Adventures with Windows 8 (Part 1)

I’ve been holding back on doing any testing with Windows 8, mostly because I didn’t have a suitable system that I was willing to risk screwing up by putting a pre-release OS on it. But, now that Win8 has been RTM and the bits are out there on MSDN, the Microsoft Partner site, etc., I decided to take the plunge. I downloaded the bits and our internal-use license key via the Microsoft Partner site, and on Saturday, I decided to upgrade my Motion Computing LE1700 tablet to Windows 8.

The LE1700 has been my primary computing system now for at least four years. It’s got an Intel Core2 L7400 CPU (1.5 GHz), and 4 Gb of RAM. It came with Vista pre-installed, but when Win7 was released, I was able to upgrade it with a minimum of driver hassles. The LE1700 has a completely detachable keyboard, and I have a docking station in the office and a docking station at home with full-size keyboards and monitors in each location, so the ability to move back and forth has been great.

The only down side is that it only has a 70 Gb hard disk. As time has gone by, that’s become more and more difficult to live with – and I finally bought a 32 Gb SD card (fortunately, it does have an SD memory slot) and moved a lot of infrequently-accessed files off the hard disk. This also made it difficult to do the Win8 upgrade, in that I had to move a bunch of additional data off the hard disk to free up enough space, then upgrade, then get rid of the resulting Windows.old folder, then move stuff back.

Other than that, the upgrade went pretty smoothly. There were a couple of older apps that I needed to uninstall before I could upgrade, but they weren’t apps that I particularly cared about. One surprise, though, was that it suggested that I uninstall iTunes. I did so, as I may be the only person left on the planet who has not purchased any music through iTunes – I installed it only so I could load music onto my infrequently-used iPod nano – so there was no down side for me in doing the uninstall.

One oddity had to do with the license key. Based on what I had read, I expected to be prompted to enter a license key as part of the installation – but I wasn’t. Then, once the installation was complete, I couldn’t find any way to install a license key so I could activate the OS. Ultimately, I had to go to a command prompt and use the “slmgr” (Software License Manager) utility. The syntax is “slmgr /ipk [your product key]” – that’s “ipk” as in “install product key.” Once that was done, the system activated just fine. I do not know whether this is an anomaly that is specific to the MS Partner internal-use version of the product, or whether it will crop up in other volume license versions.

As I said, the upgrade went smoothly. Even though I was not connected to the ManageOps network when I did the upgrade, it did not disrupt the domain membership, and I was able to authenticate with my domain credentials when I was done. So far, everything I’ve tried to run has run fine. As far as I can tell, even my AVG anti-virus is still functional.

I am a bit annoyed that Microsoft dropped the “Aero Glass” interface, but I guess I’ll get used to that. I’m also annoyed at the absence of a “Start” button on the desktop task bar, but I found a solution for that: the good folks at Stardock have a utility called “Start 8” that puts the Start button back, and gives you both a “Run” and a “Shutdown” option if you right-click on it. (At your option, it can also take you straight to a desktop when you log on.) The version of Start8 that is currently available for download was designed for the Consumer Preview of Win8, but appears to install and run just fine on the released version as well. I’m sure that Stardock will release an update for it soon.

I was also very pleased to discover that my two favorite Win7 utilities, “Fences” (also by Stardock) and “Display Fusion,” also still functioned within the Win8 desktop. In particular, the Fences utility eases some of the inconvenience of having to look for applications that aren’t on the new Win8 Start screen. Since I had used Fences to group application icons on my Win7 desktop for my most frequently-used apps, all I have to do is jump to a desktop, and those icons are still right there.

I suspect that, for the foreseeable future, I will still do most of what I do within the context of a traditional desktop, which begs the question of why I should have upgraded in the first place. One reason, of course, is so I can write posts like this one. Another is that, as a Microsoft Partner, I felt that I needed to be familiar with the new OS. Also, my LE1700 is touch-capable, although it requires the use of a stylus, so I’m curious to see how well things will work when I undock the system and actually use it as a tablet. Finally, I’ve got my sights set on a Surface Pro tablet when they become available (I’m due for a system upgrade anyway), so the more exposure I get to Win8 the more prepared I’ll be.

I’ll be writing more about my adventures with Windows 8 as time goes on…

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