This is another general “tech geek” post, but I think there are some useful bits in it!
My wife has recently gone back to graduate school. I had originally given her my old Compaq laptop (circa 2005) to start with. While it has worked well for her modest needs such as Word Processing and running an old version of a piece of statistical software which could run on even OLDER systems, even modest modern apps would bring it to it’s electronic knees. So, much to her irritation and my joy, it was time to get her a new system to work on. Even modest modern hardware requirements would be good enough but it would mean that it might be difficult to get Windows 7. Yes, I’ve used Windows 8 and I think it’s massively painful. We went with a Lenovo U400 series system primarily because if I had to downgrade it, there would be full driver support. However, I decided that it would be best to try to cope with 8 and then downgrade if she couldn’t tolerate it. Thankfully, after my basic setup steps, I managed to configure the system in such a way that it was useful without a touchscreen.
My first steps involved my usual system cleanup I run if I don’t want to do a format and reinstall of the OS. This involves a visit to pcdecrapifier.com
. This is a nice little tool that lets you kill off a number of applications that PC makers usually bundle in to the system. The main thing I pulled was McCafee anti-virus as Windows 8 already comes with the “Defender” product which kills Malware that is of concern. I’ve long been a fan of Security Essentials and this is the newest iteration of that software. There were a few other trash apps that I knew weren’t needed.
Now I come to the first wrinkle that Windows 8 introduces. The Windows 8 User Interface (formerly known as “Metro UI” until a lawsuit put a stop to that) has a number of applets from the Microsoft App Store (their answer to the Apple App store) that Decrapifier cannot see. While easy to uninstall, it was something I had to do manually. Yes, these little things are nice, but in reality they just took up space. This MASSIVELY reduced the size of the Start Screen and allowed everything to fit on a single page. This meant no more having to try to scroll the page with a mouse. Amongst all the things I removed, I pulled IE off of the Start Screen as well. The “Metro” version of the IE 10 is, quite frankly horrid. It does not behave the same as the “Desktop” version and is is generally difficult to use on a computer. It is really designed for a touchscreen. I honestly cannot recommend it. If a website uses Flash, but isn’t on Microsoft’s “Whitelist” (such as the company I work for), the Metro version of IE will act as if Flash has not been installed.
Next, I headed over to ninite.com
and created a installer for Chrome, Firefox, VLC, QuickTime, .Net (wasn’t necessary), Silverlight, Java Runtime, Picasa, Dropbox, Evernote, and 7-Zip. I love this tool because it quickly and effortlessly installs the software I need on a system and does it in an “unattended” way so that I don’t need to babysit it. All of these applications placed shortcuts on the Start Menu so that if she needs to run software, the items are there, just like icons on a desktop. When you click on one, the system drops to the classic desktop and runs the application. THIS IS THE KEY TO COPING! It takes the pain of the “Metro UI” away and makes the system extreme simple to use!
The last piece of software I installed was Office 2010. I prefer working with ISO files instead of actual CDs, and in this case that was both necessary and easy. While this particular system does not come with an optical drive, Microsoft FINALLY included the ability to mount an ISO natively in much the same way Apple has done for years. I was especially happen about remembering this tidbit because my go to software “MagicISO” would not install. MagicISO touches some drivers in Windows that Microsoft does not want touched. While you can disable that, the “Secure Boot” technology further stops it cold. I probably could have gotten around that, but I decided not to. Of course, what I did instead of mounting the ISO with Windows 8, was to mount the ISO on my laptop, share it and install over my network.
Incidentally, I did one other little bit of configuration. I opened up Word and Excel and changed the default save and recovery directories to Dropbox. That means, should she have a hard drive failure or simple forget her system, she can access anywhere. Furthermore, Dropbox offers version control. She is able to check “previous versions” of documents to help recover from mistakes. I *highly* recommend doing this.
In conclusion, my sweetie has a new, light ultrabook that she seems genuinely happy with. Furthermore, I got a chance to figure out how to make Windows 8 bearable!