Making Windows 8.1 Bearable

So in a fit of crazy, I sidegraded to from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1 this morning. Fundamentally the new OS makes my shit itch, but the changes to make it not suck too badly are undifficult.

First, buy a copy of Start is Back. It’s the best three bucks you’ll spend today. I hear that the guy who wrote this had it easy in Win8 (Microsoft only disabled the code for the start menu, and all he had to do was re-enable it), but for Win 8.1 the Redmond Hive Mind actually removed the code, and the SiB author had to write his own version. He did a great job and deserves to get paid for it (while certain PMs and product design folks at Microsoft . . . don’t). It’s a shame you have to spend money to unbreak something like this, but frankly I think this is how it’s going to be with Microsoft for a while; they need time to detox the promotion-hungry nutjobs out of their review system.

Install Aero 8.1 (download here). All of the available Win8 themes make my eyes bleed. I’d like to know just what the actual fuck is going on at Microsoft, because every single app and tool they ship now looks like a PM with square plasticky glasses poisoned everyone with an ounce of design sense. The Aero 8.1 stuff brings back relatively pleasant desktop backgrounds upon which it is possible to — shock! — see icons. I seem to remember that’s what desktops were for. Also, the theme doesn’t shout to anyone who merely glances at your desktop “Hey, I was a moron and installed Windows 8.1”. Um, yeah.

Related: Apply the usual sanity edits to Visual Studio 2013. Apparently the PM responsible for the uppercase menus in VS 2012 still hasn’t been dry-gulched [broad and unsubtle hint to the VS team here]. I also urge you to look for additional crazy in the editor settings (the defaultness of rearranging my identifier and parenthesis spacing is, um, irritating, but there’s worse hidden in there and you should definitely look). Also, if you have to write an MSDN article on it, and said article is linked to by about half the developers who run your tool, just maybe you should make it a checkbox item somewhere? Is someone afraid of getting fired?

All of these fixes point to a fundamental thing about Microsoft, namely that it seems to be impossible to call out bullshit there. Whatever feedback mechanisms exist in Redmond are borken. The low-level folks seem to have their act together, but above the kernel things have gone off the rails. It makes sense, in a way: If you fuck up a file system or a scheduler then big and spendy and non-bullshittable customers will start looking elsewhere. Screw up a UI and it’s just unwashed gorks who didn’t even go to a design school in Paris who are complaining, and what do they know? “You’re so smart, you tell me what color the pointy thing you move around the screen should be.” Touch screens on PCs? I knew how that was going to turn out the moment they announced it. Redmond is full of Cassandras; I guess the stock is up so they figure they don’t have to listen.

I have no idea how many Derp Points someone burned in order to ship the Metro UI on Server 2012. That, dear children, is a WTF. Amazing work. Good job. Please fall on this red pointy thing.


Usual soapbox about the need to install apps all over again. This was my morning. Installers are bullshit. Installers are a remnant of a world where 14.4K modem speeds were heady and everything came on seven floppy disks with an edgy number of extra sectors and tracks. Why can’t we just unzip a file into a directory, have the system find the stupid icons and be done with it? This worked on a Mac in 1984 (and probably before that on a Lisa, if anyone cared) and there’s no reason it can’t work today. Except the UI guys are busy derping primary colors into your retinas and the kernel guys have their noses in command shells all day and never see the sunlight, and if these groups accidentally meet in the halls there are knife fights. Don’t go into kerneltown, dear designers, they will cut you there.

I call to you: Delete your registry entries, throw off your chains, unhinge your blinders and make it tons easier to flip whole system setups onto new hardware: The entire PC industry will thank you, and since users will be able to upgrade systems more easily you’ll also get more money, which is lots more sincere. Also, you won’t have to trick people into buying new operating systems with UIs designed by someone who went to design college for a semester, only it was a cheap college in the wrong Paris (Mississippi) and all they had were six colors labeled in all-caps RED, BLUE, GREEN, REDDER, EVEN GREENER and WTF IS THIS COLOR I DON’T EVEN KNOW BUT IT’S THE SAME COLOR AS MY SQUARE GLASSES AND WHO EVEN NEEDS LOWERCASE ANYWAY.

I’m gonna go use a Mac for a little while. See you after my blood pressure subsides.


Edit: Things that are still wrong.

The PDF viewer is a skidding train wreck. I wanted to open a PDF and compare it to another document. Hold flaming bugshit, you can’t do that because the default PDF displayer is full-screen only. Now, I’m a clever monkey and there are half a dozen ways around this that don’t involve a camcorder, but . . . wow.

The distinction between the Xbox music app and the Zune client escapes me. I’m sure my confusion will be resolved, and — just guessing wildly here — probably not in favor of Zune. (By the way, if you try to download the Zune client from, it’s busted. I’m sure about three people in the world actually care).

[Yeah, I use a Zune. I like ’em. You can stop reading Dadhacker now, I guess.]


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13 Responses to Making Windows 8.1 Bearable

  1. For easy installation of most common applications, try – you just select which apps you want and it installs them for you.

    It’s my go-to app when helping someone reinstall Windows.

  2. me says:

    Ah, Dadhacker, spot on again concerning how broken the feedback system internally is. Many are the times I’ve worked on a feature, discussed with my chain and the PM chain why a specific decision is going to backfire, only to rediscover that (a) “I must learn to trust the system more” and (b) that complaints are a career limiting move. I am somewhat bitter about seeing the exact same folks in charge of the start menu first removing it, then not really adding it back in response to the “surprising” complaints – all the while getting promoted for their contributions each cycle.

  3. George Nakos says:

    My standard procedure for a new machine:

    -Install browser
    -Install email client
    -Copy total commander installation off another PC.
    -Copy folder “winstuff” from other PC, containing all programs I use pre-setup and ready to roll (editors, ftp clients, video players, programming tools, audio/graphic/video editors etc etc etc)

    System ready to use in 30 mins more or less!

  4. Ed says:

    A righteous rant.

    Every time I deal with Microsoft or Apple I am reminded of Lily Tomlin’s old skit on Laugh In, as the operator Ernestine at the phone company: “We don’t care, we don’t have to…we’re the phone company”.

    TBTC: Too Big To Care.

    I’ve admit been avoiding Win8, though the nephew upgraded from his old Vista laptop to a Windows tablet a couple of months ago and really likes it.

    I watched him do his linear algebra homework last week, writing the answers on top of the assignment (a pdf?) with a stylus, then sending it off to the instructor when he was done. The future, when it works, is actually pretty cool.

    (Sadly about 5-10% of the instructors questions were nonsensical, apparently he just lifts them at random from other texts, and sometimes leaves parts out…)

  5. Do people still use dedicated devices for playing music anymore? I thought everyone just used their phones for that these days. :-/

  6. Xelous says:

    You’re still on Windows?… And you might try a Mac… Holy fucktards… I’m rebooting GEM on my ST now.

  7. MikeA says:

    Just to spread the gloom, Apple have been getting more like this for a while. Won’t shut up about how I really should move to the “free” security-dehanced and ever-more walled Mavericks garden, and fibbing ever so slightly about which of my 10.6 machines can _really_ take Mountain Lion (10.8) without much wailing, gnashing of teeth, and outlays for more memory to actually run.

    Of course, even the (mainstream) Linux guys have decided that nobody wants to use software that’s been stable for 20 years or a computer over five years old, either.
    BTW: RedHat server installs (back when I was doing them) insisted on including a metric buttload of AV codecs and more than a few games. On a rack-mounted headless server.

    • Mike says:

      That behavior of Red Hat isn’t that much different from most Linux (mainstream) linux distros of the era. And is why I still run FreeBSD.

  8. ZK says:

    On a side note, what about Windows Phone 8.1? Thinking about getting a new mobile phone (my 2008 Sony Ericsson is starting to show serious signs of fatigue, even though it’s still very much a fighter) but I’m very much against getting anything google related (so Android is out of the question) and I still want to consider other options before giving up and getting an iPhone already.

    But afair you have an iPhone now. Never mind then.

    And you’re right about the Zune, nobody seems to care. I still think it could’ve been saved had it not been called Zune but then they probably looked at the Wii and said to themselves “hey at least we won’t be alone in the battle for silly names” or something.

  9. Many saner software writers now make their stuff in format, courtesy of strange policies in regard to no install rights on office desktops, so folks can just unzip stuff and it works, or bring it in on pendrive.

    Still its nowhere near simple .deb install or if lucky sudo apt-get install thingy password[enter][enter]….

    And im thinking on going tablet only these days… It has browser, it has ssh client. tablets have normal keyboards on those flip out things. and they feel like scooter that just works ™ instead of motocycle that you have to spend time on in garage. even if i would be forced by invisible hand of the market into the software world again i might go tablet only with either nice code editor which they pop up now and then, or some remote desktop into some powerhouse puter stashed somewhere.

    • if only someone would make a full on X protocol client for droid, with support of proper opengl, so you could play something like kerbal space program on tablet screen while all the crunching would happen on the “mainframe”. those thingies carry enough oomph to render nice things but physics crunching would happen elsewhere.

      over wifi. future™.

      i played some game like that launched in uni with display over modem back home… skill….

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