The release of Windows 8 is hotly anticipated for October 26th, as manufacturers have been ramping up production based on this platform since August 1. Although previous operating systems may have been greeted with cynicism among some circles, Windows 8 has been hailed as a game changer in desktop-based OS.
The biggest visible change is the reinvented user interface (UI). It has been designed around tablet-style touch-screen functions using Microsoft’s Metro language (also seen in the Windows 7 phone and the Xbox360 dashboard update.) The home screen is filled with live, touchable tiles that take the user into the various applications. Applications can be snapped in place next to each other for side-by-side viewing.
Legacy apps like Excel and Word will still work, of course, but it appears that Microsoft is moving aggressively towards touch-screen-style apps, and has emphasized this point with developers. The ubiquitous “Start” button will disappear, subsumed within the all-new “Charm bar” which appears on command on the right side of the screen.
All these touch-based innovations are neat, but what of the millions of PC users still on standard desktops?
Well, there are bells and whistles for those users too. Perhaps most noteworthy is the Windows-to-Go function, which allows users to boot and run Windows 8 from a USB drive. You can now log in with your Windows Live ID, which allows your user profile and settings to synchronize, as well as SkyDrive integration (the Microsoft Cloud sharing service).
USB 3.0 is now native, and a new hybrid boot allows the system to start faster by using hibernation technologies. There are two new authentication systems — gestures and 4-digit PINs — and improved security all around. Synchronization settings can be managed on folder-by-folder basis, and Windows 8 even includes multiple screen management settings far beyond what it’s offered in the past.
Unfortunately Microsoft has a long-standing trend of only getting every other operating system right. Because of this some think Windows 8 might be ahead of its time and not ready for the majority of its user base. Given that the vast majority of Windows users don’t have touch screens, (and given that it’s ergonomically unfeasible for most desktop users to use touch screens) how much of a hassle will a tile-style set up be compared to the old icons and folders?
Furthermore, will smartphones and tablets have penetrated the market enough that users will find the new interface intuitive? Finally, what incentive do users have to switch? Windows 7 was pretty good, why upgrade and risk disappointment? We’ll have to wait until October 26 to find out.
What are your initial thoughts on the radical changes of Windows 8?