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Your trusty TUAW blogger tries Windows 8

I'm pretty much a hard-and-fast Mac guy. I've had Apple products since the Apple II, and bought my first Mac when they came out in 1984, so I have a lot of history with Apple.

For a variety of reasons, I need to use a PC laptop to run a variety of astronomical automation programs, and my 10-year-old Toshiba laptop running Windows XP has been slowly dying. With all the holiday sales going on at this time of year, I grabbed an HP laptop at a low price. It runs Windows 8, which is sort of intriguing, but the best part is that all my software vendors assured me that their software would run fine under the Windows 8 desktop mode, which is essentially Windows 7.

Fresh out of the box, I played a bit with Windows 8. Without a touch screen, it was a pretty painful experience. Not knowing the GUI very well -- and without any helpful prompts or introductions on the part of Windows 8 -- there were a lot of dead ends and right-clicking in corners. I'm sure I'll figure it out in time.

After an hour or so of use, I received a notification that Windows 8 needed an update from HP. No problem... except there was a problem. The update didn't "take" the first time, but it did on the second try. I should have regarded that as a bad omen, and a few minutes later Microsoft let me know that there was a Windows 8 update available. What the heck, maybe it fixed the HP issue?

I accepted the update, and the laptop happily re-booted. Uh-oh! Now something was definitely wrong. Windows reported it was 13 percent through the update, but the percentage just sat there at 13 percent. And sat. And sat some more. It stayed that way for about 20 minutes, and then the machine restarted again after telling me the update didn't work. I restarted once again with fingers crossed. Nope. Stuck at 13 percent.

It was time to do some research. Googling "Microsoft update 13%", I hit the mother lode. Page after page of people running into the same problem at 13 percent. I found one solution that seemed reasonable, but when I printed it out it was in excess of three pages of instructions. I sighed, dived in and fixed the problem. That was last week; this week I saw a Microsoft support note about the issue stating that perhaps that previous update didn't fix the problem.

I am pretty tech savvy, so I could follow some of the twisted instructions to manually fix the update. If I had been a novice Windows user and these issues were my first taste of Windows 8, I would have been livid. I wasn't too happy, sitting there cussing out Steve Ballmer for delivering an operating system that made a computer fresh out of the box one update away from a fail.

As regular TUAW readers know, I'm fairly critical of Apple. Apple Maps was not the greatest moment for the company, and there have been some pretty flaky versions of OS X in the past. MobileMe was never satisfying, and Apple iMessage on iOS is still hit and miss. Still, the kind of update problem I experienced with Windows 8 is pretty inexcusable.

There are already plenty of public doubts about the viability of Windows 8, and giving new users a steaming pile instead of a reliable update to fix some unexplained issue is horrific. As I sat there staring at a frozen screen with no solution in sight without having an extra computer -- my Mac -- available to search for an answer, I remembered that Apple had never, ever dealt me these kinds of cards. Yes, I've had to re-boot from a few updates, but nothing like this. It would be one thing if it was just me and my Windows 8 laptop had some special configuration, but lots of people were burned with the same issue with brand new hardware.

Microsoft -- it just "doesn't work," and more and better testing is needed.

Apple is far from perfect, but as the old saying goes, you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. Microsoft, this is no way to compete with Apple's out-of-the box experience. No way at all.



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Apple

I'm pretty much a hard-and-fast Mac guy. I've had Apple products since the Apple II, and bought my first Mac when they came out in 1984,...