This is a public service announcement. If you love your iPad2 as I do (all those tasty, tasty game PDFs) but after updating to iOS8 found that it now has the responsiveness of a brick, here’s what you can do:

  1. Reset the network by going to Settings > General > Reset > Reset Network Settings. This will clear out all the networks and passwords remembered on your device (you do know at least your home WiFi password, don’t you?)
  2. Turn off WiFi Networking by going Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services > Wifi Networking and set it to Off.
  3. Reduce animations by going Settings > General > Accessibilty > Reduce Motion and set it to On.

I don’t know which of these had the biggest effect; I suspect the first one. iPad is now perfectly usable now, when previously browsing was impossible and even typing was a painful experience. YMMV, of course.

I upgraded to OS X Mountain Lion on my Macbook Pro last year, and since then I’ve had no end of grief with the machine locking up with the beach ball of death. I was ready this morning to do a fresh install of the OS or even roll back to Snow Leopard–but in a last-chance attempt at resurrecting the installation I did a couple of things. One of these was to clear out the applications folder including the Flash installation.

The other thing I did was to go into the recovery console (hold command-R at boot) and repair the disk permissions on the drive. The list of repairs was extensive–possibly it was a legacy from the Snow Leopard upgrade.

Taking these actions has removed the cruft of unused applications and so far I’ve not seen much of the beach ball. For anyone else thinking about something as drastic as wipe and reinstall, maybe this post will save you a morning. I’ll update in a month or so.

I’m going to sound like a dreadful fanboy now, but I just got Mountain Lion, and I really like it.

Screen Shot 2012 07 31 at 17 40 10

Since my rant on Windows 8 I’ve been eager to see Apple’s effort, hopeful that 10.8 will be the evolutionary, rather than revolutionary release that is expected of the even numbers. Evolutionary because there was a lot I liked when I tried out Lion – I don’t want those features to change.

I’ve also been expecting my macbook to turn into a smouldering slag-heap where Windows 8 pixies dance and point and laugh at me. So far, this has not happened.

Briefest of rundowns on the new system:

  • Really great multi-touch
  • Better, more precise and responsive bluetooth trackpad
  • Mission Control replaces Spaces – after a bit of practice, I vastly prefer the new desktop
  • Full-screen apps dynamically taking their own Space on the virtual desktop
  • Lauchpad – iOS-like way to select apps, seamlessly integrated with the rest of the desktop

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p>Downsides? It does seem some of my apps take longer to load now. I don’t know if that’s because the new system is optimised for SSD, or if some core apps are cached for fast loading but the majority of my apps aren’t. Time Machine seems to take a bit longer to start.

The rest of it I can take or leave – the new versions of Mail et al look good and it’s nice that they operate in the way I’d expect to find them on the iPad.

I’m waiting for something bad to happen but so far all my writing apps work and the desktop seems stable. If I were using the mac for more complex creative stuff (like music) I would probably be a bit cautious with the upgrade. My reckless upgrade cost me £13.99.

I downloaded and installed the Win8 preview alongside XP on my old PC (which I only really keep around for playing Thief).

Now I was probably expecting a bit much when I asked it to run some games, since most of my content is from XP-era and earlier. Steam installed fine but none of the content I downloaded would work. Valve are particularly negative about Windows 8, so maybe this is a symptom of what’s to come.

Good – Clean Interface

There are some good things about the new system, and a couple of annoying things. The windows look cleaner all round, like they’ve taken the best aspects of Aero Glass and the Classic borders. I like the start page too:

Windows 8 Start Menu

OK, it’s clear that their primary market is tablets but that’s probably a good thing. The combination of colours and icons is very visible.

The other good thing from a usability POV is that apps tend to be in fullscreen by default (at lease IE is, and I assume Office will be). Not having borders, toolbars and other distractions is a big bonus.

Bad – Cognitive Dissonance

The lack of a start button is questionable (despite arguments that it’s irrelevant) and it’s not hard to work out how to launch applications – however, you need to click between screens to get from the desktop to the Start screen where you can find all of your apps.

Windows 8 Consumer Preview Desktop Mode Windows Explorer 2

It took me a while to work out why this bugged me so much. Then I realised – in order to open an app in the Desktop Mode, I had to go back to the Start screen by moving the mouse pointer into a corner, waiting for a toolbar to unhide, then clicking on it. So, more clicks.

But it’s the act of transitioning between the start screen and the desktop that’s jarring. Maybe in time the user is supposed to learn to work in one mode or the other all the time. But I suspect the majority of users won’t, and it’s going to piss them off.

OSX managed to implement iOS features (mainly screens of icons) pretty much seamlessly with their core interface, and yet retained both types of program launch options. Win8 doesn’t appear to do either. It seems the Win8 uberOS is trying very hard to look different from iOS and Android, and shooting itself in the foot in the process.

Ugly – We Want Your Details

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p>To install Win8 I had to set up a Microsoft Live account. Well, OK, I had to set up an iTunes account to use my iPad. But I didn’t have to do that for my Macbook – there, the app store is optional.

Fair enough, MS didn’t ask me for my credit card details. But it did ask for email address, password, and personal information with me having to opt out of newsletters.

But the worst thing was that I realised that to log onto my computer, I needed to use my MS live account id and password. I know this because when I forgot my account password (I’d entered it with a fairly random password, thinking it was just registration information) I couldn’t log on. Then, when I asked MS to reset my password, I could log on again.

In other words, my PC has become intrinsically tied to my MS Live account. I guess if an internet connection is available, it phones home on boot. I’m kind of creeped out.

So far there’s a lot of bad and not much good. Like all other versions of the OS I may learn it eventually through necessity. But I never, ever used any version of Windows by choice. I always chose to use something else – and I only came back to Windows for games. Seeing as MS no longer have a monopoly on gaming, Windows really doesn’t have much to offer.

The final straw? The new bootloader doesn’t boot NTLDR based OS directly – it requires the machine to be restarted to boot into a legacy OS. Frankly I don’t see the Win8 partition surviving the next 24 hours.

Up until a few months ago my computing at home was a sort of inhomogeneous affair. I had a windows XP Pro desktop (dual booting Crunchbang Linux), a G4 Powerbook running MacOS 10.4, and an old PII that originally ran Win98 and had been used for a variety of server duties, and even as a command-line only writing machine.

Then my mum said she wanted a laptop to replace her old, ugly, bulky and slow (800MHz, 384 Mb ram) PC. I said get a Macbook Pro, because learning OSX will be no more painful than learning Windows 7. She loves it.

I then realised the last new computer I had bought was in 2006, so I was probably due an upgrade. On impulse I got a Macbook Pro as well. Now it’s my main machine. The WinXP machine is used to play old games that I can’t let go, otherwise it would have been given away by now.

But I wonder what would have happened if I’d bought a PC laptop instead of the mac. And then by chance (well, luck over judgement) I’ve been selected to pilot the new work desktop, based on Win7. And today I got my new desktop.

Ho hum.

Shiny Shiny

It’s really shiny. In fact, it’s too shiny. Out of the box there are several “theme packs” that vary the desktop background and the window border/taskbar colours. I found that anything other than a variation of grey for the borders and taskbar just annoyed me. I was never a fan of the cartoonish default blue for the XP desktop (the Royale theme made it bearable, otherwise I just used classic).

Once the grey borders were turned on – and a fairly calm desktop background selected – the UI became a lot less distracting. I realised I’d chosen more or less the same colour scheme as I like on the Mac.

Busy Busy

The Mac UI tends to put toolbar icons, if there are any, against a grey background in the top of the window. Folder icons in the finder tend to be muted grey or blue.

Win7’s folder icons are pale yellow – not the best contrast with the white background in an explorer window. And then there’s some weird shading thing going on with the folder icons and others that make small icons difficult to identify if you like to use a detailed view of the explorer tree all the time.

OK, that sounds like a stupid complaint, but hear me out. There are a lot of places where spots of colour stand out and really draw attention – like the close button on window borders, or the back button on IE. It means than the window decorations have a higher visibility than the actual content you’re working on.

The worst offender is MS Office. Yeah, I know that the Office Ribbon (from 2007 onwards) was a big UI change that annoyed a lot of users, but I really wasn’t concerned when running it on Windows XP where it had a nice pale blue background that let all of the options stand out. But in 7 the Ribbon background is somehow paler, and this doesn’t change if you switch Aero off. If your contrast is too high the toolbar turns white, meaning it’s harder to see where the toolbar ends and the content begins. Couple this with a dazzling number of icons of different sizes, shapes and colours, and it’s just so much harder to see the option you want.

Snap To It

While I miss the virtual desktops of OS X and Linux, I really like the Aero features. Aero snap, aero peek and the other tricks do raise visibility, and alt-tab (or win-tab) works nicely. Overall the accelerated desktop is lovely, although jerkier than I remember it (probably because of crappy integrated graphics).

Libraries

Finally, this is where it’s either genius or stupidity.

A user’s documents are grouped together from different locations into “libraries”. The phrase Document Library is used, even though I don’t believe it’s the same as the Sharepoint definition (something else I’m also trialling at work).

I have never liked this trend of hiding the folder path from the user, but to combine more than one location into one symbolic link seems madness. OK, iTunes does that but then it’s a content delivery vehicle, not something you would upload to. It’s confusing and, I think, a bit unnecessary.

I used to think OS X hid absolute paths from the users, until I realised that if you want to know that information it’s easy to find out. Not so with the Windows 7 libraries. I have yet to “get” them, although I remain hopeful.

Conclusion

I have yet to encounter UAC but then it’s my first day with the new OS. But my initial impressions are they created a nice, hardware accelerated desktop and then made it so garish and busy that in many cases it’s not fixable. Compare to my OS X experience, then Win7 UI is inhomogeneous and confuses me. I have done productive work in the environment, but I can’t see a single thing that Win7 offers that WinXP didn’t aside from a longer future of security updates. Fair enough businesses need to migrate to Win7 for security updates past 2014, but aside from that I can’t see a single thing that Win7 brings other than some cute graphical effects. Maybe my opinion will change with time and experience. Or maybe I will just let the crushing inevitability of Windows 7 roll over me.

Thank goodness Windows isn’t the only option these days.