Hands On With Windows 8

Before I begin, I have to say that I have been a little absent this week. Normally I try to post twice a week, but I have been busy preparing to bring you this.

I must admit that I began downloading my copy of Windows 8 with a lot of skepticism. The trend has been laid for a long time, that you really only want to upgrade at every other version of Windows. Windows 95 was good, but 98 set the standard. Millennium Edition (ME) was a failure on many fronts, which drew a lot of criticism from users and probably helped Apple build it’s base on the (then) new i-branded hardware. XP stands as the single most well received version of Windows ever. I personally liked Vista, but the vast majority of people thought it was unstable and not friendly with older software.

Windows 7 took it up to where Vista should have been at the start. Most people really like the software, and the “compatibility mode” actually works with most things now. You would be hard pressed to find anything really annoying about it, and I haven’t experienced a “Blue Screen of Death” since I installed it for the first time during the preview period. I think Microsoft may be trying to break the cycle… Finally!

The first thing you see, after logging in, is the new Windows Phone style of environment. After the initial reaction (for most it’s either WOW, or UGH!) you will have to start actually trying to use the  system. While everything is very responsive and quick, navigation is tricky, and compatibility will be an issue once again. You can move the icons around however you like, and change the background color, along with many other options for personalizing the look. I chose purple, because I like purple.

Prepare yourselves, because you are going to have to teach your grand-parents a whole new way to use the computer again. Some of it will be easier for them, and some of it will be harder. Navigating between the app-screen and the desktop is easy enough, but takes a bit of getting used to. You will notice that there is no longer a start button in the lower left of the desktop, which has been replaced by a pop-out menu system that is the basis for navigating your operating system. If you move your mouse to the lower-left corner of the screen, you will be able to quick-swap between whatever app you have open and the main start/app-screen. This process is very quick, and seamless. In the lower-right you get the menu shown below. The “start” icon takes you to the app-screen which, for all intents and purposes, has replaced the old start-menu.

Moving to the upper left will show you whatever app you had open last, and if you had more than one open, you can move the mouse down a little bit and see the whole list of apps that are currently running. This leads me to the single most important change… Switching to another app will NOT close the process, so you will have to check this app-list and close out the ones you’re no longer using. While this step may seem like a no-brainer to people like me, most people never bother doing this on their iPhones, Androids, or Windows Phones… I would be willing to bet that that trend will carry right over to their computers running Windows 8. Be prepared for all kinds of apps claiming to optimize the speed of your computer by automatically closing unused apps.

Something else to keep close in mind is that there will often be two types of apps to deal with, even if it is the same program. Internet Explorer for instance. In app-mode it will be very quick, and bare-bones, but right-clicking will no longer display a menu. It will show you the navigation bar (located at the bottom of the screen now) and the tab bar (located at the top.) If you open Internet Explorer in Desktop-Mode, it will be exactly the same as you use now in Windows 7. Another very noticeable thing is that Facebook apps cannot be used in the app-mode version of IE. You can browse facebook just fine, but using any flash-based apps will not work, and navigation bars like the one that WordPress uses do not show up.

Overall, I like the new system, but I am not someone to be annoyed by learning a new way to do things. Most people will start off very frustrated with the seemingly alien environment, and unless they manage to integrate Adobe Flash Player into the app version of IE, they will be causing a lot of people to downgrade simply because of the Facebook app issue. Most people will (probably) never bother with Desktop mode, and will not even be aware of how much power they are signing away by doing so. To be honest, the desktop behaves like an app, in that you can close it like any other.

Make no mistake, this is a transitional OS, designed to help people prepare for a world where we have more powerful machines that do less, only because of software limitations. The days of having hundreds of programs installed, and buying a laptop for a DVD-burner are over. This is meant to make you ready to give all that up for a slick touch-based user interface installed on a glorified net-book which will be dubbed “ultra-book.”

The only place this will really really shine is on a tablet device, which is the only reason why I can’t wait for it to come out. I think the Windows Phone OS has a lot of potential to compete with iOS where Android has failed. Microsoft will keep things a little more open, so we should see some incredible apps come up for sale on Windows-based tablets.

If there is demand for it, I will post an in-depth review of specific aspects of Windows 8 once a week. Would that be something you want to see?