Retail version of Windows 8 shall by available by the end of this year but you can try it right now in order to experience for yourself what I’ll be expressing in this article.
Windows 8 is largely based on Windows 7, and Microsoft will always claim it to be as stable and resource friendly as it predecessor. Where it really differs is the UI. In Windows 8 the primary focus of the operating system has been moved from a central desktop to a Start Panel based on the Metro UI. Metro is that familiar tiles based UI you’ve experienced in Windows Phones, XBOX Dashboards etc. Here’s what it looks like:
To replace the desktop with the Start Screen as the primary dashboard of it’s new operating system, Microsoft did something that was fairly rational: They removed the Start button you’re so accustomed to. Instead they added a tile (a button in today’s UI lingo) in the Start Screen which would lead you to the desktop. You’ll have to try Windows 8 to realize what a huge difference this makes. Other than that, the Start Screen has it’s own set of apps, the metro-apps, which run in full screen and when executed do not show on the main desktop taskbar. There’s a new Microsoft Marketplace from where you can download new metro-apps. What about the desktop apps? You may ask… well Microsoft has tried to prove in every possible way that desktop is an old thing and they don’t care for it anymore. So, yes, the all new Windows Marketplace only supports metro-apps. There are other numerous changes as well which are irrelevant to my point in this article so I’ll leave those upon the users to explore.
Firstly, Windows 8 is resource hungry in my subjective experience. I used it on my powerful ultrabook machine and although it was faster and more responsive than Windows 7, it exhausted more of my RAM and CPU resulting in a 3x reduced battery time. But I shouldn’t be concerned about this as it was still a preview and not a finished product, but if the finished one continues to be as resource intensive as this, Microsoft will probably be repeating the same mistake it committed when it released Windows Vista.
Secondly, the Metro and traditional desktop experiences in Windows 8 are very disintegrated and makes you feel that you’re running two entirely different operating systems on your PC at the same time and believe me this isn’t a very good feeling. The metro apps multitask in a new autohide pane on the side of the screen whereas the running desktop applications line up separately in the traditional taskbar. Not only this, there are two different versions of Multimedia players, photo viewer and other apps one for the desktop and one in metro UI. And how about two different control panels, a touch friendly one for the Metro Start Screen and a traditional one for the desktop?
The philosophy behind the redesign:
One word: Mobility. Thanks to Apple (and others) computing is rapidly getting more mobile, more user friendly and more focused over tasks than over customizations and fine-tuning. This shift has been evolving our attitudes for years but hasn’t yet modified the way our desktops work because desktops and mobile computers are still two clearly separate entities. Microsoft made this giant and bold leap of bridging the gap between these two different computing paradigms. I’ll salute Microsoft for being this innovative but what I dislike is its newly found apple-like business focused strategy as I believe the drastic redesign of Windows is an implicit attempt to facilitate penetration of it’s Windows Phone into the phone markets as well as to enter the tablet market which Microsoft has hitherto refrained from stepping into. This, however, is probably a lesser evil compared to all the good this new redesign will bring in the long term.
Why Microsoft did it?
Microsoft officials say that they realize that it will take some time before users get used to, and start liking, Windows 8. So it’s not that they themselves believe in what you’ll listen from them in their marketing campaigns, “You’ll instantly love the new Windows, you have no reason not to. It’s just Windows 7 improved.”. They know their move is risky, is bold. But there’s a reason they can risk such innovation: They’re backed up with a previous very successful operating system. Even if people opt to rollback or to not upgrade their systems, they still have a very satisfactory operating system to fall back to. On the other hand, OEM sales in the modern day always assure that people do step forward in the evolution and try getting used to the new stuff rather than to cold turkey it straight away.
I love the direction Windows 8 has taken with its new OS but I believe that it has failed to implement it in a user friendly way. I see Windows 8 as a necessary step in the long term evolution of the desktop computing experience but unworthy of use itself. I wish the final product shipped by Microsoft makes me differ, but I doubt that.