It’s been a few years since Microsoft came out with their last operating system, and in those years there have been some big changes to computing technologies. Windows 8, scheduled to release on October 26, attempts to evolve software in a direction that is compatible with the changes that have come to the hardware world since then. So how well did they do? Even more importantly, how well does it introduce users familiar with the old methods of computing to the future that Microsoft is looking to build?
Windows 8 attempts to capitalize on the current trend towards touchscreen computing. The entire feel of the operating system has been redefined. The first example that users will immediately notice upon starting Windows 8 for the first time is the tutorial video that explains how to use the new operating system. When you create an account, the video explains how to “swipe in,” making a gesture from the edge of the screen to trigger certain actions. Touch interactions like this have replaced many of the obtrusive buttons in previous versions, and for the first time in almost 20 years, Windows no longer has a start button.
This new design aesthetic is referred to as “Metro.” Instead of the familiar desktop, with the start bar and icons, there is now a grid of colored, changing tiles. If you’ve set up a Microsoft account with Windows 8, your email, calendar, and contacts will be automatically added, a welcome feature. If your Microsoft account is linked with your Facebook, your brand-new computer will seem almost eerily familiar, with friends’ statuses and photos already scrolling across one of the tiles on your screen.
Most of the navigation is obviously meant for touch devices, but translates well to the mouse, as long as you can familiarize yourself with the new gestures. Fortunately, most commands have touch, mouse, as well as keyboard commands, so that no matter what you’re familiar with, you can learn quickly. Swiping from the right will bring up the “Charms,” five icons for a number of basic tasks. It will also show the standard time and date, as well as battery life and network status. Unlike previous versions, the date and time are not constantly displayed on screen, which can get frustrating if you’re used to it.
What is arguably the biggest change to Windows 8 is the Windows Store. Similar to the app store born on the iPhone and bred in the Android marketplace and Mac App Store, this is a centralized location from which users can download verified apps directly from the publisher. Microsoft is attempting to create a unified source for apps that look, feel, and behave the same across all devices. The reason for this is that once purchased with your Microsoft account, apps will be available on all computers that you use, including some that carry between Windows Phone 8 and the desktop counterpart. The selection is limited for the time being, but will certainly explode in the future.
Internet Explorer has turned a new leaf with IE 10, included in Windows 8. It is intuitively integrated into the operating system, and supports touch-based gestures, as well as cleaning up many of the back-end issues that have plagued web developers since Internet Explorer’s inception. For those worried about security, IE 10 comes with “do not track” disabled by default, which will keep your browsing habits more secure and private than previously.
There are thousands of new features in Windows 8 – and it will no doubt take a while to get used to them. A few of the downsides like limited Windows Store availability will be ironed out in time. For the number of new directions that Windows 8 has gone in, it succeeds remarkably in them, and will certainly improve as Microsoft responds to consumer demands. For those who have no need of the newest technology, it’s probably not worth an immediate upgrade – at least wait until “that guy who’s good with computers” gives it a shot and can help you use it. But Windows 8 it certainly ushering in a new trend in computing, and does it with style.
Photo used by permission Ceo1O17