... I don't want to buy a new graphics card when i can still most games at near max settings.

        Note Ctrl+Shift+N: 'N' is too far away to easy do it 1 handed, have to do some funky twister action with your thumb to reach it... I suppose when you're creating a new folder you're going to be typing anyway, so you can just use 2 hands for the shortcut :P

    I love the new start menu on desktop.. On login I can see all my emails, IM messages, and notifications, plus a glimpse at the news.

    It's basically a massive launcher akin to the Launchpad on OS X (which everyone seems to like?) but suped up 100 fold.

    I also find it quicker with mouse and keyboard because the icons are so big it's ridiculously hard to hit the wrong item

      Totally agree. Most of my issues stem so far from apps and things missing - not the OS itself. So far the metro start menu is far superior than the regular start menu and I am quite glad its gone. Upgraded both my gaming rig and HTPC to it now - not looking back!

      "It's basically a massive launcher akin to the Launchpad on OS X (which everyone seems to like?) but suped up 100 fold."

      that might explain my personal dislike of it. I hate OSX. Absolutely hate it.

    Glad to see a level headed write up. Balanced perspective based on actual use. I have had a seemingly identical upgrade and adjustment experience from 7 to 8. Thanks Luke P.

    Some things I found wrong with this article
    Start Screen:
    "Customisation is limited, movement with a mouse and keyboard is counter-intuitive, full app support is restricted to official programs sold through Microsoft’s store, and every time you turn around you’re having to login to an official Microsoft account."
    You can change the colour and background pattern of it, and organise your pinned programs into labelled groups, none of which you could do with the start menu.
    Movement with keyboard/mouse is just scrolling up/down to go left/right. Feels normal after the first few times, although some people still find it a bit odd.
    "Full app support" makes it sound like desktop programs miss out on a lot of features, but it's really just trivial features it's missing out on, basically just live tiles and the charms, things that wouldn't matter to most games anyway. So it's the same that way in regards to Windows 7.
    Every time you turn around, you're not having to login to your account. If you are, you've done something wrong or maybe have a local account. If you create a user account with your Microsoft account, it'll automatically log you in to the music/video/xbox/email/slydrive and whatever else apps, you don't need to do a thing.

    "Well, with the exception of one weird oversight, the lack of a “start” button"
    There is a start button. At least two, more if you have multiple monitors. One in the charms menu, and one in the bottom left corner of the screen just like in previous versions of windows. Think of it as like when you have the taskbar on autohide, you've got to move your mouse to the bottom of the screen for it to appear. Well, it's like that, you move your mouse into the bottom left corner and then it appears. So, pretty much the same motion you'd use in Windows 7. And then if you have multiple monitors, it has a start button in the bottom left corner of every monitor.

    Games
    "This is the place where games that can be pinned and launched from the new Start screen are bought."
    Nope. It's just like the start menu, any game/program can be pinned and launched from the Start Screen. The games app isn't even the place you buy stuff from anyway, it just sends you to the Store app.

    "and the way more complex games like Toy Soldiers are available there is troubling, since there is absolutely zero need for you to be playing a game from that screen on a desktop computer."
    What is that even supposed to mean? The new Metro (or whatever they're called) games shouldn't be played on a desktop? Why's that? There's nothing different between them and normal games, except you can install them on your Windows 8/RT tablet too (if you have one).

    "About the only thing I’d seriously caution against for those concerned are, as has been spelled out, the dangers lurking in the future, not the present. The way Microsoft has reigned in control of the “platform” to adhere to the new Start screen, and then tied that to its own game store, may not be a problem now, but if that store grows to become one of the biggest players in the market, you’ll be facing its various niggles and restrictions on a daily basis, instead of just ignoring it like you would now."
    Ah yep, I knew the "Windows will become closed" argument would come up. You can read why I think it's ridiculous here: http://www.kotaku.com.au/2012/10/let-off-some-steam-is-window-8-really-that-bad-for-game-developers/ Anyway, Steam isn't going anywhere, the Windows Store doesn't sell to Windows 7/Vista/XP which are still being used/will be used for a while.

    Maybe I'm the only one, but I don't actually find it that fast. Running with a decent PC and an SSD its the same as Win7 maybe slightly slower. Maybe it's faster for really slow machines but I just don't see it.

      Yeah, I felt the same... Had a SSD for a few years, Windows 8 Feels pretty much the same speed as Windows 7.

      It may be faster, but comparing something that takes 0.2sec to 0.1sec is almost not noticeable when launching a program.

    I find the new Start screen to be much more intuitive, and beautiful. It's also a lot quicker and more customizable than it has ever been. Most of these articles are just jumping on the hate train without giving the OS half a chance...it's pretty ridiculous. Even an article that tries to argue FOR the OS ends up hating on it. It's actually a really nice OS. People that are using it in the real world all seem to love it, which says a lot more than a journalist ever can. Change is good, not bad...but humans seem to have real issues with accepting it. It's worrying.

    "Customisation is limited, movement with a mouse and keyboard is counter-intuitive". This is a ridiculous statement. Firstly, the Start Screen is about a million times more customisable than the pathetic thing it replaces. What's more, it is ridiculously easy to customise. Secondly, your mouse works exactly the same way on the Start Screen as it does everywhere else - left-click, right-click and scroll wheel are all the same. OK, there is no middle-click functionality in there but guess what? That is also exactly the same as with the Desktop or every previous version of Windows. The Start Screen isn't perfect but it is an order of magnitude better than the Start Menu in Vista/Win7 and better than any previous Start Menu, too.

    I have been using it for a week now. I love all the changes to the desktop, so many little brilliant things. The install was almost to uneventful (given passed windows experiences) especially given the complete lack of (ZERO) information regarding 64bit or what they considered "personal files" in the install option.

    The loss of the START button is nothing more than Microsoft self indulgence that was thankfully fixed with $5 to buy Start8. Honestly why not give people the toggle for it? That way people who want to try the New World Xbox Order is happy and those of us who dont need our software to be designed like a childs toy.

    The UI-formally-known-as-Metro is absolutely garbage. Its unpredictable, ugly, stupid and is the Xbox generation (make everything really really simple) version of an operating system. I am a gamer, i want depth. It has some interesting stuff but like Xbox it is advertising heavy. so many annoying little things. if you have two monitors it wont remain maximized on one if you are using the desktop on the other. The way it launches programs (sorry apps *rolleyes*) is bloody painful EG: i was in desktop version of firefox and launched a pdf, i hadnt got around to install adobe reader , but no problems it launched an app but after i read and close it, instead of taking me back to where i was it took me back to metro?!! it will be brilliant on mobile devices but on desktop it is so childish. dont get me started on the way right click works, its a productivity nightmare. And dont get me started on trying to shut down the computer, its no longer two clicks but four, just like xbox everything is buried under a layer of clicks.

    but the brilliant thing is you dont have to use Metro at all, which is grand, because it just makes the whole windows 8 thing so schizophrenic, thankfully the new changes on desktop are bloody brilliant and i am over the moon using it

    Desktop 9/10
    Metro 2/10

      Re shutdown:
      Alt-f4 from desktop brings up shut/sleep/restart option.

    Windows 8 is Microsoft's attempt to control their operating system like some police state.

    Microsoft owns 90% of the market share with Windows, to me that's practically a monopoly. For over 20 years they've dominated the PC and make it their bitch, I hope Windows 8 fails so that Microsoft can reinvent themselves to make a near perfect product. It seems they rushed this product out due to the declining PC sales, if this doesn't sell well for tablets.... they're done for.

    Interestingly despite wham many people seem to think, Windows 8 doesn't actually boot much faster than Windows 7. If you go into power settings in the "Immersive Control Panel" (that's the Desktop mode control panel) you will see that the "shutdown" option in Metro is actually just a hibernation mode. Windows 8 by default does not shut down when you click shut down, you have to modify it to do a full shutdown otherwise it's just hibernating. When you have changed it to do a proper shut down and then restart the PC, it takes about just as long to load as Windows 7, it might be a couple of seconds faster but it's not the speed many people have been tricked into thinking. This is an incredibly dodgy move by MS, buttons should do what they say. This isn't obvious on a lot of desktops but I thought something was a bit suss when I installed it on an older laptop and the power light was still flashing after clicking on the "shut down" button.

      Ermmmmm. Hibernate saves your system's state to the hard drive and then completely powers it down. Your laptop's power light shouldn't have been on if it was hibernating.
      And besides, Microsoft said back when they first showed off it's boot speeds that it was so fast because it was based on hibernation. It's not exactly the same though. It doesn't keep what programs you've got opened, meaning it can start up faster.

        Either way the system isn't doing what is described, the default Windows 8 shutdown button isn't a full shutdown. As for the laptop I can't say if it was to do with the laptop or Windows 8 that it's power LED was flashing after a "shutdown" but the fact still holds that you have to modify settings in Windows 8 to get a true shutdown meaning it's default boot time is not a true boot time.

    So basically there's no reason to upgrade. I have a SSD already so I don't care about faster boot speed.

      I agree with you - I've only just upgraded from XP to 7 recently (and only did that because I had a motherboard die on me and figured I might as well upgrade to 7). I'm not going to upgrade to 8 if the only benefit to me is a slight speed increase. Upgrading to 7 felt like a more important change to me as it provides 64-bit processing and access to more memory, which is now becoming important.

    After a long time of not bothering to comment on Kotaku because it doesn't support open auth and I didn't feel like figuring out what my old account email was before finding out that none of my emails match whatever my account must have used to have been. Let's just say this:

    Kotaku writer complains about awkward sign-in requirements.....

    Anyway, when I installed windows 8 I just removed all of the apps that required a log in. And without that stuff, the OS is really tops.

    To the doubters. Here's what's good about it. It's easy to remove the windows log in stuff and you don't need it. Turning on from sleep mode (and leaving your account logged in, though locked) means you can pretty much get going instantly. And metro ui with the fullscreen goodness is good. Start menu needs a clock so I can check the time without going to desktop though. Probably a widget for that somewhere.

    Last edited 05/11/12 8:24 pm

      Why would you want to remove the windows log in stuff? Only useful if you're the only one using the machine..

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now