A bit of a turnaround
So, it’s become painfully clear to me recently that I need a new laptop. My current portable computing solution, a Gateway netbook running Bodhi Linux, works decently as a writing machine, but not for doing anything more complex than websurfing.
The tension has been building over the last year or so, but the situations was brought home to me recently when I took it to Sacramento for a workshop on the software we use at my work. I was able to take notes, no problem. But when it came time to actually try to use the software, I couldn’t do it. Why? Because the system runs on Silverlight, and there is no open-source clone of Silverlight that I could get running on the netbook. Dang Microsoft. (Yes, I know about Moonlight. I couldn’t get it working. So shut up.)
This, plus a bunch of other recent frustrations, have convinced me that the time has come to enter the laptop market. But there was a problem: Windows 8.
See, I had vowed that Windows 8 would never touch any machine of mine. Since this was the same vow that I had taken with XP, Vista, and Windows 7, I should have hedged. But I honestly thought that I was ready to make the jump to Linux that I’ve been talking about for over a decade. After all, the tech press has been inundated with articles critical of Windows 8 ever since the first developer previews appeared almost a year ago.
The problem is, as always, that there’s just too much software that I rely on that only runs on Windows. And I couldn’t find suitable Linux replacements for most of it. So, of course, I spent a hell of a lot of time looking at what few Windows 7 laptops are still available–which is to say, not a lot.
Therefore, after much tortured hemming and hawing, I found myself this evening at Best Buy, looking at Windows 8 laptops and wondering if I could really tolerate Windows 8. If nothing else, I reasoned, I could get third-party application to restore the Start Menu and to boot into the Desktop.
I found a decent-looking machine and started playing with Windows 8. And…
…it didn’t suck.
It was actually usable. Many of the design decisions actually made sense. It was fast, noticeably faster than Windows 7. And the Metro (sorry, Modern) interface was not nearly as annoying as I expected–although I would want to carefully arrange it so that my most-used programs are easily accessible.
And I would probably still want a desktop/laptop machine to boot directly to the Desktop. Because I remain unconvinced that the Metro (whoops, Modern) interface makes any sense at all for a traditional keyboard/mouse setup. (Oh, and while the hot corners make some sense for a single screen, I have no idea how it would work with dual- or triple-monitor setups, which I expect to have in the near future.)
So, overall, I was pleasantly surprised. I think I could live with it. Except for the lack of a Start Menu, the Desktop seems to work more or less identically with Windows 7. I’m still not sure if the Start Screen is going to be a useful replacement for the Start Menu, long-term. But from what I can see, it’s not completely braindead.
And, as I expected, Windows 8 is a lovely tablet OS. If I were looking only for a tablet, I might have to give it a careful look. I did check out a couple of Surface models, and they seemed to work well. (I have to admit, it was very cool to see a full-blown Windows system running on a tablet.)
But what I’m looking for is a laptop. Despite Microsoft’s best efforts, I still believe that desktops and laptops are a fundamentally different beast from tablets, and it doesn’t make sense to have one system for both. There’s a good reason that Apple hasn’t combined OS X with iOS.
Overall, though, the Windows 8 systems I saw were surprisingly usable–even pleasant. Nobody is more surprised by this than I.
I didn’t buy a laptop tonight. But the range of systems I’m looking at just got a lot broader.