Microsoft unveiled Windows 8 yesterday, and now it is available for order from both retail outlets as well as from Microsoft Store online. This by far is one the biggest risks Microsoft has taken with Windows. The classic tried and tested Start Menu since Windows 95 has now been replaced by the touch-centric Start Screen. The entire OS has been optimized to make use of a touch enabled screen, although it works great with keyboard and mouse as well. So, the biggest question is are you ready to take the jump ? Let us help you in answering that question.
There have been several articles dedicated about how difficult it is to use Windows 8 or how users face a “cognitive burden” in dealing with its dual UI. Let’s stop here and understand that this is not 1995, the users of a computer system have matured, the understanding of what a computer and its user interface should be has increased. We are not looking at a time when just the rich kid had a PC at home, the PC is now affordable, one in each home if I may say. I am saying this just to justify the fact that we have grown up as have the computers, and Windows 8 is a step forward in the right direction. The new OS is not just an entity in itself but an entire ecosystem that Microsoft is trying to build around it. Take for instance integration of XBOX in Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 with SmartGlass, SkyDrive to store all your files and contacts, XBOX Music for all your streaming needs. Its just the beginning of the ecosystem as it lacks the impetus from Developers who have yet to take a huge interest in the platform. The new Windows 8 Style apps are a completely different breed, they share their core with their Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT counterpart. Let us look at some of the things we like about Windows 8.
Things that we like about Windows 8
Super fast Boot times
I have been using Windows 8 since its Release Preview. The Consumer Preview boots to the Start Screen on my 5 year old system in under 15 seconds, that too on a mechanical hard drive. On my new Core i5 system it takes a mere 10 seconds from cold boot and getting up from sleep is almost instantaneous.
Windows 8 Search
Search is easy in Windows 8. Just start typing on the Start Screen and voila! you have your results. Windows 8 takes care of the filters in the background, you just get the files or apps you want, its that simple.
SkyDrive is integrated in the heart of Windows 8. As soon as you login to Windows 8 with your Microsoft account you get your files, email, contacts, photos, desktop/wallpaper preferences everything available to you. Its the first time an OS has been able to provide such a seamless experience in transitioning from one system to another.
The new Windows 8 UI
Okay this might be matter of choice, but I like the fact that the OS goes out of the way when I am interacting with an app. Windows 8 also gets notifications right, since most of the apps on the Windows Store support Live Tiles you can get notifications from them on the Start Screen as well as in the form of messages that overlay on top of the app that you are using. Live Tiles make using Windows 8 fun and provide a look into the app without even opening it. At present though there are few apps in the Windows Store, but we expect them to increase when adoption on the new OS increases.
You can snap apps to the left or right edge of the screen along with a main app running which covers two thirds of the screen. Therefore you can have a video going while you are making notes, check your mail or twitter feed while working and many other such scenarios. Its easy to flip through open apps, all you have to do is drag from the left top of the screen to scroll through them. If you have a touch enabled system just use the bezel gestures, i.e. just flick through the left bezel to start scrolling though open apps. Similarly you can close an app by dragging it from the top to the bottom of the screen.
There are several other improvements especially in the Desktop mode including the new task manager, in WiFi connectivity, security among others but I will leave those for a complete review of Windows 8. For now let us get back to another discussion that has been the topic of contention several times.
What is the different between Windows 8 and Windows RT ?
Well, to begin with Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro are x86 versions of the new OS, which means that all your applications from previous Windows installations will work in this edition. Therefore these run on processors from Intel and AMD. You can simply install your applications in these like you did in Windows 7. Here you can also run the new Windows 8 style apps that are available on the Windows Store.
Windows RT on the other hand is meant for ARM processors, the kind that are found in smartphones and tablets. Here you cannot install applications designed for Windows 7 or for previous versions of Windows, they simply won’t run. These only run specially designed apps which are available from the Windows Store. These applications use the new Windows 8 Style, which emphasizes on clean lines and primary colors. At present Windows Store has about 5000 apps, and we expect this number to grow very rapidly. Windows RT comes with Office 2013 as part of the package so your new device is ready for productivity from day one. Soon you’ll be able to find all the apps including Facebook, Twitter etc on the Windows Store. Windows RT too has Internet Explorer built in, so you can browse the web, watch videos, listen to music. Its pretty much the same experience only limited by the fact that it cannot run applications designed for Windows 7. Its quite similar to the situation with iOS (Windows RT), where the iPad cannot run applications written for Mac OSX (Windows 8 Pro).
I hope this clears things a bit. You cannot buy Windows RT from a retail store or online. It will come installed on your choice of hardware. You can choose Microsoft Surface with Windows RT which is available now starting at $499, and we would recommend this if you are looking to buy a Windows RT tablet. Windows 8 is a solid bet according to us. If you are looking to upgrade, you should as most of your old applications would work with Windows 8 with added performance benefits, shorter boot time and greater security. However, if you are going to buy a new system we would tell you to hold out as there will be several new systems going to be announced in the holiday season and at that point the app store for Windows apps would have matured, to an extent, as well with the most primary apps, for the least.