My laptop started crashing this last week, so I pulled the drive and upgraded to a more modern machine. It had Windows 7 on it, but I decided that I’d be an early adopter and upgrade straight to Windows 8 Professional. I’m not talking dual-boot people, but a full-on upgrade of the primary OS. That’s right, I’m a risk-taker. Some might call me a maverick.

After about a week of use, here are three things you need to know: The good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good – Performance

Windows 8 is quick. And that’s not just because I tripled my RAM when getting a new machine. Boot time and loading time is definitely speedy compared to Windows 7 and prior version of Windows. At long last, Microsoft finally re-architected some of the sad old resource allocation structure that has plaguedthe OS with slow startup times. Along with this, sleep time, hibernate time, shutdown time are all noticeably faster. This is great! I hated putting my Windows 7 machine to sleep and waiting 60 seconds for the fan to stop spinning before putting it in the case, for fear of suffocating and overheating it. Sleep seems to be almost instantaneous in Windows 8.

The system has also been optimized for searching. Starting with Windows XP, Microsoft added the Search Indexer Service to help speed up searching for files and applications. This was improved in Windows Vista, then again in Windows 7, and now it’s a new generation of searching in Windows 8. As a person who has three apps on my quick launch and searches for all the rest, I definitely appreciate this feature.

Internet browsing speed is vastly improved, too. That’s because of Internet Explorer 10, which is only available for Windows 8. You’re probably already seen some of the reviews, but in case you haven’t heard: IE has finally caught up (and possibly surpassed) some of the browser competitors for standards, performance, and usability. I’m sure Firefox and Chrome and retooling to compete, and will be taking IE more seriously with this release, especially once Windows 8 is widely adopted and use of IE 10 spreads.

The Bad – Apps vs. Applications

Full Windows 8 has elements of a tablet’s touch and gesture based operating system, along with the standard desktop experience we are used to on our PCs. I think this is a great idea, as the main complaint I have about my iPad is it’s not 100% a PC replacement. I still have to keep a laptop around in case I need to access a “full” desktop version of something. Apps are great, but they aren’t all full-featured enough. Maybe they’ll get there, but for now it’s a pain to keep up with a laptop for things like viewing Flash on the web. Similarly, I can’t code on the iPad so I have to have a standard PC around for programming.

While Windows 8 includes both tablet and desktop features, the dual nature is simply not implemented very well. Touch-based “Apps” and classic desktop “Applications” are completely separate programs. So, there are two, distinct versions of things like Outlook, Word, Internet Explorer, etc. and they generally do not share any settings. For example, I set up my classic desktop Outlook mail account on the machine, including my signature, fonts, etc. When I went in to the Mail app in the “touch” interface, it had no idea about any of that. I had to set up the account a second time, and configure the settings again in a totally different interface. Why can’t these same applications share some manner of settings? It feels disjointed, and it’s terribly annoying. When I want to download a new application, do I use the Windows Store and get the touch app? Or do I download the classic desktop version? Or both? I’m not sure until I see them if I’ll want one, the other, or both. And certainly I don’t want to spend the time setting multiple versions especially when I’m not sure which I’ll use more.

I think the future of PC use is this: I have my tablet docked with a full keyboard/mouse and I start replying to an email in my classic desktop Outlook on my home Wi-Fi network. I have to run off to a meeting, so I undock and grab just the slate tablet to make some final edits and send the email on the road, via a 4G cellular data connection. My fantasy comes to a halt when, using the current Windows 8 OS, to my surprise the touch-friendly Mail App has not be configured with my Outlook email account. I have to set it up all over again. Furthermore, the composed email is stuck in the Classic Desktop Outlook, not available the touch Mail App. So, I have to play a tedious game of touch with the classic desktop experience while on the road just to finish and send the email. I crash my car, and have to buy a Ferrari. Now I’m out $300k. This is a simple scenario that I would expect to experience regularly, and it should simply be more seamless. Though, I wouldn’t mind the car upgrade.

I really do believe Microsoft is headed in the right direction. I would absolutely be willing to ditch my iPad for an OS and device that can provide a full desktop experience when I want it, and a touch tablet experience when that’s more convenient for me. But it’s simply got to be a seamless transition at any point in time, and while Window’s Surface is closer to achieving it than Apple’s iPad, it’s just not there yet. Please, Microsoft, take a good hard look at this and get it right!

The Ugly – Start Menu

OK, so in Windows 95, Microsoft introduced the Start menu and forever changed how we use the Windows operating system. This feature has carried over to generations of the OS over time, and is a familiar component to everyone. For Windows 8, not only did Microsoft decide to remove the Start Menu button, but they completely replaced with a full screen, touch inspired interface. And the worst part is that they didn’t just disable the “classic” start menu button for you to turn back on–it’s been completely removed from the OS.

Before: Windows 7 Start Menu

After: Windows 8 Start Menu

It’s going to be hard for Microsoft to live down this decision. I understand they are optimizing for the next generation of personal computers, which are likely to be dockable touchscreen tablets. But much like Bill Gates tried to introduce a tablet PC too early around 1999 or 2000; this is going too far too early. How hard would it have been to make the classic Start Menu an option that you can turn back on? I simply can’t understand how Microsoft decided it was a good idea to do away with it entirely.

There is a glimmer of home, though: A SourceForge project out there lets you customize the start menu in older versions of Windows. It has been updated to work with Windows 8–and it adds the familiar start menu back to the OS! It’s an absolute must-have download. It’s not perfect, but it’s very, very close. Link: http://classicshell.sourceforge.net/

Should you upgrade? Despite some of the issues, I say go for it. Embrace the future with open arms.

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