Sunday, November 10, 2013

Windows 8.1 Surface Pro Follow Up

My Surface Pro had become so useless by lunchtime yesterday I decided to completely reinstall the operating system and the Windows 8.1 update. I would like to say that maybe eight months of heavy use contributed to the OS being corrupted, but it was fine before the 8.1 update. A full battery cycle later, I can safely say the full reset was the way to go. If you’re planning to go to Windows 8.1 via an upgrade through the store, back up your data and fully reset the machine.

You don’t need to do the system clean that takes hours, but install nothing but OS updates until you’ve upgraded to Windows 8.1. Once you have 8.1 on your system, install your applications and any updates for them. So far the machine runs as stable as Windows gets without all the issues I was having before. Performance is back to where I’m used to it being. This is probably normal SOP for Windows machines, something I’d forgotten in my four year journey with the Mac OS.

One thing I discovered through all this is a troubling issue with Start Menu or “Metro” applications. Even after you swipe down to close them, they continue running in the background. I haven’t found any way to kill them except via Task Manager. I discovered this as I was running through them to see if there were any I wanted to use. While sitting idle beside me on the couch, my Surface Pro kicked on its fans prompting me to see what was running the system so hard. The five Metro apps I’d opened were still using up system resources and pressing the system.

I keep the Task Manager open on the desktop side to kill these apps by default now. There is probably some rudimentary resource management software that shuts these apps off completely at some point, but if it stresses my Surface Pro, I can’t imagine what it would do to a user unaware of such things with an Atom powered device. I get that there will always be some user level resource management, but the degree required with Windows 8 hurts the experience, in my opinion.

I have to just treat it like a game, where I am required to manage resources or my space ship will run out of gas or overheat and blow up. Maybe Microsoft could just build that into the OS so keeping apps from burning up your machine or running down the battery had one of a variety of quaint game interfaces? I’m probably being really sarcastic now, but for reals… Microsoft fix this.

Fortunately for me, I use few enough apps and the all run in desktop mode I can ignore the start menu entirely, leaving a few seldom used desktop app icons there to keep the taskbar. While this works great on my workstation, it isn’t the best way to go on my Surface. It has a smaller screen and I like having the scaling at the native 100% making everything tiny in desktop mode. To that end, the Start Menu or Metro interface works as a springboard so I’m not squinting at icons on the taskbar and the touch interface works for me a little more than it works against me.

Stylus input is, post full reinstall, back to being stellar. As I’ve said before, I would really like a device with an 8” form factor, but I don’t think I’ll endure any portable computer I buy lacking pixel accurate pen input. You will need to recalibrate the pen after a full reinstall, but this is a very fast process one can access from Control Panel -> Tablet PC Settings.  

I’ll be following up with Mavericks next week after I have had a chance to use it more.

Update: [11/13/2013] After battling with Windows 8.1 over the last day or so, I'm throwing in the towel and downgrading. Many of the problems I thought were fixed by a full re-install returned. Having external disk management, WiFi, or the touch screen input fail on my Surface Pro at regular intervals is extremely annoying. 

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