I bought a new computer a couple of weeks ago, an ASUS x202e laptop.
I’d been growing increasingly dissatisfied with my cherry-red netbook. Despite its portability, it’s always been just a little too underpowered to do everything I need to do; and putting Linux on it didn’t help much, because it reduced its compatibility with a lot of tools that I need. It still works okay as a straight writing machine, but not for much of anything else. This was finally brought home when I tried to take it to a training in Sacramento for my work, and found it to be impossible to run our Web-based analytics software on it–because it’s written in Silverlight, for which there is currently no Linux equivalent. Damn you, Microsoft.
Of course, I could rant and rave about the idiocy of writing anything at all in Silverlight rather than HTML5 (a conversion is in the works, but at least a couple of years off). Or I could wallow in despair at having a job that exposes me to such monstrosities. But it is what it is, and it must be dealt with. And so, this was the final straw pushing me to find a replacement.
One small problem, though: I had vowed never to let Windows 8 touch any system of mine. (Yes, I know, I said the same thing about XP and Vista. Shut up.) And yet, I had waited too long; it was almost impossible to find a new laptop without Windows 8. Especially since I really wanted an ultrabook; I was sick of heavy, clunky laptops that always felt like I was carrying around an anvil.
I spent some time looking at the rapidly dwindling options for getting a laptop with Win7 preinstalled, and found them wanting. I spent more time looking at possibilities for getting a newer machine and then downgrading to 7, and decided against it, mainly because of driver issues. And finally, I considered various Linux possibilities–but that just led to the same problem as before.
(Before you ask: no, I never seriously considered Macs. The Macbook Air is a lovely piece of technology. But, as always with the works of Apple, a comparable product can usually be had for significantly less. Not to mention the whole massive pain in the ass of moving to an entirely new software ecosystem, while still keeping Windows on the desktop.)
So, most reluctantly, I wandered into Best Buy to take a look at what was out there, knowing that I’d probably be repelled by Win8.
…astonishingly, it didn’t suck. Not at all.
Oh, the Start Screen was bizarre at first, until I realized that it’s really just the Start Menu on steroids. Search and the various settings are in strange new places, but it didn’t take long for me to get used to it. And some of the decisions, like the Charms Bar, actually made some sense, particularly on machines with touchscreens.
And it’s fast. Not a small consideration. And some of the machines on offer were actually quite nice as well.
So, embarrassingly, I ended up doing a complete 180, right there in Best Buy. I went from refusing to even touch a Win8 device to wanting to buy one right away.
And so I did. Though not at Best Buy. I selected a few machines there to look at more closely, then went looking for them on Amazon. And I ended up buying a slightly higher-powered cousin of one of those.
I’m writing this on it right now. It has a touchscreen, which I use in conjunction with the keyboard and touchpad. It’s comfortable. It’s fast. It’s pretty–the case is brushed aluminum, which is unusual at this price point, and has a faint purplish tone to it.
Win8 is highly customizable, so I can set it up just how I like to work. And, while Microsoft’s stuff is clearly favored, it’s given me no trouble with any of the many third-party tools I use.
And, I have to admit, a lot of the Windows 8 apps that I’ve looked at are quite nice, particularly casual games. (I’ve quickly become addicted to TapTiles.) More elaborate programs don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense; for instance, the Evernote app, while pretty, is slow and not all that intuitive. No reason to use it when I spend most of my time in the desktop anyway and can use the traditional application there. The Live Tiles are annoying to me, but can be easily turned off.
The contrast between the Start Screen and the desktop is a little jarring, and I can see how many users would find it confusing and alien. Like I said, the key, IMHO, is to treat it as you would the Start Menu in Win7–with the added ability to run lightweight apps right there inside it. All the other capabilities, at least the ones that are most important, are just a swipe away in the Charms Bar. Anything else can be either pinned to the desktop taskbar or turned into a Start Screen tile.
So, yeah, I’m okay with this. It’s working for me–and I haven’t even installed any of the Start Menu replacements like Start8. I do wonder how easy Win8 would be to use without a touchscreen, but I’m not planning to find out. I’m keeping Win7 on my desktop machine for the foreseeable future.
And as for Saffron, she’s been largely decommissioned. I think she’ll end up being a travel computer. Whenever I get to go out of the country, she’ll be the machine I take to get to my stuff in the cloud–and avoid risking my data with the Neandertals in U.S. Customs.
Oh. Saffron? That’s the cherry-red netbook. We name our computers after Firefly characters. My homebuilt desktop machine is River, because it’s small, dark, and powerful. The netbook was Saffron because it was a cute redhead that I never quite trusted. My sweetie’s machine is Kaylee, because, well, Kaylee is awesome.
And the new ultrabook? Inara.
Because it’s beautiful.