As I’ve had my computer for a while now (coming up to 3 years), early last year I decided it was time for a bit of a refresh. My computer was running really slowly and poorly for a while back there, so I decided that during my mid-year holidays (last year), I would reinstall Windows 7 on it, and start afresh. However, somewhere along the way my Dad convinced me that I should take the plunge and upgrade to Windows 8. And although that was about 6 months (and a revision of Windows) ago, I’ve been planning on sharing how it went from before I even made the decision to go to Windows 8. So here is the first part of what happened…
Part 1: Windows 7 to Windows 8 – “The Largest Leap”
Windows 8 has been a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions to me. Initially when I first saw it and heard about it, I thought it was terrible. I thought the idea of moving towards a more tablet-friendly UI was good, but the implementation, forcing anyone and everyone to use it, wasn’t thought out well and was ultimately short-sighted.
So, the transition from Win7 to Win8 was quite a stressful one. Even though I don’t really keep that much data on my PC (it’s on the NAS instead), I was very worrying about backing everything up, especially stuff like Steam save game files. So I had to do a bit of research into where my favourite games kept their saves and what other files I might lose between OS’s.
I backed up my wallpaper collection (now with over 1000 pictures) to Google Drive, so as a bonus, I can access it from anywhere. I also backed up my custom collection of fonts I’ve amassed over the last few years (there’s only like 12 of them). I grabbed an external drive, and ended up basically mirroring my whole hard drive, which maybe I didn’t need to do, but you’re better safe than sorry…
One thing I did that, at first, sounds a bit inconsistent with wiping and upgrading a PC, but turned out to be really handy, was installing LastPass. LastPass is a free, cloud-based password management service which comes with a bunch of browser plugins to autofill forms and logins securely for you. It’s pretty great, but the part that really shines when you’re about to wipe your PC is the way it can go through all your browsers and pick up any saved passwords, and import them into its service. That way, when you set everything up anew, you don’t have to try and remember a million different passwords; you just need to reinstall it. There are dozens of tools like this, which you could use in the same way, so don’t just take my word for it…weigh each of them up, and choose whichever you like.
The other thing that’s a bit less conventional that I backed up before blowing everything away was my installers. For most programs, like Google Chrome, Steam and Wiztree, it’s easy and probably better to just download the latest version off the net and install that, but some programs aren’t so easy to get my hands on again, so I had to back up all their installers so I could get them back later. And in some particular cases, they don’t have an installer at all, so I needed to back up the whole program. On top of that, I tried to recover any licence keys that I could, so that I could reuse them again later, if & when I needed them (if they still even worked).
The only thing that I didn’t think to backup at the time, that I ended up having to retrieve from my backup hard drive was some data hidden in the
%USERPROFILE%/AppData folder. If you’re coming from Vista or Win7, like I was, Windows had a habit you may not be aware of. It likes to cordon off programs that aren’t run as administrator, and if they try to save to a restricted folder, e.g.
Program Files, it will actually save to a fake hard drive location called VirtualStore. So, if you’ve been using any older programs, you may find things are not where you’d expect. Thus, backing up AppData is a good idea. However, don’t restore it unless you need it; be selective about bringing back AppData stuff, it could really degrade the speed and fluency of your PC.
Oh, and of course, you should back up all the obvious stuff too…Pictures, Documents, Music, Videos, Bookmarks…
So, in short,
Things to Back Up:
- Save Game Data (location will vary, but most Steam games are located @
C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\userdata) – PCGamingWiki is a great resource for info on where games hide their saves.
- Wallpapers & Fonts
- Passwords & Licence Keys
- Installers & Programs
- Any other data, e.g. your documents, music, pictures, bookmarks etc…
Getting It Working
I don’t want to bore you right now with all the things I installed, (You can read about that in a separate post) but I’ve got to say my first experiences with Win8 were not good. I initially spent a lot of time trying to get my head around things. And not the types of things you would expect. I’d already had a bit of exposure to Win8 through my Dad and at work, as well as the various commentaries and guides I had pre-emptively read, so the whole interface side of it wasn’t too shocking to me. No, the thing that gave me grief was trying to get it to run Windows Updates. It just refused to work; I had to reboot it multiple times to kick it going! Other things like the search not bringing up results of any meaning (particularly when looking for a system setting), and Metro apps misbehaving (particularly in relation to mouse scroll) were some of my biggest frustrations. Eventually I was able to solve most of my app scrolling troubles by installing the latest version of WizMouse. But despite my best efforts, I have absolutely no solution to my search hassles.
When setting up Win8, I opted to just use a local account, and not sign in with a Microsoft account. I don’t really use my Microsoft account for anything, and I don’t use SkyDrive, so I saw no point in having it integrated into everything. This meant that every Microsoft app that I open asked me to log in individually, but that didn’t really bother me.
One of my biggest concerns moving to Win8 was its compatibility with all my video games, as that’s actually what I mainly use my home PC for. As it turns out, Win8 is much more compatible with things than the good people of the internet may have you believe. Actually, in most cases, when I couldn’t get a (Steam) game to work, simply verifying the game’s files fixed it. This is done by choosing the “Verify Integrity of Game Cache” option in the Local Files tab of a game’s Properties. In the other small number of cases, downloading an updated or missing file from the ‘net fixed it. These files were always pretty easy to find, and I often actually found links to them through the game’s Community Hub pages on Steam. A similar process is applicable to Origin games as well.
Getting Used To It
I did install a lot of things, but my aim was to keep it to a minimum. Installing every this-and-that was part of the cause of my former computer woes, so I wasn’t going to rush down that path again. I wanted to keep it as plain and speedy as possible. That included not installing a Start menu replacement if I could get by without it. Although I did add a Start button, like was introduced in Win8.1, which simply pulled up the Metro Start screen. I also pinned the desktop to the Start Screen as the very first item, so that all I had to do to get to the desktop when my computer booted up was hit Enter.
Because really, once you get use to it, and you take control of the Start screen by cleaning it up and customising it to reflect your style and how you use your computer, it’s actually pretty cool! Using OblyTile, you can create tiles for any program you want, with a custom image for each. So I’ve set up tiles for all the games I play most, and all the ones I want to play next. I also made tiles for turning off my PC, instead of having to navigate those stupid menus. I’ve also got live tiles, which are basically widgets, for a few news feeds that interest me close by so that I can see them without having to scroll around.
The other thing I did to take control of Win8 was spend a little time finding out how to use it. For the most part, if a tutorial or bit of documentation popped up, I went along with it. Why? Because, as the say in the classics, “Knowledge is Power”. Probably the most POWERFUL bit of knowledge a non-tablet user can have about Win8 is its keyboard shortcuts, which make navigation so much quicker and easier. I’ve actually learnt more keyboard shortcuts since I moved to Win8 than I had ever known before, even though many of them were inherited from older versions of Windows. You wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve been asked by people, “How did you do that?”, “What did you just do?”, because it seems no one knows even the simplest shortcuts.
That said, Win8’s style may not suit or appeal to everyone. But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing better about Win8. In fact, there are a lot of under-the-hood improvements, many of which you notice and benefit from on a daily basis. For one, file transfers are greatly improved, even over Win7. It now gives you more details of the transfer in progress, with a little graph of transfer speed, as well as more file comparison options and controls. Task Manager has also had a large tweaking, now with two interfaces you can switch between: a simpler interface (somewhat reminiscent of Win98’s Task Manager), as well as a much more complex, detailed but still easy-to-understand interface that gives you a real good look at everything that’s going on, on your PC. There’s also things like automatic DLNA integration and device detection that make your experience with Win8 all the more sweet, if you use that sort of stuff (which I sometimes do).
My advice for those considering moving to Win8 is as follows:
- If you’re coming from Win7 or Vista, and you regularly depend on your pinned programs on the taskbar and/or Start Menu, as well as Start Menu search to find things you use less often, then Win8 shouldn’t be too big a shift for you. The Start Screen can be used exactly like the Start Menu, and on the plus side, you have tonnes more room for pinning programs in a much more eye-pleasing way in Win8. You can still search for programs by simply hitting the Win-key and typing your query, and pinning programs to the taskbar hasn’t changed at all. All the Metro stuff may be a whirlwind you don’t want to step into, but you nearly never will have to.
- If you’re coming from Win7 or Vista, but are one of the rare few who don’t pin programs to the taskbar or Start Menu, and don’t use the Start Menu search, but rather to manually browse through the list of programs to find whatever you’re looking for, then I don’t think you’re ready for Win8. What I’d suggest you do is do a bit of research into how to use some of the things I just mentioned, as well as keyboard shortcuts, and after getting use to all that for a while, maybe consider transitioning to Win8 if you feel there’s a need for it.
- If you’re coming from XP or earlier, where the above-mentioned features mostly don’t exist (although Quick Launch and pin to taskbar are basically the same thing), my suggestion would be, unless you really need to go to Win8 for some reason, the transition to Win7 is going to be much smoother and more familiar for you. Don’t get me wrong, Win7 is still a fantastic OS, with great support and functionality; it’s possibly Microsoft’s best overall OS ever. It does have its flaws, and Win8 does fix some of them, but with it, introduces a whole new world of complications. If you’re not ready for that, roll on with Win7.
- If you’re coming from something that’s not Windows at all, well, Hi there, Welcome, and thanks for joining us…Win8 is probably going to present you with a lot of challenges, so you might be better off with Win7 (see above). But if you’re willing to be patient, learn and take on the challenge, you’ll find Win8 isn’t as bad as some people seem to keep emphasising. It’s actually pretty good.
Overall, my PC is running much better now than it ever has, with amazingly quick boot-up and shutdown times. Had I not installed Win8 on it, I would probably be shopping around for a new computer now, rather than enjoying the one I’ve got.
P.S. More parts will be posted ASAIWT (As Soon As I Write Them), so check back sporadically!