What is it?
The latest operating system that the majority of computers will be running. All new PCs from the hardware manufacturers will ship with it. It’s a big deal.
The majority of computers in use in the world today run Microsoft’s Windows Operating System (OS). I won’t go in to the rise of computing and how this came to be over the late 80’s and the 90’s as that’s a long story. It’s safe to say though that if you have used a computer at anytime, chances are it was running Windows. The OS is everywhere, from homes and offices to window displays and nuclear submarines. Yes, no matter how many times you see action movies with the cool, sleek, well designed interfaces, they are just as much a fabrication as the rest of the props. Good old Windows 2000 and Windows XP run the show.
So when the company that makes the OS that the world knows, it’s a big deal. A few years ago Microsoft released Windows 7 to atone for the sins of Windows Vista. Over a year ago, Microsoft announced that they were going to release a new OS that would be a huge shift for the company. Windows 8, the touch based future of the Microsoft Corporation. Over the development time, the company kept a blog, updating the world on their progress and issuing development builds. I was impressed. Many of us were.
Here we are with the released OS, so what have we been given.
Why all the fuss?
As mentioned above, the crux of the fuss is that this is the world’s operating system, so changes to it are important. So what has happened? Well Microsoft have expanded the design aesthetic using their pioneering Windows Mobile 7 interface. During the development, it was called Metro UI. A legal threat put the end to that and it’s now known as Modern UI.
What’s this new user interface business?
The Modern UI is radical. It really is. Visually is a breath of fresh air. The clean lines, the vibrant colours the flowing rectangles and live updating information, really do make it feel like you’re using a ‘connected device’. To navigate around these tiles, you are better off using a multi-touch track pad or a touch screen. While, the view does work with a keyboard and mouse.
There are some additions to how to navigate the computer, the ‘Windows Key’ on the keyboard now returns you to the home screen from any app you may be in. A swipe from the left or a mouse over the right side of the screen brings up the ‘Charms Bar’ where you can access the search, settings, devices, start and devices. This is really handy when you’re viewing your pictures from SkyDrive and other social networks.
There’s also a Windows App Store, that is your gateway to to applications designed for this new full screen OS. There are only a few application in there at the moment, but this is due to increase rapidly as the OS is adopted world wide.
But the world is not all Modern UI. The classic desktop still exists and has been revised. Now that the Start screen is your main access hub, Microsoft have chosen to remove the Start button, first introduced in Windows 95. Like in Windows 7, programmes can be pinned to the task bar for fast access and for the standard Windows workflow that so many people are used too.
Inside the classic desktop mode, the operating system as received a lot of tidying up. Gone is the gloss and glow of Vista and 7. The only left over is the task bar that has a transparent hue. The rest of the windows are in block colours. Now the finder windows have embraced the ribbon that was introduced with Microsoft Office 2007. There’s a wealth of options available to the user from the ribbon and there is one small but major change with Explorer’s file manager. Copying. Yes, the copying & moving dialogue has been completely reengineered and now works and gives accurate information on the time left.
What’s the difference between Windows 8 and Windows 8 RT?
Cleverly, Microsoft have released two main version of the Windows 8 operating system to confuse customers. Windows 8 and Windows 8 RT.
The difference is easy to explain, Windows 8 is for computers that we know and recognise, using Intel and AMD processors, in regular laptops, desktops and all in ones.
Windows 8 RT is only for tablets and tablet hybrids. Devices that are built using ARM processors, similar to the type in side iPads and Android Tablets. These are generally lower cost than the full machines, meaning that you can buy a Windows 8 RT tablet but you would need to buy a computer with Windows 8 to use software that you already have. Applications that have not been rewritten to work on the Windows 8 RT and then submitted for distribution through Microsoft’s Windows App Store will not work on a Windows 8 RT tablet.
Why is this better than Windows 7?
It’s the future! The future of Windows moves us away from the same structure of desktop computing that we have been locked in to for the last two decades. The Modern UI is enough for the majority of home computer users. Pictures, Social, Email, Internet and Apps. That is where personal computing is heading. Apple saw this a few years ago with Lion and enabled full screen apps and the ability to swipe through them. Microsoft have taken this idea and added the ability to split screen apps.
On my test machine, it works quicker than Windows 7 and really feels lighter and more nimble operating system.
What kind of computer should I buy?
The market for new computers ruining Windows 8 is exploding! PC manufactures had held back new machines till Windows 8 came out. To get the best out of the new operating system, the best choice is a device with a touch screen.
A number of hybrid tablet laptops are coming on to the scene. Some will be typical tablets coming with Windows 8 RT and some will be tablets that are more like fully fledged laptops, cut in half. These come with Windows 8 and will have a wealth of expandability (USB drives, camera, anything you can think to plug in) to them like no tablet devices ever launched.
For the first time, Microsoft have jumped in to the hardware game (well, computers, they have made peripherals for eons) with their Surface tablets. These devices are great pieces of design and are likely to emulate Google’s Nexus line, signalling to manufactures what the operating system can be when combined with the right hardware.
There are two versions of the Surface, the RT and the ‘Pro’. The Surface RT comes running Windows 8 RT and the ‘Pro’ comes running full Windows 8. There is no launch date for the ‘Pro’ version as of yet.
Windows 8, shows a bright future for Microsoft. A unified style that is carried over the Microsoft family. PC, Tablet, Mobile, Xbox all sharing the same grid based layout. This really helps build the ecosystem that Microsoft have been so desperately needing to combat Google and Apple.
There are some great features. There are smart and passionate people working for Microsoft and that shines through the good bits.
For an alternate take on Windows 8, click here.