A Week with Windows 8 & Multiple Monitors

We have had test and preview versions of Windows 8 around the workshop for a few months now which has allowed us to check out certain aspects of its functionality and see exactly how it is going to work for our customers.

Despite this I don’t feel there is anything better than using something as your primary desktop machine to give you a real feel for how it works.

I moved across to Windows 8 exactly 1 week ago and have spent that time setting up my machine and getting used to the differences (and similarities) between it and its predecessor Windows 7.

Metro Interface

I think the best place to start is with the biggest change to the operating system, the new Metro interface. (Technically it is not called Metro anymore however there seems to be a lack of a specific name for it so I’ll stick with Metro).

Essentially Metro is a Start Screen, it replaces the Start Menu of old and fills an entire screen with tiles which are basically links or large icons which launch programs or new styled Windows Apps.

This Metro interface has been designed with touch based monitors and tablets firmly in mind, the tiles are bigger and adding more tiles to the screen expands the screen to the right, on a touch interface you would simply swipe your finger to scroll through all the tiles.

This is an area where it falls down for me when using it on a standard desktop PC, it introduces a horizontal scroll bar which is not the nicest thing to interact with using a mouse.

The way I deal with this is to be selective about which tiles I have on there, you could fit up to 40 tiles on a standard 17” or 19” screen without scrolling, this is enough for my needs.

The main thing to realise about the Metro interface is that you don’t really have to use it much at all.

I have organised it so that most of my frequently used programs are on there however I also have a normal desktop full of icons, exactly as I did with Windows 7. As soon as I use the machine the Metro interface automatically disappears and I can easily go through the full day without ever seeing it again.

Standard Desktop Features

Moving past Metro, Windows 8 desktop features are very similar to Windows 7, it is surprising really how little has changed.

Opening up ‘Computer’ or windows explorer brings up an interface which will easily be usable by anyone used to Windows since XP. The Control Panel is also still there and virtually identical to the Windows 7 one.

There have been some subtle changes here and there but these seem only to be an evolution from previous versions of Windows, not the revolution that you might expect reading some of the Windows 8 reviews online.

My genuine impressions of Windows 8 in terms of standard desktop programs are pretty good overall, everything just feels a little bit more polished than Windows 7 did (not that Windows 7 was bad at all in my opinion, far from it).

Windows 8 Multiple Monitor Settings

Microsoft has introduced more built in tools to help users with multiple monitors, this is long awaited as it has been an area which has been particularly absent from previous operating systems.

The main addition is a taskbar across the bottom of all attached screens, you can set this to only show either all programs which are open or just the programs on each individual screen which is far more useful.

Also introduced is the ability to set different background wallpapers on different screens and setup photo slide shows across your monitors.

Prior to Windows 8 the only way to get this functionality was through the use of 3rd party software.

Overall it is better than it used to be however I feel the multiple monitor experience can be improved upon through the use of 3rd party software and I’ll be detailing this in a future post.

System Stability

Microsoft has a bad reputation with new operating systems, many people and organisations will not even consider touching new versions of Windows until it has been released for a considerable length of time and had plenty of system and security patches.

This is justified to be honest, anyone who made the mistake of using Windows Vista can testify to how bad it was upon release, it didn’t seem to improve much either over its lifespan and was quickly superseded by Windows 7.

I personally think Windows 7 was a very stable and user friendly operating system and compared to Vista it was 100% better in virtually every aspect.

Windows 8 (so far) looks to have followed on from Windows 7 in this respect. Outside of hardware failures we have not seen one system lockup or crash, performance in terms of speed and responsiveness is very good indeed. It seems to easily match Windows 7 on similar hardware so that is pretty good in my book.

Software Compatibility

Because Windows 8 is based on a Windows 7 platform then all software should be able to run in theory.

In practice I’ve experienced no problems with anything I have tried to do and now have everything migrated across and fully functioning.

I really can’t see any issues in terms of software compatibility on Windows 8.

Other Windows 8 Features

Refresh & Reset

These are two options for when you run into trouble, basically they allow you to reinstall Windows system files without the disks required in a fairly automated fashion. The Refresh option attempts to do this whilst keeping your files and programs installed and the Reset wipes everything and starts you off fresh again.

I can fully imagine these becoming useful tools for people to self-manage their computers in the case of issues without having to rely on manually re-installing everything.


Finding files and programs is super quick also, all you do is hit the start button on your keyboard and begin typing to instantly search your computer. This is one of those features that you will come to rely on the more you use it.

Task Manager

Okay, this is a bit sad, but the task manager is massively improved upon, it really gives you a great picture of what programs are running on your system and what resources they are consuming.

Think performance has slowed down or that you need more RAM, opening this will show you which programs are slowing down your machine and using your RAM in a really easy to understand and highly visual manner.

Windows 8 Conclusions

Despite being apprehensive about the release of Windows 8 I can’t actually find any real reasons to not recommend it.

  • Metro is a nice interface but can be avoided if you don’t like it
  • Standard Windows 8 desktop mode is simply an evolution of what Windows 7 already did well
  • Multiple screen users have some new options out of the box
  • It feels really stable and responsive across lots of different hardware
  • New features only improve on what Windows 7 had and seem to have been well thought out

I see no reason to avoid it, and whilst we will still offer Windows 7 as an option across our entire PC and Bundle range, I would recommend the majority of people go for Windows 8 on their new system.

Written by Darren @ Multiple Monitors

Last Updated: November, 2012