This past month, Microsoft released a consumer preview of its upcoming operating system, Windows 8. After tinkering with it for a few hours, it’s clear that Microsoft is adopting an entirely new model, which may change how the majority of PC users interact with their machines.
Microsoft Windows is still by far the most widely used operating system, due mostly to its perfectly balanced mix of accessibility, compatibility, and openness. Rather than take an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, Microsoft has decided to redesign the next version of Windows from the ground up.
This release was built with the growing tablet user base in mind. The traditional desktop and start menu have been hidden behind Microsoft’s new “Metro” user interface. The Metro UI consists of large, colorful tiles which give you access to all of your files, media, and applications. In addition to the new touch-friendly interface, Windows 8 includes many new touch gestures and shortcuts.
It is unclear whether or not this latest operating system is meant to be used alongside the more desktop-oriented Windows 7, or if Microsoft may have a more traditional release waiting in the wings, but all signs point to Windows 8 being the only major release on the Windows roadmap for the foreseeable future. For those wondering if this release will be a viable replacement, the answer is yes, if you’re willing to deal with some pretty significant changes.
For example, the familiar start menu that has been around since Windows 95 has been axed in favor of the new start screen. In addition, the touch-friendly Metro interface is now the default mode of interaction with your computer, not your desktop with its clickable icons and shortcuts. The traditional desktop can be accessed in a couple of clicks (or taps) if you prefer, or you can use the Metro UI on your desktop computer by simulating touch gestures with a series of keyboard shortcuts and mouse gestures.
It is clear that Microsoft is hoping to make its mark in the tablet market along with Google and Apple. What isn’t clear is whether or not the tablet version of Windows 8 will maintain the same functionality as the consumer preview. The consumer preview is currently only allowed to run on desktop machines, as the proprietary nature of tablets allows them to only run software specifically designed for them. There has been some speculation that the traditional desktop functions will not be included in the first release of Windows 8, but an official statement from Microsoft states that this information is “misleading.”
The general consensus on Windows 8 is that, as a tablet operating system, it is poised to give Apple and Google a run for their money. It adds gestures, multitasking, and a desktop-like environment to the tablet platform, three major features that Apple and Google have yet to fully implement. Opinions of Windows 8 as a desktop replacement range anywhere from annoyance or indifference all the way up to laudable praise.
Some people (myself included) would rather stick to Windows 7 rather than learn to use a whole new range of mouse gestures and shortcuts that aren’t really all that intuitive. That said, I’m very excited to get my hands on this operating system in tablet form. It seems to combine all the best aspects of the two operating systems currently on the market, as well as adding new features to make the tablet experience more than just a casual one.
If you’d like to try it for yourself, you can download and install the full consumer preview at http://bit.ly/HrZSAM . I wouldn’t recommend installing it as the main operating system on your primary computer, but if you want to dual boot or put it on a secondary PC, I say go crazy. The final version releases sometime in October 2012.