Why Windows 8.1 and Onedrive are awesome (and Windows 10 is RUBBISH)

[Sorry, this is just me talking operating systems and probably not that interesting for palaeo-folk]

In my little technical world, I have tended, for the past decade or so to live on the Bleeding Edge (that’s one further than the Cutting Edge). Most of the software I use tends to be the latest Beta version, and I’ll generally live with crashes and bugs in order to get those latest experimental features.  usually, I don’t even need the experimental features and in reality I’m just making life a little harder for myself.  But computers and tech is one of my hobbies outside of work, so playing with new software and hardware as part of my research lets me combine a little fun side-hobby into my day-to-day work.

So after windows 10’s release on the 29th of August, friends and colleagues were rather shocked that ALL of my work and home computers were on Windows 8.1 still. I did run the Insider Preview several times during the beta testing, but it never stayed installed for long. Sadly, the final release didn’t change that. I installed Windows 10 on my home computer, and 4 days later I rolled back to Windows 8.1.

I’m pretty open to new ideas in operating systems, and this isn’t a Microsoft thing – I spent a long time loving Gnome 3 in Ubuntu and Fedora, and only using windows 7 for important things like Windows-only programs needed for research. Those and Games.

When Windows 8 was released, I got it for my little convertible Acer W500 (a fairly underpowered and heavy tablet with keyboard) and loved it!  It was so intuitive and quick! The gestures made me able to whiz through small tasks, the ‘metro’ apps like email, calander, twitter, etc, lived ‘off’ my desktop. This meant they were running, I could check them easily with a swipe of my finger, they would alert me if I got a notification (those alerts could also be disabled with a single swipe and press).  Within a few days I’d installed it on my non touchscreen Laptop. Instead of using touch, I could use mouse gestures (Hot Corners!  In Windows!), and found none of the issues others seemed to complain about when using keyboard and mouse – it all just made sense. But the best bit (at first, see below) was that the metro-desktop dichotomy was the equivalent of taking all the crap off your desk  -Filofax, calander, phone, and hanging it on the wall behind you, so you can focus on the task at hand and use all your desk space for doing productive stuff. It was like virtual desktops, which I’d been using on Linux for years, but better (In that case the analogy would be like surrounding yourself with desks and laying your calander and phone on one and your writing on another etc – it’s more organised than a single desk, but it’s still cluttered).

That’s now gone in windows 10 – it’s either everything on the desktop in windows, or everything full screen and no access to the desktop.  I don’t even know how to bend the analogy to fit that.

The even better feature for productivity, and I didn’t even realise it, was Onedrive. For windows 8.1 it was integrated deep into the operating system. It’s worse at sharing folders and things than something like Dropbox, but it had a feature called ‘placeholders’, whereby you could use windows explorer, and see and interact with all of your files you held on onedrive, without downloading them [by ‘interact’ I mean moving/copying/pasting/deleting]. Opening them would download the file to the hard disk.  Given that an academic Microsoft Office account nets you 1TB of Onedrive storage, upgradable for free to UNLIMITED, this is a really useful feature particularly for small local-storage machines. You can also ensure certain files were stored locally so if you were going where there is no internet (e.g. flying, or going into the field).

The recent example of where this was amazingly useful was last week, while at the Symposium for Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy (SVPCA). One talk was on Archaeopteryx, discussing some tiny little under-discussed feathers. I was rocking my Surface Pro 3 (probably the best hardware I’ve ever owned!), which only has 128GB of local storage, but I was able to nip through my onedrive data storage, find several gigs of photos I’d taken of Archaeopteryx myself, look through the thumbnails as though the pictures were there on my hard drive, find a particular photo, open it, and view the feathers even more clearly than on the screen. More importantly, I could then find the speaker after and show my own photos, which had other features we could discuss.

I simply wouldn’t have had those files with me without OneDrive Placeholders, and I’d have missed out on some really useful Academic discussion.

So, all my devices will be staying firmly on Windows 8.1 for the foreseeable future.  If placeholders and a ‘modern app/desktop’ dichotomy return, I’ll upgrade, but until then I shall uncharacteristically sit still, getting further and further from the cutting and bleeding edges of operating systems.

*Sniff* We have seen the pinnacle of productivity in Windows 8.1, it's all downhill from here.
*Sniff* We have seen the pinnacle of productivity in Windows 8.1, it’s all downhill from here.

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