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Windows 8 - is it time to bail out and try something new?


Windows 8 - is it time to bail out and try something new?

When Windows 8 is launched worldwide on October 26, it will soon prove difficult to buy a PC that comes with any other operating system. If you already have a PC you are happy with, Microsoft is hoping you will cough up the £24.99 Windows 8 price to upgrade.

Unfortunately for all concerned, early reviews of Windows 8 are mixed to say the least. The new OS is radically different to its predecessors. It has a whole new interface which seems ideal for tablet use but perhaps less so for use with keyboard and mouse and the 'legacy' desktop has been relegated to a mere app, to the consternation of many power users. This isn't great news for Microsoft but it is even worse news for you if you feel you have to upgrade but don't feel like embracing the future just yet.

But wait. Maybe you don't have to follow where Microsoft takes you. Windows is no longer the only game in town. Lets take a look at what is on offer.


Linux MintLinux has a reputation for being difficult to understand, hard to install without a computer science degree to fall back on, and an inconsistent user interface that forces you to rely on hard to remember typed commands. Is it worth growing a beard just so you can change your PC operating system?

Happily, almost none of that is true any more - unless you want it to be. Linux comes in hundreds of different flavours and - yes - if you want a hardcore version that you practically have to build from individual lines of code and run in pure text mode then you can have it.

If, on the other hand, you want a modern OS with a slick windowing system that is so easy to install you don't actually have to install it to use it.. look no further than the more modern Linux distributions like Ubuntu, Mint and Fedora.

Most modern Linuxes can be run straight from the install CD so you can test it on your hardware before you decide to take the plunge. Just pop in the CD or DVD, reboot and you can start using your new OS. Hardware support has come a long way and - speaking as someone who has to install both on a regular basis - it is genuinely easier and faster to get up and running with something like Linux Mint than with Windows 7.

The biggest downside to Linux is that you won't be able to run all your Windows software on it. Some older software will run fine using WINE (Short for WINE Is Not an Emulator) but most Linux install disks come with huge libraries of applications and games covering everything from MS Office-compatible productivity suites to the latest cutting edge web browsers. Gaming is still the biggest hole in the Linux ecosystem but PC gaming giant Valve has announced a port of its Steam games market to Linux, a move partly inspired by Windows 8.

Linux also excels at revamping older hardware. If your PC struggles to cope with Windows 7, never mind 8, then a Linux install would probably give a significant speed boost.


hackintoshTo get the full OSX experience, you need to buy a Mac. A well-specced Macbook Pro with the latest OSX release is many people's idea of a dream computer and it is easy to see why. Excellent software support, brilliantly designed hardware and software that work perfectly together and quality oozing from every air vent.

This does all come at a price, however. Also, not everyone loves Apple's idea of a well-designed computer - the various incarnations of Apple's trackpad or mice on both desktop and notebook have detractors as well as admirers and the flexibility to use better specced or cheaper components is just simply not there

Unless, that is, you build yourself a Hackintosh. A home-brewed Mac may sound like a crazy idea - and there may be good reason for that - but the Hackintosh project has come a long way and installation is a lot easier than it used to be.

Apple makes OSX for its own hardware but there are some prebuilt systems around that are broadly compatible or which need only a few unofficial drivers to work. Or you could take the plunge and build your own system from scratch.

We're not sure if we would use a Hackintosh as our main work computer, but if you are feeling brave and don't mind potentially paying almost as much as a real Mac then there are instructions available here.

Chrome OS

chromebookIf like many people you work increasingly in The Cloud - and Google's version of the cloud in particular - then a Chromebook might make a cheap alternative to a Windows notebook. Chrome OS relies on Google Apps such as GMail, Google Drive (formerly Google Office) and web services like the Aviary graphics suite to give you a fully functional computer that stores your data in the cloud.

You would ideally use a Chromeboook with an always-on Wi-Fi or 3G connection but Chrome OS supports offline use as well and if it suits your style of working then this may be all you need.

If you want to try Chrome OS without coughing up for a Chromebook you could try Chromium OS, an open source clone of Chrome OS that you can install on a PC but which is currently not quite ready for prime time. Some assembly is required.

Android and iOS

eeeAndroid is similarly geared towards Google's app infrastructure and cloud storage. Most Android tablets (and many phones, assuming screen size isn't a huge issue) you can connect a keyboard and mouse and delve into the Google Play app store to find office suites, web browsers and hundreds of other useful apps that many people will find just as useful as a full PC.

Some tablets are even designed with this in mind. The Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime clicks into a thin keyboard dock to transform (hey!) into a very usable notebook. The quad core CPU is more than up to the task of basic office tasks and Google Play is packed with enough apps and games to make this a very practical alternative unless you need some Windows-only packages.

There are also builds of Android that will run on low-power computing platforms like the Raspberry Pi. For £35 plus the price of a keyboard and mouse you can hook up a very usable computer to a TV or spare monitor and with a little perseverance (and admittedly low expectations) you can get your work done on even that tiny budget.

On the iOS side of things, keyboard cases and docks for the iPad are commonplace and there are if anything even more suitable apps that can turn what is nominally a home entertainment device into a productive workspace. Apple's own iCloud infrastructure will keep your data safe and let you access it on a PC or Mac without even having to think where you saved it. You can achieve the same effect on Android using something like Dropbox or SugarSync.

Moving away from Windows might seem daunting but it needn't be. You can happily install Linux alongside your existing copy of Windows and switch between them on start up. Similarly, using a cloud service like Dropbox or Google Drive will let you work on a tablet or alternative OS and seamlessly carry on if and when you boot up a Windows box again.

Computing is changing fast and the days when you had to pay the Microsoft Tax are definitely over. There has never been a better time to try an alternative to Windows, so why not give it a try? What's the worst that could happen?


October 15, 2012, 5:42 pm

I currently run W7x64 and I would love to switch to Ubuntu, in fact I already use an Ubuntu VM for certain applications.

The big blocker for me, and for many people I suspect is gaming. Only a very, very small subset of games run natively on Linux and the remainder might run slowly in wine, or more often not at all.

Until game developers start coding for OpenGL/Linux I'm afraid my main OS will continue to be Windows.


October 15, 2012, 8:53 pm

Two things I would need to completely replace my Windows laptop for a Android transformer-like device.

Support for my external DVD writer.

If Eclipse IDE could be rewritten to work for Android.

But in any case, even though I'm a huge Android person, I really like the Windows 8 design. Would love to get the Asus core i7 Transformer Book.

Martin Daler

October 15, 2012, 9:57 pm

I guess that is a sub-set of the basic issue - Windows is the de-facto standard OS, be it for games or any other application. And in the end, Windows isn't really so bad. so why not live with it? So it remains the standard.

Trevor Totten

October 15, 2012, 10:09 pm

Whilst I can see the benefits of the new "Modern UI" for touchscreen devices, it is absolutely dreadful for use on a laptop/PC. I will not be updating until they put the start menu back in, or until one of the applications that emulate the start menu has matured enough for me to consider using it.

And maybe I just won't upgrade at all. Microsoft has annoyed a lot of people by seemingly putting all their eggs in the touchscreen basket. Do they really think tablets/slates will replace traditional laptops/PCs? Dream on. I work in IT for an organisation with 18,000 users. I can only imagine the uproar were we to roll out Windows 8 to all those users tomorrow...

I think Microsoft believe they're in some way getting the jump on Apple with this. Personally, I think it's a massive mistake.


October 15, 2012, 11:04 pm

Really not getting the anti reaction to Win 8. Have been using the consumer preview for a while and it's quicker and better looking than Win 7, I find the live tile start page genuinely useful, some pretty decent apps are starting to appear in the app store, and when I'm using it for work I just live in the desktop as I used to. Linux and OSX are alternatives to Windows (Chrome and Android just aren't) but they're no more appealing alternatives to Win 8 than they were to Win 7.


October 16, 2012, 3:22 am

As an ex-Windows user (bailed out at Vista: Ubuntu ever since), I can vouch for Linux being an absolutely viable option for everyday productivity and browsing. There is certainly a lot less comp sci required these days than there was a few of years ago.

Nevertheless if you're thinking of taking the plunge with a Linux distribution on a new machine I'd still recommend checking your hardware for compatibility - particularly if it's a laptop - before you buy. Things like switching graphics (Nvidia Optimus etc.) can be a major pain, and there's are issues around UEFI "secure boot" (where the hardware you buy may be inexorably tied to one OS) which are not resolved yet. If you do a bit of homework you'll be fine though, and there are loads of Linux community websites that will help you out.


October 16, 2012, 5:49 pm

I'm going to stick to windows 7 for the time being. Windows seems to go through a good/bad cycle, and windows 8 seems to be falling into the latter group. There really is nothing wrong with Windows 7, the only reason I can see for upgrading is if you have a touch screen.

Having said that I absolutely 100% recommend installing Linux if you're still running windows XP at all.


October 16, 2012, 8:13 pm

There will be those who are new to Windows who will use it and probably won't know or want anything else.

The rest of us are expecting W8 to be the biggest turkey since Vista. It may even be the beginning of the end for Microsoft.

Martin Daler

October 17, 2012, 11:40 pm

I recall Steve Ballmer finding that Win 7 was not great on a touch screen slate back in 2010 - see about 3:39 in:

He found out the hard way that a desktop optimised UI does not work well on a touch screen.

Why has he not figured out the converse?

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