Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Window 8.1 is unusable on a desktop

For the last two years I've been doing a lot of SolidWorks Simulation on my Lenovo W520 laptop.  This thing has been great.  But I've started doing fluid flow simulations, and it's time for more CPU than a 3.3 GHz (limited by heat load) dual core Sandy Bridge.

So I built a 6 core Ivy Bridge (i7 4930k) which I overclocked to 4.5 GHz.  Very nice.  However, I installed Windows 8.1 on it, which turns out to have been wrong.  This post is for people who, like me, figure that Windows 8 problems are old news and Microsoft must have fixed it by now.

Summary: Nope.

I figured that all those folks bellyaching about the new Windows were just whining about minor UI differences.  Windows 8 should benefit from 3 years of code development by thousands of serious engineers at Microsoft.  The drivers should be better, and it definitely starts up from sleep faster (and promptly serves me ads).   I figured I could deal with different menus or whatever.

I have learned that Windows 8.1 is unusable for a workstation.
  • Metro apps are full screen.  Catastrophe.
    • When I click on a datasheet PDF in Windows 7, it pops up in a window and I stick it next to the Word doc and Excel doc that I'm working on.  In Windows 8, the PDF is full screen, with no way to minimize.  I can no longer cut and paste numbers into Skype.  I can no longer close open documents so that DropBox will avoid cache contention problems.
    • Full screen is fine for a tablet, but obliterates the entire value of a 39 inch 4K monitor.  I spent $500 on that monitor so I could see datasheets, spreadsheet, Word doc, and SolidWorks at the same time.
    • Basically, this is a step back to the Mac that I had 20 years ago, which ran one application, full screen, at a time.
  • Shortly after the build, I cut power to the computer while it was on.  Windows 8 cheerfully told me I had to reinstall the O/S from scratch, and blow away all the data on the machine.  I don't keep important data on single machines, but I still lost two hours of setup work.  That's not nice.  I have not had that problem with Windows 7.
  • I plugged the 4k monitor into my W520 running Windows 7.  It just worked.  My Windows 8 box wants to run different font sizes on it, which look terrible.
  • Windows 8 + Chome + 4k monitor = display problems.  It appears Chrome is rendering at half resolution and then upscaling.  WTF?  This has pushed me to use Internet Explorer, which I dislike.  Chrome works fine on the 4k on Windows 7.
  • Windows 8 + SolidWorks = unreadable fonts in dialog boxes.  I mean two-thirds of the character height is overwritten and not visible.  So actually unreadable.  The SolidWorks folks know they have a problem, and are working on it.  And, I found a workaround.  But it still looks unnecessarily ugly.
  • Windows 8 + SolidWorks + 4k monitor = display problems.  Not quite the same look as upscaling, but something terrible is clearly happening.  Interestingly, if more than half of the SW window is on my 30" monitor, lines drawn on the 39" look okay.  But when more than half of the SW window is on my 39" monitor, lines look like crap... even the ones on the smaller half of the window still on the 30".
  • Windows 7, to find an application: browse through the list on the start button.  Window 8: start by knowing the name of the application.  Go to the upper right corner of the screen, then search, then type in the name.
  • Finally, that upper right corner thing.  I have two screens.  That spot isn't a corner, it's between my two screens.  I keep triggering that thing when moving windows, and can't trigger it easily when I want to.  Microsoft clearly designed this interface for tablets, and was not concerned with how multi-screen desktop users would use it.
And here's the kicker: Microsoft won't swap the Windows 8.1 Pro license I got for a Windows 7 license.  I have to buy Windows 7.

Excel 2013 has one thing I like: multiple spreadsheets open in separate windows, like Word 2010 and like you'd expect.

Word 2013 has two things I dislike: Saving my notes file takes 20 seconds rather than being nearly instant (bug was reported for a year before Microsoft acknowledged it recently), and entering "┬Ám" now takes two more clicks than it used to -- and nothing else has gotten better in exchange.  Lame.

I suggest not upgrading, folks.  No real benefit and significant pain.

You have (another) angry customer, Microsoft.

Here's the difference in SolidWorks rendering, on the SAME MONITOR, running in Windows 8, as I shift the window from being 60% on the 30 inch monitor to 40% on the 30 inch monitor (and 60% on the 39 inch):

30 inch mode: Note that lines are rendered one pixel wide, text is crisp.

39 inch mode: Lines are fatter, antialiasing attempted but wrongly