The biggest change in computing starts now. And no Apple isn’t the one revolutionizing it. Sure some might argue the iPad is inspiring it, but they are wrong. Windows 8 is the opposite of the iPad. Windows 8 is the long held idea from Microsoft that the PC is king and that experiences should add and not subtract.
Apple made a decision that iOS should be separate from OS X, while here and there giving OS X features from iOS. iOS powers its iPhone and iPad line up while OS X powers its Mac desktops and laptops.
Windows 8 is different. Microsoft has been pushing tablets using Windows, starting with Windows XP Tablet Edition, since 2002. Yes, they have pushed tablets for 10 years. Outside the corporate world in specialist areas, they haven’t really sold. Why? Because traditional Windows isn’t touch friendly and mostly relied on stylus for input.
In came the iPad from Apple which built on the UI revolution that came from the iPhone. Tablets are selling now to consumers in the millions. They are as simple to use as an iPhone and extremely touch friendly. So why is Microsoft still sticking to an all in approach?
Metro is in! Taking from Windows Phone 7, they are doing a new UI while still giving the power of traditional Windows. In fact one Windows NT Kernel will power all the new Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT and Windows 8 devices. Windows RT are ARM processors based devices. ARM runs your phone and all Apple and Android tablets. Windows RT is not covered in this review, but will have an extremely similar experience to Windows 8 minus traditional Windows apps in desktop mode with the exception of Internet Explorer, File Explorer, and Office 2013. Windows 8 will run on any x86 or x64 including tablets, desktops, ultrabooks, and laptops.
And what a powerful Kernel it is. Windows 8 is the most solid Windows Kernel ever. The boot times are amazing, as is the stability. While OS X has been in a transition, the core Windows Kernel has remained relatively the same since Vista but with huge refinements. And it shows. As a technology lover, I love to test the latest and greatest. I have played with beta and pre-release version of Windows since XP. Of course the negative about these testing versions has been the instability. Windows 8 beta was odd in that respect. It wasn’t about testing the desktop mode, it was about testing the new metro experience. From day one, it was solid.
And if you know Windows 7, you know Windows 8 desktop mode. All is there, minus the start menu which has been replaced with a start screen which is the core of the new experience. But the rest is there and refined. Pin your favourite apps to the taskbar. Snap windows left or right.
The UI has been a little refined. Ribbon is everywhere. I personally like ribbon, it allows quicker access to common tasks. Gone is Aero, the transparent UI introduced in Vista. Instead is flatter look that looks more modern and professional. Task manager has been further expanded and simplified. For casual users it has a list of apps to end. For power users who hit more details, the amount of data is staggering and includes details such as memory used and bandwidth used.
Pro users will like this hint. Right click in the lower left corner (where the start screen access hovers) and be treated to menu of important locations such as control panel, device manager, system, disk management, and even elevated command prompt.
Overall the desktop mode is the best in any Windows to date. Sure some might wish the start menu was still there. But internal research showed its lack of use. Windows 7 did cause people to pin their most used apps to the taskbar, a feature still available in Windows 8. And I think the start screen is a well worth replacement for the start menu. The start menu was introduced in Windows 95, as was revolutionary. But its time has gone and it’s a gamble Microsoft is willing to make, especially since no other mainstream OS uses the technology. The desktop mode is the most streamlined and productive of any Windows to date.
So unto the start screen and surrounding technologies. Created for touch but just as useable with a keyboard and mouse. Your computer will start in the start screen, but to access it and other features using a mouse it is all about sliding your mouse off screen and into the corners. Bottom left is start screen. Top left is your previous Windows 8 app, and sliding down reveals a list of previous apps. The right hand side is the charm bar. Either corner will do, just slide down to access the control you wish. Obviously touch will be rewarding. And you will see touch and touch related peripherals comes to both laptops and desktops (such as an updated Microsoft Touch Mouse).
The start screen is pretty self-explanatory and works extremely smooth. Each tile is an App. Either a Windows 8 App or a traditional desktop app. You can tell the difference between the icon in a tile for desktop apps and new Windows 8 Apps using the whole tile. The new apps can also control the tile to provide update information. For example the weather app tile will inform you of the current temperature without you having to start the app.
You can choose to live in either environment of do a mixture of both. I find myself, even on my desktop computer, drawn to the simplicity of the new experience. Limiting myself to advance apps and file management thru the desktop mode.
The charm bar is for Windows 8 apps, and lets each app have a central start for search and settings. Share is unique feature that allows you to share content between apps. It also allows access to central touch friendly settings for Windows 8. While the control panel exists for most settings and all advanced settings, the Windows 8 Settings App must be used to create new Windows accounts.
Also unique to Windows is multitasking, not only on the desktop mode but also on the new experience. You can have a primary app and a secondary app. This a huge plus in my books.
And unto the negative. Yes, Windows 8 apps or metro apps. For starters, the Windows Store has only about 600 apps. Compare that to iPad with 100,000+. Microsoft also follows Apple in that the Windows Store will be the only way to get new Windows 8 apps.
The second is the quality of apps and their features. The photo app refuses to play nice with network locations. The music and video apps were fixed but still don’t have the features needed or library management when it comes to editing metadata and organizing. To make matters worse, they don’t appear to use the same metadata that Windows Media Player (available on the desktop) and Zune use. (Update 16.11.12: Apps have been updated. Photo works with network locations and Music metadata is improved.)
That being said, does iOS and Android allow on device metadata editing and do they even play with the network that way I expect a traditional Windows PC to? And the plus with apps is that they can be updated, and are being updated frequently. No waiting till Windows 9 or a service pack. And Android doesn’t have 600 tablet apps, they just want do it all apps that are actually just glorified phones apps with even less features.
Windows 8 does have its redeeming apps. For one even the video app I spoke negatively of is beautiful and has a powerful Play To feature that lets me send any video on my device to be played on my Xbox 360. Xbox SmartGlass is another such app that lets me communicate with my Xbox and further my experience. Wither Netflix is telling me about the movie I’m watching or future Xbox games becoming more interactive. In fact the Apps I like are more than the ones I don’t. And even the flaws in music, videos, and photos won’t be noticeable to most. Yes, most people don’t have a home server. Most people don’t have terabytes of video and gigabytes of music from various sources.
I absolutely love the Mail, People, and Messaging apps. The synergy of having all your accounts come together. Facebook, Twitter, Exchange, and more.
The available Xbox Windows Games are promising, especially the idea of resuming games on your phone or other devices is promising. The whole idea of sync is integral to Windows 8. If you use a Microsoft Account to sign in, your settings sync. You can have your favourites sync, and the passwords to those sites. My one complaint would be to have app data sync, so that my favourite cocktails in the free Cocktail Flow app sync from device to device.
Do I recommend Windows 8? I certainly do. The foundation is there and the rest will come in time. If you stick to the desktop, enjoy the most solid and fast booting Windows ever. Sure, your start menu has been replaced with a start screen. But why through a fit when OS X has the same full screen Launchpad? The new modern metro experience will grow in time and provides a fresh computing experience that, if you dare, will simplify and better your computer experience and further provide a single unique experience between your phone, your tablet and your PC. And for many consumers, a Windows 8 tablet or convertible will be all they need.
And in regards to tablets like the iPad or other Android tablets. Windows 8 does have them beat. Sure the iPad has more apps, but that will fade in time. Android doesn’t even have that. And they have a subpar experience without the full power of Windows. There is no Office 2013 or powerful File Explorer. They stick with the idea that a phone UI is good enough for a tablet. And it is not. Besides the fact of the versatility of the metro UI with live tiles. It is why I recommend Windows Phone 7, it is partly why I recommend Windows 8, and will be a huge factor in my Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT reviews.
Windows 8 adds to the tablet experience. Not only in having extra tools, especially content creation tools with you, but by bring the tablet experience and simplicity where warranted to the laptop and desktop. Now you have the same experience regardless of how your approach Windows. Now that is an ecosystem promise. Like I said, the foundation is there… now it’s just for Microsoft to deliver.