Windows 8 Annoyances (and the Sad State of Operating Systems and Everything, Really)

This was going to be a short “list” post, but expanded to something a little bit larger.

Recently, I’ve acquired a shiny new Dell XPS laptop. The exact specs are not important; compared to almost a decennia ago, phones, laptops, desktops and tablets have gained such a commodity-status that most of us no longer drool over the details. It just needs to work, give me 16GB of RAM, give me a quad core, and it’ll be fine for a few years or so. No one cares.

This “it just needs to work so I can get stuff done” mentality has, at least for me, becoming ever more prevalent, not only in hardware usage, but also software. This is why I am also getting ever more annoyed when things don’t work as expected, oftentimes for very incomprehensible or dumb reasons.

And so, I arrive at the meat of this post, a list of annoying little grievances which have been bugging me on this Windows 8 installation this laptop came with. I just list them here since they amuse me, but I’ll try to add some pictures (software gore style) later as well.

  • My laptop displays “Windows is low on memory” errors every time I don’t use it for a few hours. Mind, however, that no unusual programs are running and that the Task Manager shows more than 8GB out of the 16GB free every single time.
  • The DPI scaling system is a horrible mess. For so many reasons. My laptop screen has this huge resolution, which is totally unnecessary other than for Dell to claim they have a “retina” screen. My external monitor has a traditional 1920x1200 resolution. Switching between the two and keeping a sensible scaling is not possible without restarting. Some applications do not adhere to the DPI scaling setting. So I need to frequently enable and disable DPI scaling for some applications. In many cases, I have the choice between using an app with correct scaling but as a horrible blurry mess, or in a tiny screen. In some cases, the screen and most UI elements are scaled correctly, except for some button-panel which has ant-sized buttons. I’m talking about things such as Remote Desktop and the Dropbox menu…
  • What is up with this horrible start screen. I have to shell out a few bucks for Start8. Ok, fine, no problem, but why not just include this by default.
  • In fact, I wish to disable this new interface concept completely. I don’t want to open this full screen photo viewing app (which stays running in the background even if I go back to the Desktop).
  • Same for this WiFi panel. It’s not too bad, but seriously, a purple slide-in…
  • When I’m not connected to my university VPN, Windows will continuously try to connect with some shared drives and printers until the timeout occurs. Explorer windows will freeze during this period. Figure it out, Windows, I’m not connected!
  • Related to the above, Word will actually crash when saving if you open it whilst having shared drives connected and disconnecting from VPN afterwards, even when the file is saved locally.
  • In some cases, and I’m not sure why and when this happens, my keyboard layout will get messed up and start spewing out random gibberish. Not related to the language setting (those are fine, and switching does nothing). I’m talking about an qwerty-azerty thing here, I mean qwerty to k$n5d. Restarting is the only thing which magically fixes it.

I could go on. The reality is that I am not that bothered by Windows 8 (not so much as other people seem to be, at least), and I realize I come pretty late to the complaining-party. The key to this all is though: why can’t this just work? I have similar feelings when using a shiny new Linux distribution with some “revolutionary” window manager. No, a Linux desktop is not a tablet, stop it! The solution is also not to revert back to Windows 7. I’ve looked into this, it’s too much work, really.

I have the same feeling on my iDevices. I had an unfortune accident and switched from Android to an iPhone. Try to download a ZIP file, putting it on Dropbox and sharing a share link in an e-mail. Good luck… you’re better off finding the nearest laptop. This really makes me miss Android’s brilliant intent system. Honestly, you never know which app will be able to share some object with which other apps.

On Linux, I have similar feelings. Why did my package repository get corrupted again? Why does sound stop working? Why are WiFi connections dealt with so badly? I can deal with (mostly) elementaryOS and CrunchBang. The first because it is minimal (it also clones OSX but whatever) and gets out of your way, the second because it is nimble.

Google: mostly okay, although some recent changes have also been bothering me. What is up with this “comfortable” white space design trend. Yes, when I am browsing an IKEA brochure, this great type and breathing white space is awesome. When I’m hunting down an e-mail from 2 months ago, use every pixel you got! Compact! Same with the cards on Android. Yes, this material-inspired design philosophy looks awesome, but I can’t feel but help Google Maps, for example, got crippled in recent years, if I look up a restaurant I know is nearby (and Google also knows given the autosuggest), but still sends me to a similarly named place miles away upon selecting it.

Updates, another gripe. Luckily, this is something smartphones do tend to do well. Just update it, I don’t want to babysit. No don’t tell me about a new version and ask me to download it and go through an installer, just update it and pop up a notifation or something.

In the past, I used to be amazed by computing. I used to spend weekends installing Linux distro after distro and playing around with it. Now that I am older and more busy, I am still amazed by cool things, but I have also become pragmatic. If I pickup a device after 2 weeks, I don’t want to fight with it before using it. PlayStation or XBox, I’m looking at you. For me, I don’t care if you leave yourself in standby mode and update silently. I want to play a game, not install a 500MB update. Oh, also an update for the game? Oh, then 3 intro screens you can’t skip. Am I made of time?

Don’t get me wrong, stuff gets better all the time and generally, everything works well and great, but there is a lot of room left for improvement. When things do work, however, all is well; there are some systems, I feel, who do it well. The first is Android (the stock one, none of the customized ones) and ChromeOS, off all things. The latter is deliberately very limiting (just a browser), but it is great at what it does (everything in the cloud, app management, automatic updates, simplicity of usage). Maybe this is due to information overload. Too many devices, too many apps, too much stuff. This is also part of the reason why I moved all my documents to Google Drive recently, it at least resolves some of the disparity. I’m sure this will bite me some day when I forget to do a payment or the sync client royally effs up, but for now it works quite well.