I tried, folks, really I did. After unleashing my rant last week about the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, I decided I would brave it for as long as I was mentally and physically capable. After all, this is a new operating system from Microsoft — I have as much a responsibility to myself as I do to the tech community to know it, use it, and understand it.
So I endured the Technicolor-eyesore Metro Start Screen, with all those oversize buttons that take seconds to launch programs that always started instantaneously in Windows 7. I pushed aside the psychological torture of opening program after program and never closing one, despite knowing I would never come back to it. I gritted my teeth through countless single-window screens, constant system slowdowns, and navigational awkwardness, always hoping that sticking with the pain would somehow make me a better person.
But after several additional days of seeing upgrades from Windows 7 fail on three separate computers, after several additional days of seeing even touchscreen all-in-ones and tablets actually become less usable as a result of being Windows 8ified, and after several additional days of being treated like a preschooler suffering from ADHD for wanting to perform the simplest tasks, I reached my snapping point.
As I said last time, I’m an adult and I want my computer to treat me like one. I have neither the time nor the inclination to trudge through multiple circles of interface hell just to do basic things that then fail to work as they always have before. And though I’m more than willing to pursue the workarounds people are discovering for bypassing Metro, I fail to see why I — or anyone — should have to. Microsoft, if you want to take over the tablet market, terrific. But can’t you find a way to do so that respects the hundreds of millions of customers who helped put you where you are?
Right here and now I’ll make this pledge: As new major editions of Windows 8 are released along the road to the final RTM version, I will keep trying them. I’m going to give Microsoft every opportunity to turn around this fiasco, to convince me that this is the operating system I both need and want to use. And if (when?) my mind changes about, I will let you all know. Microsoft has released a lot of good products over the last few decades, many of which have had significant positive impacts on my life, so the company has at least earned that.
For the time being, however, I have too much self-respect and too many demands on my time to devote to what is currently, at its best, nonsense. So a repartition, a format, and 20 minutes or so of disc accessing later, I had wiped out Windows 8 and replaced it with a sparkling copy of Windows 7. Let me tell you, that whole process was far and away the most invigorating and intensely satisfying experience I had all week.
To make matters better, some other happenings I’ve been following in the tech world (completely unrelated to the new iPad, thank you very much) have made me feel good, too. Just not quite as good.
1) As it’s barely March, it’s far too early for any responsible journalist to start doling out heaps of book-closing superlatives on any game. But upon the release of Mass Effect 3last week, many reviewers did just that. I’ve been playing it quite a bit myself — sorry, bosses, sorry: testing it — and have been having a good time, though it hasn’t quite struck me as an eternity of ecstasy on two DVDs. What it has is borderline epic replayability, and far more customization of the basic gameplay elements than most titles offer. You can play in a way that either emphasizes or minimizes combat, or finds a comfortable role-playing balance between the two. If you’re starting from scratch, you’re given a host of character-creation options that let you customize your background and personality in ways that eclipse what you get in most games. Of course, the narrative builds itself as you go along based on your choices in key dialogue scenes, and you never know exactly the shape of the universe you’re piloting through; and if you decide to import a character from Mass Effect 2, your actions from it are seamlessly woven into this game’s story about what happens when the Reapers reach Earth. Though there are some pacing lapses and not everything completely works, Mass Effect 3 is a heck of a lot of fun, and a game that, like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, I expect to return to frequently over the course of the next six to 12 months or so.
2) PCWorld reported what could be a major development on the entertainment front when it revealed that Nvidia has joined the Linux foundation. In addition to presaging the development of more effective drivers for Linux in general, Nvidia’s move could mean that it’s finally willing to take the plunge into — or at least be willing to consider — the possibility of open-source drivers. (TheNouveau project has been a significant step for the open source community, but not enough of one.) Better drivers for Linux could mean better games and better utilities for Linux, and those are always good things. Phoronix’s Michael Larabel is skeptical, seeing Nvidia’s move as a way to shore up the underpinnings of its Tegra platform, and he might be right. Whatever ends up happening, this is a good start.
3) I admit I’m not much of a mobile guy, but I was impressed by Roccat Studios’ unveiling at the Game Developers Conference of its new free Power-Grid app, which lets you monitor and interact with elements of your PC from your smartphone. There’s a contact aggregator for bringing together incoming messages from the likes of Skype, Facebook, Teamspeak, and more; a way to verify your computer’s vitals (operating temperatures, free hard drive space, and so on); media controls for playing MP3s and adjusting your system’s various volume levels; and an editor for configuring the app to do pretty much whatever else you want. Though that sounds exciting, I’m undecided about some of the company’s other advances — a keyboard with an iPhone dock? — but I’ll wait and see what develops. I tend to be happier when small devices make big devices work better than when they try to supplant their functionality altogether, and I’m thrilled that Roccat agrees.
4) Using the occasion of the CeBIT trade show in Germany, Thermaltake held the official “coming out” party for its latest joint venture with DesignworksUSA: the Level 10 M Mouse. Much like the companies’ Level 10 cases, the Level 10 M is an effervescent exercise in ostentation. In addition to an unabashedly automotive design (which will be available in three colors: “Diamond Black,” “Iron White,” and “Military Green”), it’s loaded with buttons and lights, equipped with a high-resolution sensor (8,200 dpi), and you can adjust its height to perfectly fit with your hand. Its open design and plentiful ventilation holes are unusual but striking — the usual modus operandi for these types of products. Thermaltake is keeping quiet about the price at this point, but it seems safe to guess it will be somewhat higher than what you’d pay for most gaming mice. But, hey, if you want a mouse that doesn’t look like any other, this one will fit the bill. TechSpot says the Level 10 M will be available in the spring. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing whether its performance is as good as its appearance — on the bright side, it’s already a few steps ahead of Windows 8!