Ask LH: Is Windows 8 That Bad And Should I Upgrade?

Dear Lifehacker, Windows 8 is out, and it’s all anyone’s talking about — except everyone just keeps telling me how much it sucks and how I shouldn’t upgrade. Why does everyone hate it so much? Should I upgrade, or hold off? Thanks, Worried About Windows

Dear Worried,

Windows 8 is getting a bad rap from lots of people, but it actually has a lot going for it. Why is everyone freaking out so much then? Some of that comes down to resistance to change; some of it comes from a misunderstanding of what Windows 8 is capable of. Here are some of the issues people are complaining about, and why they don’t matter in most cases.

Complaint #1: The New Interface Sucks (and My Start Menu Is Gone!)

Why People Are Upset: This is the biggest thing people are complaining about. The Start menu is gone, and it’s been replaced by a new, full screen, tablet-friendly tiled interface that isn’t really that effective on a desktop computer. It seems inefficient to go to a full screen interface just to launch a desktop app, especially if you could do the same thing from a small menu on the desktop.

Why It Isn’t A Problem: I disagree with Microsoft’s choice to get rid of the Start menu, and that change was always going to confuse a lot of novice users. However, it’s also really, really easy to bring back. In fact, if you download a Start menu replacement, you have a lot more control over what you see in that Start menu, which is actually impressive.

Furthermore, the tiled Start screen — while imperfect and not very mouse-friendly — gets the job done; it just does it differently. Once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy to get around. You can still launch an app by pressing the Windows key and typing the name of the app you want, which remains the fastest way to find most apps on any current version of Windows. Alternatively, you can use an app launcher such as Launchy, which pretty much negates the need for a Start menu anyway. Many of the other options found via the Start menu, including the Control Panel, PC Info, and Shut Down buttons, can be found in the Charms bar just by pressing Windows-C. Easy.

Complaint #2: There Aren’t Any New Desktop Features

Why People Are Upset: I’m not really sure, to be honest. This isn’t an accurate complaint; there are a lot of new desktop features.

Why It Isn’t A Problem: Sure, the tiled interface is the biggest change in the new OS, but there are a lot of other changes too, particularly those that pertain to the desktop, and we’ve talked about then numerous times. Highlights include:

  • Better performance. We tested both versions of Windows and found that Windows 8 was faster at almost everything. Boot times are a lot faster, which is really useful. And day-to-day operation is also smoother.
  • The new Windows Explorer, which has some handy context-sensitive menus, as well as a much better file copy dialog than Windows 7.
  • The new Task Manager, which gives you tons lots information about how your computer’s resources are being used.
  • Reset & Refresh, a cool new feature which lets you perform a clean installation of Windows with just the click of a button.
  • The Windows 8 Store. It may be a full screen app, but it has desktop apps in it too — making it easier to discover new and awesome apps, not to mention read reviews all in one unified place.
  • File History, a new backup tool that keeps incremental backups of all the files in your libraries. It’s not unlike the Mac’s Time Machine, letting you restore back to any version of a file at any point in time. File History also has a lot of advanced settings, which is awesome.

Even if you bypass the Start screen entirely, there are a lot new features to get excited about in Windows 8. They may not have been as well- marketed as the touch features — which I think was a mistake — but they are there, and they’re worth upgrading for.

Complaint #3: It’s Bad for Gaming

Why People Are Upset: Gabe Newell, head of Valve (the company that makes video game app store Steam), recently called Windows 8 a “catastrophe”, and other game developers joined in synchronised chorus about how Windows 8 is going to destroy our firstborn children and gamers should just stick with Windows 7. Somehow this has led people to believe that gaming is horrible on Windows 8, Steam won’t be supported, and that Microsoft is going to close off its system so you can only buy games in the App Store. None of these are true.

Why It Isn’t A Problem: In short: people are reading way too much into a few tiny comments. Gaming on Windows 8 is, well, the same as gaming on Windows 7. Performance is virtually identical. Steam works just fine. Valve has made no claims that it won’t support Windows 8, and Microsoft has made no claims that it is going to shut Valve out.

Valve’s anger is understandable — after all, the built-in Windows 8 Store will be a big competitor — but there’s no evidence to support that gaming on Windows 8 will be any less functional than gaming on Windows 7.

So Should You Upgrade?

In short: there are some definite benefits to Windows 8, and it’s also the cheapest Windows upgrade in living memory. But should you make the switch? If your hardware and apps are compatible (which they probably are) and you can spare the $40 to upgrade, then yes — we think Windows 8 is well worth the upgrade. Of course, no one’s saying you have to — Windows 7 will be supported for a long while — but if you’re on the fence, we think you’ll like a lot of the new features in Windows 8, even if you don’t have a touch screen.


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