Saturday, December 1, 2012

Windows 8

Windows 8 was officially released by Microsoft on October 26th. This week we had our first Windows 8 machine come through the door for a service. This was the first time I've personally used the final release of Windows 8, and it was definitely a different experience.

The first thing you'll notice when you sit down at a Windows 8 computer is that it looks nothing like any Windows machine you've used before. The interface was designed to look more like Android or iOS than previous versions of Windows. What Microsoft has essentially done is replace the Start Menu with a Start Screen. This has caused quite a bit of confusion for people that aren't prepared for this new approach. Everybody is comfortable with the idea of booting into a blank desktop and having to click on a menu to bring up a list of programs. What Microsoft has done is to do away with that blank desktop and now you boot directly into a screen that is really just a redesigned Start Menu. All of your programs are represented with large square icons instead of written in list form, but other than that it's essentially the same. If you are completely uncomfortable with the new look there is an icon that will take you to a traditional Windows desktop view. However, there is no Start Menu on this desktop, and you'll have to go back to the Start Screen to open any programs or perform any functions that you haven't made desktop shortcuts for.

The second main difference I noticed with Windows 8 is what Microsoft is calling charms. There are now two types of Windows programs. There are the traditional programs that we're used to that open in a re-sizable window that we can move around the desktop. The second type are programs that are specifically designed for Windows 8. Instead of a plain square icon on the Start Screen, these programs have live tiles which give access to constantly updated information about that program. An example is Microsoft's email program, which will let you know how many new messages you have and alert you when new messages come in by displaying the information directly on the icon on the Start Screen. These Windows 8 programs also launch as a full screen. When you launch Internet Explorer, for example, there is no desktop behind it. It is the entire screen and it can't be resized. If you are browsing the web and want to check your email you have to exit back to the Start Screen and open the email application. To go back you then have to exit the email app and relaunch Internet Explorer. The experience was very similar to using a smart phone or tablet. There are quite a few programs that have already been put out specifically for Windows 8, and Microsoft has started an app store. This store is similar to Apple's and Google's app stores. There is an icon for the app store on the main Start Screen and you can purchase and download programs directly from their much as you do on an Android or iOS device.

Another thing that jumped out at me was that Microsoft definitely designed Windows 8 to be used with a touchscreen. Luckily, the laptop I was working on was equipped with a touchscreen. I was able to navigate using the touchpad, but it was very cumbersome and I couldn't imagine trying to put in a full day of work that way. If you are in the market for a new computer and are thinking about Windows 8 I would put a touchscreen on the top of the list of required features. If you are thinking of updating to Windows 8 and don't have a touchscreen I would probably advise you to hold onto Windows 7.

Windows 8 comes in three different flavors. In this area Microsoft has improved quite a bit and it's very simple to figure out which version you need. Standard Windows 8 is for home users, Windows 8 Pro is for small to medium sized businesses and Windows 8 Enterprise is for large businesses(more than 500 systems). If you're running a business out of your home and find it necessary to network multiple computers there are features in Windows 8 Pro that will make it worth the upgrade.