Windows 8: So easy even my wife gets it

One day into our Windows 8 adventure and my non-techie wife has it down pat.

Microsoft's initial pricing deal on upgrades to Windows 8 Pro expired yesterday. Up until January 31, owners of previous versions of Windows could upgrade to the latest iteration of their flagship OS for just $39.99. Now it goes back up to a minimum of $199.99. If that wasn't enough, if you applied at their website, they would also send you a free license for Windows Media Center, which gave you DVD and Blu-ray capabilities as well. That was just too good a deal for me to pass up. I bought and installed Windows 8 on both my laptop and our family desktop yesterday.

After my recent posts on Microsoft's future and Windows 8 (here, here and here) and some of the vitriolic comments regarding the new OS that followed, I thought I should test it out myself before judging what others were saying about it. More than that, I put it to the ultimate test: how would my wife like it?

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You see, my wife, bless her soul, is a wonderful woman. A great wife for 23 years (this month), a great mom, a realtor and all-around good person. However, she is not what you would call a "geek." It seemed that for many years of our marriage, with me working in IT, the more I worked on computers, the less she would go near them. There were many years in our marriage where I thought she was jealous of all the time and attention I gave to my computers. As a result, she has never really been what you would call computer-savvy. I moved her to an iPhone from just a regular cellphone about two years ago and it was very traumatic for her and me for a while. Eventually, she got the hang of it, and now she is always texting, emailing, and Facebooking on her phone (no Twitter though, she doesn't get Twitter). With her work as a realtor she's also been active on our home desktop daily for the last two years or so. Working on the MLS realtor site, email and documents and real estate contracts keeps her busy. Prior to this, she really had little to no experience on Windows.

She has gotten better, too. She can now scan and save documents (she still doesn't put them in separate folders, just a big mess in the documents folder), changes ink cartridges on the printer, and checks her email. She uses Office pretty well. I still get called in the middle of the day if the Internet at home is down or something out of the ordinary pops up. But she is much more computer-literate then she was, say, last year.

For all of the above, I thought how she dealt with Windows 8 and how my 11 and 13-year-old sons dealt with it would be much more enlightening and informative than compated to what I thought.

So the day started off with me upgrading my own Toshiba laptop, which was running Windows 7 at the time. The upgrade was picture perfect. No bumps, no curves. I had to shut down Microsoft Security Essentials because that is sort of built into Windows 8 now. Maybe one or two other applications were not compatible, but there was nothing too bad. Within about an hour, I was up and running.

My initial reaction was, "what was all the bitching about the no desktop and start button about?" The lower left tile in the new home screen was clearly labeled "desktop." You click that and you're right at your desktop, albeit without a start button. For me, the biggest thing was realizing that swiping the mouse (in my case a touchpad) into the right corner brought up the search, settings and start buttons. Swiping the upper-left corner brought up the apps and programs I was working on previously. If I needed a particular program I could search for it. Hitting the settings button in desktop gave me access to control panel and I could get to anything I need there. I pinned my most-used apps to the start bar on the desktop and I was good.

I went back and spent some time on the Metro tiles screen. I went into the Microsoft store and downloaded a couple of free apps (CNN, NY Times, ESPN), along with the apps that were loaded by default. Soon, my tiles came alive with new mail notifications, Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter notes in my People tile. I really liked the news tiles and the Bing travel tile. I rearranged adding tiles to launch my Office apps and I was good.

What I quickly realized was that if I wanted to hang out on the new start screen and the tiles I could, but I was spending most of my time on the regular desktop screen, the same way I did in Windows 7. My computer seemed to be more responsive and snappier, and I didn't really have any learning curves.

I went one further, though. I signed up to rent Office 365 2013 for $9.99 a month. It downloaded the new versions of all of the Office apps (including One Note and Publisher and I think Access too, though I haven't checked). In addition, I was given another 20GB of storage on Microsoft SkyDrive to store my stuff and I also will get 60 minutes of Skype calls. I can install Office 365 on up to five computers for the same price as well.

Office 2013 has a bit of a different look, but is not really much different to use than I have seen. I haven't really used the cloud features and stuff yet, but even Outlook 2013 is not that different. The menus look a little different but it has the same ribbons and buttons. I have just about always upgraded my Office version when upgrading Windows, so this is pretty normal for me. So far, I'm very happy with the Office 365 deal.

Next, I turned to our family desktop that my wife and kids use (when they are not on their phones, tablets, etc.). This also ran Windows 7, but the upgrade process ran into snags. Exactly 11% into the upgrade I got a failure notice and the upgrade aborted. No reason why it failed, nothing, just aborted. Finally, I had to call Microsoft (actually went online to chat with support). Because I was within 90 days of buying the product, I qualified for free premium support. 

The Microsoft support specialist and I spent about the next two hours trying to figure out what the failure was. Finally, after uninstalling and tweaking a bunch of things, we figured it out that an old version of the Print Shop and the very old .Net version it had installed were causing the error. I uninstalled that program and my upgrade proceeded smoothly. Once it was complete I installed my already paid for Office 365 2013 on that machine as well (I still have three machines to install on). I then went and applied for the free Media Center license (that expired on the 31st too). 

After I was sure everything was working, I called my wife over and showed her the new start screen. She thought it was pretty, but wanted to know where her computer had gone. I showed her how to hit the desktop tile, and up came the computer she knew, but didn't love. I showed her how to swipe her mouse to the top-right corner to get back to home screen. There, I had set up tiles for all of the applications she used. She just had to press the tile and her program would start on the desktop she was used to. She was very comfortable with that.

Then I took her back to the home screen and she and I went into the Microsoft store and downloaded a few apps. She liked that the tiles came to life with information. She found the tile screen easy to use and understandable. Both she and I noted that the amount and variety to apps in the Microsoft store is not up to snuff compared to iTunes or Google Play (she has Android on her Touchpad, which she doesn't use enough). This is seriously something Microsoft needs to work on. They need app parity.

She saw that her Office apps looked different but worked the same. She was fine with that. I didn't bother telling her about the SkyDrive and Skype stuff - she wouldn't use it anyway. But the good news was that at that point that she was up and running with no fuss, and she wasn't blaming me for messing up her computer.

Next, I showed my sons the new OS and they said it was cool, but didn't bother with it much. They have their tablets (Android Touchpads) and phones (one Android and one iPhone), so unless they are doing school work, they  don't really use the PC much (I think that is pretty normal).

All was well in our house on day one of the upgrade. It was the smoothest upgrade I can remember in the Shimel house. But, for me, the clincher came today. My oldest son had school work and went on the PC. It was open to the traditional desktop and he didn't see how to launch Word. He asked my wife and me. I was about to answer when my wife interrupted to tell him, "it's easy, just swipe the mouse in the top right corner. You see the button that says Start, click on that. On the Start screen just press the Word tile." That was all the proof I needed.

I don't understand why people are saying that Windows 8 doesn't work on a non-touch PC. If my wife can get it so quickly, there is no reason you can't either.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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