We've all heard the complaints - but come on, I mean, how bad could it actually be? I mean Windows 7 seemed designed to make you click thru 3 or 4 extra steps to do anything, but I wasn't looking to upgrade an existing machine or even use it for much... just something to try out IE10 and the odd other Windows specific item.
So a Windows 8 OEM DVD arrives in the post (before the OEM/SystemBuilder version gets pulled, I've got a spare SSD (unplug the normal hard drive, just in case), so lets boot from DVD and get started.
And it starts poorly - enter your product key, a product key printed in grey against a dark blue wavy patterned background in what looks like, oh yes, dark text that's smaller than 2mm tall. I've still got pretty good vision, but come on, this is just ridiculous. In the end I had to take a photo under bright light and blow up the display... and even then some characters are ambiguous until you shine the light in a particular direction (see the photo below - is that last character a P or an R?).
Piracy is a real issue, but is this the best Microsoft can do? Even the most short-sighted pirates aren't going to be stopped by this, but your typical consumer... wow, how to start on the wrong foot...
And of course, I've had to take a photo to read the numbers, so there's now a copy of the digits, photographed so as to be legible, floating around on a memory stick and perhaps on a cloud service, which surely destroys the entire purpose of making it so hard to read or easily copy in the first place.
And to be honest, now that I look again I'm still not sure what I typed in - my copy of Windows is reported as activated OK but Windows won't show you more than the last 5 digits (I suspect I'd be committing a heinous crime if the above photo showed any more of the characters). More genius actions of putting the needs of Microsoft over the needs of the user.
The install took about an hour (only a couple of reboots needed, but why do MS installs still need so many reboots), and then an incredibly sluggish set of wizards setting things up before I can get into Windows proper. Lots of full screen displays slowly pulsing between colours, while I'm told to wait... and wait.. and wait... why?
So the install detects most things (but not my Microsoft keyboard and mouse - seems I have to revert to Windows 7 tech for those), but before I can update to 8.1, seems I have to install updates for 8.0.
And it seems the option to "check for and download updates, but then prompt me to choose what to install" has gone... I now either trust Windows Update to only update and install things that it wants when it wants, or to turn it off altogether. [EDIT: After upgrading to 8.1, buried in settings I find this option is still available, but it wasn't offered during installation].
Looks like there's 64 updates, ~700Mb... fair enough. Well I can download the updates in a few minutes (70Mb connection), but how long to install them? About an hour of processing (how long can it take to write 700Mb of patches to files to an SSD), and then several reboots, with lots of extended shutdown and boot up sequences as it applies more changes... very slowly again. During this time, I can't use the system - it's installing during the boot process so all I can do is wait. With a typical linux install I boot a live kernel and then can use the system while rebuilding options ... I rarely reboot my linux machine but can recompile updates to gcc and the kernel while still using the system, and the odd change that forces a reboot (kernel/grub change) is an interruption of less than a minute. But under Windows, you lose access to the machine altogether for long periods while it fiddles about.
Finally 8.0 is up to date, and if I can get thru the mess of the UI (did nobody really stop and ask if this was madness - it just runs as a mess, but I'll limit this post to the install process), I can install 8.1. So the download takes a while, but because it's a Metro app then it vanishes if you do anything useful, so you're not sure if it's still running or died. It does keep running, just very slowly, and then starts the install, again with progress reported via the now-you-see-it-now-you-dont Metro app, until finally it's time to reboot into shiny 8.1.
This of course triggers another long extended cycle of part-install, extended-shutdown, extended-startup, and reboot again, (and again). A good couple of hours after the download ended, I'm still looking at the most visually annoying spinner since the hourglass, and a "45% complete" screen, and waiting...
Luckily I have other computers and work to get on with while all this is happening, and the typical home user doesn't install Windows from scratch, but does the average home user really need to spend half a day upgrading to 8.1 in this day and age? This is upgrading a clean install of 8.0 on an SSD, with a genuine quad core processor, 8gb RAM, and no fancy obscure hardware. And at the end, all those wizard-style setup screens that I just endured a few hours ago (no I don't want Bing, no I don't want filters, no I don't want intrusive odds and sods, no I don't want everything I type triggering searches across my hard drive, my email, bing and several other cloud services), I have to do them all again... and then wait for that pulsing screen to "update a few more things".
And when we're finally done.. what's that .. nearly all of the 30Gb of disk space I allocated is used? Come off it... and why is everything running so very very slowly. Well it turns out that it's decided to make a 4Gb swap file on an SSD (not that smart) and is hammering the swap file (system processes show disk bandwidth usage at 100%), and it's made a hibernation file of 6+Gb so it can use this to do it's "pretend to boot quicker by actually hibernating trick". It's done this without noticing that it's now got less than 1Gb to spare on the only drive it (currently) has access to. So turn off the page file, and then try to figure out how to tell it to ditch the hibernation file (you need an admin cmd prompt, which in itself is a struggle to find first time, and then an obscure command as there's no UI to turn hibernation completely off).
Finally, a day later... I have a desktop... and what a mess of a desktop it is... I'm greeted with recipes, the weather in New York (??), news headlines that would make the Daily Mail look authoritative and guff... It's got the visual appeal of a letterbox full of advertising junk mail leaflets, but I'll save that for another post.