We have been using Windows 8 for several months now (since before the official launch), so have had time to form considered opinions on Microsoft’s new operating system……
Early user feedback is not as positive as feedback after a couple of weeks. Most people have been using the Start menu since the mid-90s (or all their computing lives), as a result, accessing programs and information has followed uniform steps now ingrained in their neural paths. We’re making what, for all intents and purposes, is a quantum leap with the move between Windows 7 (or earlier) and Windows 8.
Once you learn how to navigate your way around the new way of working the benefits become clear. Boot time, one of the perennial complaints about Windows, is quicker than ever. Back in the pre-Windows days Microsoft DOS computers would boot and be ready to work within seconds. With the adoption of Windows the software got a bit ahead of the hardware, seconds to boot became minutes. This user experience was embedded when Windows 95 came along and has been with us ever since.
More than anything Microsoft have done in the past, Windows 8 is a reaction to a competitive threat, specifically the new industry Apple created for tablet computing. The iPad allowed users a powerful experience, available within seconds of being switched on. Windows 8 is Microsoft’s first viable tablet operating system so it had to boot quickly.
Instead of the Start button and desktop icons you get tiles, which for some applications will look like large icons, although other tiles will present live information, anything from a weather report to a share price or, perhaps one day, the next job allocated to the user. You scroll or swipe through tiles to access the information or application you need.
We are also introduced to the Charm Bar, an area of the right of the screen where you can access a lot of resources, as well as search the web, files, applications or all three. Most users will initially deploy Windows 8 on a traditional desktop PC and screen or laptop but the operating system has been designed with touchscreen technology in mind, even if you don’t use a tablet.
Hovering over the top right of your screen will bring up a large menu displaying your open apps, which can be navigated to, closed or ‘snapped in’ to a resizable area of your monitor.
Smartphones and tablets have made touchscreen computing incredibly successful but the technology has often been viewed as a compensation for the lack of a keyboard and mouse. The keyboard and mouse is not about to go away in the short term, touchscreens are still not as precise as a mouse and may never be, while you cannot beat a keyboard for writing anything extensive, but the applications we currently use have been designed for the legacy tools at our disposal. There is already a trend underway for applications to work with touchscreen technology. The Windows 8 Charm Bar screams out to be swiped!
One of the main benefits of Windows 8 is its ability to synchronise your information (browser history, address book, Facebook and Twitter settings, email and apps) between devices. Change something on your work PC, then login from home and your settings change there too. This is a feature which is probably more useful than it sounds. You also get a Dropbox-style SkyDrive, which syncs your personal data between the cloud and your various devices.
After working with Windows 8 for a few weeks 7 (or earlier). They are getting through their work faster and enjoy the ease-of-use and control they have over not just the technology, but the information they work with. It’s also an extremely viable competitor to iPad and Android tablets, but that’s a story for another day.