We have a shared desktop PC in our house, to be used by us all. Because I, my brother and my sister all have our own PC’s or notebook, it’s primarily used by our parents. Recently my parents decided to replace it with a new notebook. Not because the old desktop was no longer up to the task, but because it is more aesthetically pleasing and saves much space and wires. And of course a notebook is more mobile. I decided a 17 inch notebook would be a good idea as they primarily needed a desktop replacement which isn’t moved often.
The new laptop
My choice fell on the Dell Inspiron 17R. It has a monitor with a resolution of 1600 by 900 pixels, which is a huge benefit. Unfortunately many 17 inch notebooks still ship with lower resolutions. Another advantage was that it had the latest hardware, the Intel Core i3-3110M CPU of the Ivy Bridge generation. Its very reasonable price of € 530 sealed the deal, as the budget was important.
Having used it for a while now, I like the looks, but it’s not very sturdy as is to be expected for this price. Maybe more on the notebook itself later, because the reason I’m writing this is that it ships with Windows 8.
Bad usability and a push for the Microsoft account in Windows 8
Windows 8 is an absolute disaster, worse than Windows ME. Windows 7 was good for a Microsoft product, but its successor is the opposite. A more extensive argument against Windows 8 has already been written by a usability expert, so I’ll be brief here. I think they tried to design an OS for both tablets and desktop use, which proved to be detrimental to desktop use. Jack of all trades, master of none as they say. Tasks which were done quickly in Windows 7 are much more tedious now.
After starting up and getting rid of all the bloatware shipped by Dell such as trials of McAfee and Microsoft Word, I noticed that you need a Microsoft account for the Mail app and many others! Had this been optional this would have been okay, but all I want to do is to retrieve e-mails from the IMAP server of our Internet service provider. Requiring users to use a Microsoft account for that is ridiculous! Microsoft doesn’t care about privacy, it’s either their way or the highway. I immediately downloaded Thunderbird along with Firefox and LibreOffice.
Bugs in Windows 8
Even worse is the fact that Windows 8 is affected by some serious bugs. The connection with the WiFi router would often go down for no reason. I’m sure it’s either the laptop or Windows 8, because my own laptop with Fedora Linux and my sister’s laptop with Windows 7 don’t have this issue.
Dell technical support advised me to use an UTP cable, which was no problem and gave a reliable connection. They advised to check if the problem also occurred on other wireless networks, but without opportunity and willingness to test that I guess we’ll stick with the cable.
Another issue is that even if the printer connected to the Windows 8 laptop has been set to be shared on the network, the printer still can’t be found on the Windows 7 laptop of my sister! Previously on the old desktop with Windows 7 this hadn’t been a problem. Right now my sister is forced to copy documents over to a USB flash drive and take those to the Windows 8 laptop to print them there.
the comparison with Linux
The Windows 8 designers were fools and I hope the discontent of the their users will bite Microsoft in the ass. I hope this will lead more people to try Linux, but I’m not optimistic here. The reason Windows 8 is installed on this laptop is because my mother asked for it, after using Fedora with GNOME 3 for a year or so.
This was decided because other family members complained that they can’t help my mother if she encounters problems because they are not familiar with Linux. They are very reluctant to try something new, which is why their addiction to Windows is difficult to break.
While my mother was reasonably capable of using GNOME 3, she had some problems with using the Evolution e-mail client and especially the Shotwell photo management software. The Evolution issues are relatively minor and should pose no difficulty for family members not familiar with it, but Shotwell has a greater need for improvement.
Shotwell versus the Windows 8 Pictures app
My mother often receives photos over the e-mail and doesn’t keep track of where she saves them so that they get lost. Arguably this is more a matter of adapting to the right workflow as a user, but it’s also an issue which might be fixed by improving usability.
The issue has two aspects: First, Evolution doesn’t have a clear option to import photos with the default photo management application, you can only open attached photos with the Shotwell Viewer. Second, Shotwell has an option to import photos and by default stores them in the Pictures directory in the year/month/day subdirectory format.
This is not useful as subdirectories with names of months and days are not descriptive enough for me, so I’ve enabled the option to watch the Pictures directory for new photos copied there manually, without Shotwell’s importer. This way I can copy the directory Sicily to Pictures/2012 and have Shotwell detect those new photos automatically. I tried teaching this workflow to my mother, but it didn’t stick. Shotwell should help the user to adopt this second workflow by default.
I regret that I’ve never systematically noted down the issues encountered by my mother so that I could file bug reports for them, but I doubt Windows 8 will do better. Thunderbird is a little bit more user friendly than Evolution, but this has nothing to do with Microsoft.
The Pictures app used for browsing photo’s on Windows 8 simply presents directories in the My Pictures directory with huge thumbnails containing a slide show of photos, so in effect that’s similar to the second workflow for Shotwell I described, even if the Windows 8 app is grossly inefficient compared to Shotwell. I simply copied over the directories of the years from Shotwell’s Pictures directory to My Pictures on Windows 8. This seems to work for now, but I wonder what will happen if my mother needs to add new photos to the My Pictures directory.
And you can say about GNOME 3 what you want, but it is a fact that getting familiar with Windows 8 was a lot more confusing for my mother, myself and my other family members who only used the previous versions of Windows.