Alastair Dodwell – Aug 21st 2012
The beta versions of Windows 8 have been around for some time and now Microsoft has just released the code to Manufacturing or as they call it RTM. Expect to see growing numbers of Win 8 press and marketing activities. The official launch date is set for October 26th.
This is a hugely important release for Microsoft as Windows is a key revenue and profit source for Microsoft. The various versions of Windows are installed on most of the billion plus PC in the world and Microsoft would like them all to move to Win 8. For most people this will be a truly annoying upgrade.
Windows is under attack from two fronts that are both reducing its importance. Firstly the Apple iPad and MacBook Air to a lesser extent the Android tablets are slashing home and low end mobile PC sales in turn lowering Windows sales. Secondly the continuing acceptance of cloud computing is reducing the need for a local computer with a fancy Operating System in turn increasing the acceptance of tables and smart phones and again reducing the significance of Windows.
First the technical overview: Windows 8 introduces Metro, a new graphical panel interface that is clearly designed with tablets and finger swiping in mind. For anyone with a PC and mouse this is a hopeless miss match of screens and buttons that go a long way to annoy, confuse and generally frustrate you. Microsoft, unlike Apple have built one product to address two markets, classic computers and tables while Apple offers Mountain Lion for computers and iOS for mobile devices. This bold decision by the Microsoft Windows team is going to disappoint most users. Tablets and PC are different and are used in fundamentally different ways. However the forthcoming Microsoft tablets will look more like PC’s than the iPad as they will tend to focus on Office apps and keyboard support.
So why is Windows 8 so frustrating for PC users? There are many reasons but mainly the Start button has gone. The home screen brings up the Metro interface with its flipping tiles displaying data, once you have managed to set them up that is. While it may be nice to see a stock price of the temperature in Seattle on start-up they are just a distraction if you just want to launch an application to do real work.
You can access the more familiar Windows desktop after initially loading Metro but even then you don’t have a start button. To access setting and many system type commands requires dragging the mouse to the corners of the screen. This then in turn brings up more menus. One area of amusement is how to turn off a Windows 8 PC. Microsoft suffered a great deal of flack when the Start button was introduced in Windows 95 as it was also the Stop button. Now with no start button, there is no off button either. You have to go to battery setting to switch of the PC or configure the power button to perform an orderly shutdown.
This mismatch of accessibility is going to leave IT departments answering the phone to confused end users as they struggle with Windows 8.
For possibly younger users with more demanding Social media needs, Microsoft has done a great job of integrating Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter in the core of Windows. The performance also seems to be enhanced compared to Windows 7 and Microsoft make claims of faster disc access and performance in general. And yes it does perform well unlike the old dog Vista.
Microsoft has also been pushing its version of the App store and now offers a direct link to the Windows Shop offering an array of free and commercial Windows 8 applications.
Windows 8 also offers mail, photos, music and other general stuff that is a bit of a mismatch of what has been offered before in Win 7 and various Microsoft on-line offering. These may make little more sense for the home user as compared to the corporate user but these are nowhere as neat as the closely integrated iLife offering on the Apple platform.
If Microsoft were building an OS for a tablet and a phone then Win 8 would be a reasonable product, even given heavy competition from iOS and Android. But in trying to make one product for all computing devices they have delivered a nightmare for the vast majority of existing Windows users.
Any business user should stick with or upgrade to Windows 7. Home users with a strong desire to do more with Social media may want to consider Windows 8 if they run a laptop with a good touch panel.
Of course Windows 8 will sell in large numbers of the PC manufactures like Dell, HP, Acer etc. offer Win 8 as standard but upgrade sales will be slow and Windows 7 will be firmly cemented as the corporate solution and iPad sales will continue to grow.