What you should know about Windows 8
Tomorrow is it. Showtime. The latest and greatest from the developers in Redmond think their creation is ready for prime time. The curtains will go up – and by this time tomorrow, Microsoft will sit at a poker table, making the largest bet in its history. Windows 8 has probably seen the most revisions Microsoft has ever made on a software internally. Its development began even before Windows 7 was released. Back then, it didn’t even have a code name.
What it is
It is important to understand what Windows 8 is, why it is what it is, and what it represents. The software has a few goals. First of all, to bring the “Windows” name to new life, to re-imagine what it was up until now. Imagine that Windows 8 signals in a seismic shift on the level of Win 3.1 to Windows 95. That was one of the most revolutionary releases in history – and this is what Windows 8 is aiming for. Except that the scenario is quite different today. Chips with 64-bit instructions are not uncommon. We also have tablets now. Redmond’s latest is meant to put everything under one umbrella – while aiming to achieve a “Windows 95 momentum”.
What it is not
After thorough testing and using it, I can honestly and confidently assure you that The Ocho is not a successor to Windows 7. Neither can it be understood as an evolutionary upgrade. It does not want you to think of it that way. It is not something like Windows NT to Windows 2000. Or Vista to Win7. It is completely re-enginereed even in the bootstrap-sequence which is only remotely similar to Windows 7. Even the logo has been changed to reflect the all-new strategy Microsoft is now attempting to use.
The Great Divide
The design team of Windows 8 has made some bold and radical decisions which I’ll be coming back to now in a moment. One of the decisions has caused both – Windows fans and haters alike – to split into two camps – the ones who welcome the changes, and the ones who don’t. The distance between the two is so far, that it is very extreme. Probably the most extreme contrast seen in IT – not even the eternal discussion of PC vs. Mac has driven camps that far apart as it has with Windows 8. It is highly interesting, but also highly worrying at the same time. The distance between those two camps may not get smaller anytime soon.
The best analogy I have for you is the following. Say you’re having a meal. There’s the table before you, with tons of plates and lovely meals. And there’s the menu, which you might want to consult now and then. So you hail the garcon and then tell him, listen old chap, would you please bring me another bottle of whatever, there’s a good lad. That’s how things work in normal life.
Now, using the Microsoft moronity equivalent, the menu is located under the table, so you have to flip the table over every time you want to consult the menu. This means your entire assortment of meals and drinks is now out of your sight. You do not quite remember what exactly is there, or how it may be arranged. But most importantly, why would you waste time flipping the table over when you could be having the menu resting at your side?
Which brings us to the next point.
Start Me Up!
You remember this slogan? It was not only the slogan for Windows 95, but also the song Microsoft purchased from the Rolling Stones to use the Windows 95 campaign. Yes, they really did that.
The transition from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 split people into similar camps, but not as extreme as today. Windows 95 was the first mainstream software to use 32-bit instructions and it was equally as re-engineered as Windows 8 is to its previous versions. Its most significant change and addition was the Start Menu – probably the most iconic feature in computing history. It allowed fast and easy access to content on a computer – it turned out that people loved it.
All in all, the Start Menu saw three major design revisions in the last 17 years:
Another fundamental change was done in the way you are searching for information on your computer. Microsoft learned that only a very few people actually used the built-in function of Windows, or relied on other 3rd party tools to find stuff. Windows 8 hopes to change that by unifying the search framework for the operating system – at the start screen, simply type what you’re looking for – and choose the category inside which you want to look in.
A somewhat controversial move – but once you get used to it, you’ll like it.
In any way you look at it, you cannot help but to admit that Microsoft is in fact innovating a few things of their own for a change. There are quite some useful features built into the system and its user experience, that some of you will find useful – and that one thing is called Snapping. It allows you to pin a running Modern application to either one side of your screen, provided you have a large enough resolution. This is extremely useful if you live in Email or social networks. The built-in People allows a connection with Facebook only for the moment – but who knows what will be added.
Wear a Ribbon today!
On the conventional desktop side of things, Microsoft decided to implement their “Ribbon” interface of Office into the entirety of the File Explorer (not Windows Explorer anymore). You will now find a variety of options on the top of a file window, effectively allowing you to do more or less the same you could do before with the File/Edit/View menus. You will also find that the normal menus have now disappeared from most applications (except Notepad, apparently… this old fella seems left behind).
However some useful actions have been added, such as “Copy File Path”, or item check boxes. All in all, I find this a welcomed change to the now clunky and dated menus that were on the top of each window.
Not through the looking glass
Another thing you will notice is that the transparency of open windows has now disappeared. While most of Aero and its capabilities are intact, it has seen some changes under the hood. The most visible change is the removal of window borders that are translucent and blurred its backgrounds. This used up GPU-cycles on both – PC and laptop. Doing this has measurably increased the battery life on laptops, and has increased performance. I personally liked the Aero style – but also I won’t miss it too much. The new style is very simplistic and also reflects Microsoft’s design decision to go a different way from here on out.
We are roaming
One of the most fundamental additions to Windows 8 is its roaming profile. If you choose to use a Windows account with Microsoft’s servers, all your settings are linked into the cloud. Every customization you do, down to the window color, is synchronized to the cloud. If you log on to another PC with your Microsoft ID, all your settings fly down to your machine – wallpaper, theme, lock screen wallpaper, window settings, cursor settings, and so on.
As Steve Jobs would say… “This is HUGE!”
Where it excels
It should come to you as no surprise that most aspects of the software are designed for touch – hence why Microsoft is releasing Windows 8 for their own tablet or 3rd party certified tablets – Windows RT. For all intends and purposes I am absolutely thrilled to see it on a tablet myself. Full screen apps like Mail, Messaging and People are pretty slick looking and totally optimized for computing in the 21st century. This is a huge step forward and should not be overlooked.
Its speed is pretty impressive – booting times of about 5-6 seconds on my PC with a SSD are a new record. No other OS I tested on my machine has achieved these speeds – something to keep in mind.
The Modern UI is optimized for touch obviously, but can also be nice on a conventional PC. You can spend hours or days in the desktop without seeing the tiles, which should be good enough for most.
Where it falls short
While it is a step in the right direction, some of the things may frustrate users – such as the removal of the classic start menu or access to fundamental functions like “Turn Off”. These and some others are now located in the so-called Charms Bar – which you can reveal by moving the mouse in to the lower-right corner. This is a less documented change and may be frustrating to some.
People may not adapt very well to the fact that the mouse can “imitate” touch gestures in order to achieve something, for example, closing an application. You’ll have to move the mouse to the top of the screen, click, hold down the mouse button, and drag down to the bottom. Things like this may be cumbersome for people who want some other controls or indicators that are more suitable for mouse-use.
All things considered, and looking at the way the IT industry is shifting, I personally believe that Windows 8 will be a success. It has hit a lot of nails right on the head. Its features for the most part are unique. You can look at it in any way you want – Windows 8 does not look like a Mac. It sets itself apart with a new fresh feature set that could play a major role in the years to come.
In my opinion, Windows 8 is a winner. I am pleased with this redesign of the software, and by now, quite frankly, I have come to like it. I like that Mail and Messaging are now “out of the way” and run in separate spaces, per se. Pinning makes it possible to see what’s going on all the time, without using too much screen space.
The system will become part of a new generation of software, which is now beginning to emerge. At least give it a try and do so with a completely open mind. Take time to learn. I am sure you won’t be disappointed.
Initial release: October 26, 2012
Stable release: 6.2.9200.16384 (RTM, August 1, 2012)
License: Proprietary commercial software
Kernel type: Hybrid
Update method: Windows Update
Platform support: IA-32, x86-64, and ARM for Surface
Preceded by: Windows 7