Sunday, 26 January 2014

Thoughts on Windows 8 (and PC World)

It was time to replace one of the laptops. The old machine is a rather disappointing HP note book, which had never been a resounding success and is now showing the ravages of misuse & inherent unreliability.

I did my research. The first decision was over the operating system; did we upgrade to Windows 8 or continue with the excellent Windows 7. I read the reviews in the computer magazines and also looked at the forums, but had difficulty in differentiating between objective opinions or troglodytes unwilling to learn or change.  On a trip to Canada, I had the opportunity to “play” with a Surface Tablet (a Microsoft own make tablet computer designed for Windows 8) and found it to be intuitive and easy to use. Of course things were in different places, but once I had discovered the Search function, everything appeared to fall into place. Decision made; we would go for a Windows 8 machine with a touch screen.

Windows 8 has recently been upgraded to Windows 8.1.  There are lots of Windows 8 machines around and the upgrade “should be easy” – but in my experience, often isn’t. I decided that I wanted a machine with 8.1 preloaded – it would save time, hassle and hopefully ensure that the hardware is a modern version! 
I wasn't, however, convinced by the solid state Surface Tablet. Probably showing my own troglodyte tendencies, I didn't want to be dependent upon an internet connection in order to access all of my files. I am comfortable with Cloud storage, which I have been using for several years, but I am not happy at the thought of only having a small hard disc and being totally reliant on BT in order to access my work.  Decision made; we would go for a conventional hard disk.

I researched machines and looked at the offerings from HP, Dell, Lenovo, Sony, Toshiba and Acer. Our other laptops are all Acer’s and speaking as I find, I am impressed by their, inevitable, compromise between price and quality. I have never paid top price for a laptop but equally have never just gone for the cheapest option. I have always researched the market and am yet to be disappointed when we have chosen a mid-ranged Acer.  Although I had a number of options, my list was headed by the Acer V5, but I wanted to try the keyboard, the touchpad and get a feel for the general ergonomics.

Then, the week before I went to purchase a machine, I read the trade press which was suggesting that Windows 8 was “dead”. Apparently, Microsoft’s corporate sales are disappointing and informed insiders are saying that in April, Microsoft will announce Windows 9, to be shipped in 2015. I can’t wait until 2015, so I wasn't fazed by the rumour.

But where could I try a machine. Since the sad demise of Comet and with the limited stocks across other retailers, there is inevitably only one choice – so a visit to PC World, Basingstoke ensued. On first impressions, their display range was good, but on closer examination over 50% of their offering were traditional non-touch screens, whereas, of the others, most were old models running Windows 8, rather than 8.1. But they did have two Acer V5’s, an older model 571P and a newer 573P, at an extra £100 for which you got an extra 2mg of Ram (from 6 to 8) and a larger hard disk (from an impressive 750GB  to an even more impressive 1TB) plus some techie changes to the processor and the graphics card. The older/cheaper machine comes with a DVD drive, not available with the newer model. They are both impressive machines.
I played with the machines. The cases are slightly different but the keyboard and touchpads felt the same. I checked the operating system and both were running Windows 8.1. I was sold, but decided to save the £100 & go with the older model, mostly because of the DVD drive. It’s the sort of thing that you don’t use often, which is why you wouldn't carry an external drive with you, but when you want one, you probably want it now! But it was a marginal decision.

I spoke to an enthusiastic salesman who endeavoured to sell me antivirus software and Office 365. I am relaxed about antivirus software. The machine came with a trial copy of McAfee whilst the built in Windows Defender (the Windows 8 name for Microsoft Security Essentials) is, reputably, pretty good. The sales guy tried his best – by rubbishing the Windows product – but I resisted.

Whilst he packed the machine, we chatted about Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 during which conversation it became apparent that this machine was only loaded with Windows 8, even though the display model was loaded with 8.1. PC World would load 8.1 for an additional £50. I wasn’t impressed. I asked what Windows 8.1 machines that they had available & was told that they didn’t stock any machines preloaded with Windows 8.1. I decided not to purchase whilst I reconsidered my decisions.

Rechecking the web sites, it became increasingly difficult to determine exactly what is in the box. The PC World web sites list several machines with Windows 8.1 preloaded, but it wasn’t entirely clear to me which machines had touch screens. I decided to visit a larger PC World store and try an additional range of machines. A few days later, I drove to Reading, which has a larger display section of laptops and ample opportunity to play. They again had an Acer V5-573P machine, which again was loaded with Windows 8.1. I spoke to a sales lady who confirmed that the machine came pre-loaded with Windows 8.1, but they were out of stock, although Basingstoke had 6 machines in stock!  I returned to Basingstoke, spoke to the manageress of the laptop section, confirmed that the machine came with Windows 8.1 preloaded and purchased a machine. A good result – albeit, after a lot of effort on my behalf. To be fair, the lady from PC World was very pleasant, apologised profusely and gave me one month’s free access to their telephone help desk, albeit I would have to cancel the account after the free month’s access, to avoid a charge.

Getting the machine back to the office, I unloaded and fired her up. I had previously discovered the Search function, whereby, from the Start Screen, you just type your questions. No looking for a search box – just start typing and the machine does the rest.

As always, I double checked the antivirus software. A trial version of McAfee is preloaded, so I ran the update option, so as to load the latest data. I then ran the update program for the operating system and waited for the 81 updates to download. Both boring household jobs, easily ignored but, in my opinion, worthwhile with any new machine.

I went online, in order to play with Windows Explorer 11. I normally don’t upgrade browser software too early, in order to allow websites to catch up with the changes in technology. Although I don’t normally use Explorer, colleagues do, so I wanted to familiarise myself with the changes.
I ended up on the Microsoft web site and within a few minutes received the message informing me that I wasn’t using the latest version of Windows 8 and did I want to upgrade to Windows 8.1. I hadn't double checked when I fired the new laptop up, as it hadn’t occurred to me that PC World could be THAT incompetent. Guess what – they could. The machine was loaded with Windows 8 and not the promised Windows 8.1. It was so silly, I had to laugh. There was no point being angry – this is the cost of using PC World. Nice people – but……..

A couple of hours later, and the upgrade finished with no apparent catastrophes. I finished playing with Explorer and turned my attention to setting up the email and transferring files. It occurred to me that I hadn’t double checked the McAfee software since the upgrade and sure enough, McAfee wasn’t there! I checked Windows Defender which said something like “Your Computer Isn’t Protected – Unable to Initiate McAfee”, or something similar. Luckily I have been around computers for a while, so I wasn’t immediately worried. I ran a complete system check (more time consumed - thanks PC World!) and confirmed that the system was clean.

It has now been a week since purchasing the system. Windows 8.1 is good. It’s fast to load and is intuitive to use. I am not sure about Explorer 11 but am learning my way around it. I haven’t needed to call the PC World technical support & I am pretty certain that I wouldn’t believe anything they said. I have got stuck a couple of times, but found the answers on Google and haven’t been delayed by much. The touch screen is terrific. It’s far easier than a touch pad or a mouse and I can’t understand the criticisms I have read, unless the critics are impeded by a lesser screen than the Acer screen I am using. Overall, I am very impressed and very pleased with the decision.  

As for PC World, I am sure that I will be forced to use them at some time in the future, but I have learned a lesson and will never again rely on anything that they say.

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