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While my hooky 7 license is stuck in the wonderfully efficient Deustche-Post system, as it has been for a month, I bought Windows 8.1 for one of my redundant boxes at the weekend.
I must say, apart from just two things, it is quite pleasant to use.
The first thing is the need for a Hotmail account to log into my own computer; big brother, slightly moreso than Android and gmail, but not obtrusive.
The second is that to shut an application I needed alt-F4, there didn't appear to be any controls, just differences in focus.
There are many differences, but I find them interesting. Also, I was easily able to install Visual Studio 2008 and test it. Hello world etc work fine, with nice GUI integration. I like the built-in Skype, I like the app-style Facebook extra, I like the Android-style app shop(which also like Android, doesn't demand payment details unless you want to buy something). I like the way all and any hardware is integrated effortlessly, including wifi printing and scanning.
I speak as someone who has been using Ubuntu exclusively at home for 4 years; MS has clearly done some Ubuntu/Linux homework and decided that good things a like seamless driver integration should be taken seriously, at last. And with the ecosystem control, they don't even nag about security anymore(although I installed Avast).
For once, MS is being maligned for doing something actually good. :(
The Gmail equivalent is where you need an account for the app store. I already had a verified hotmail(>15 years) which I use as cloud storage for my Amazon receipts.
Apart from logging on(and I would be surprised if there is no alternative, they just don't make it obvious) I'm not worried. Interestingly, when I installed Avast, the options include a specific anti-NSA protection. They even use the name NSA.