It seems that the operating system that could be called W8 actually runs reasonably light.
Things have moved forward with the windows install, and having resigned myself to using 8.0 from there on, just a day after getting things up & running I was offered the upgrade to 8.1 that I'd tried (unsuccessfully) to download & create as a DVD earlier.
For what I 'understood' to be a service pack?
So it downloaded while I was here at work, then I ran the install at home, which took around 30min. The only fly in the ointment was that it REALLY, REALLY wanted me to sign up for a windows account and I really didn't want to do that. In the end I couldn't find a way out (there is supposed to be an option to continue with a local account, but I'm CERTAIN I wasn't offered it) so gave it an email address that I couldn't read to activate it, yet it required activation to create an account. Not well thought through. I was, however able to change to local login on first running the software, through the user accounts settings.
So now I have a fresh install of 8.1. Frankly, I have to say that Microsoft are doing something very right here - it's snappy, responsive, clearly running with relatively low overheads because Lightroom works really well, and I couldn't replicate the horrid laggy behaviour under OSX, even with extensive masking and brushwork.
One thing that amused me was that installing DigiKam for windows also installed a portion of KDE including a control panel. I've no idea if the tools there do anything (and I wasn't going to risk making a mess of the OS if they didn't) but they were a nice 'friendly' thing to see pop up on screen. I also installed Photodirector and GIMP for when I need them, plus Libreoffice. VLC for video playback, Opera and Firefox for browsing while keeping Google's Chrome spyware away.
Went through monitor calibration somewhat this morning too, using the windows calibration tool and then an external site. The monitor I have at home is a 7 year old Samsung unit, and while it was really nice back then, it's sadly lacking now. Moving up & down relative to the screen changes the way colours are displayed and the brightness of an image to the point where some of the finer features of a simple on-screen calibration could not be set, and I gave up. Recently most of my image editing has been done using a Dell 2412M IPS monitor in the office, and this is much less affected by viewing angle. At some stage the Sammy is going to have to go, sadly, and another IPS screen found to replace it.
It's still windows, so therefore still proprietary, still restrictive, still using slightly naff icons and menus, still un-secure and prone to virus infections and all that goes with that. But at the same time it's a nice environment to work in, and I feel like it could use this as happily as OSX or Linux.
Talking of OSX.
Still not impressed with Mavericks.
First impressions were that the machine was slow and really bogged down and with the fans going fairly hard as though it were running a big load. 30sec in google told me that spotlight was going to be frantically indexing everything in sight, and so it turned out. And the next day too, up until about 1pm - about 6 hours worth. I have the macbook connected to an external drive with 2 1TB partitions for file storage and time machine backups, and there's hundreds of thousands of files there, so fair doos. I didn't experience the terrible lags & un-usability like some have, probably because of the SSD.
And yet spotlight still sometimes draws significant energy, even when it has no reason to be doing anything.
Something else I've noticed is that the beachball appears quite often, if only for a moment, when moving between browser tabs or opening files in a program that's already open. Memory use has gone right up: before running firefox, skype & entourage would typically leave between 2.1 and 1.5Gb free, where as now I typically have around 800Mb free, even with Skype closed. And what seems the ultimate power test for this machine, lightroom, is even more sluggish than before.
That same google session turned up various suggestions about hard disk repair etc and I did boot into safe mode (cmd-R) and verify/repair the disk & permissions. There were errors/faults that were successfully fixed, but it's not significantly changed things.
The screen font seems to have changed, becoming chubbier, less clear and easy to read.
Guess I'm asking too much really, to expect a 5 year old bottom of the range machine (though mid-range by other standards) to cope with the latest version of the operating system. I'm wondering if a clean install would help? Another 4Gb ram? Or have things moved on so far that upgrade is the only way forward?