The wait is finally over, Microsoft Windows 8 is officially here. The newest iteration of the world’s most popular computer operating system was released today after months of demos and commercials showcasing it. Microsoft has said that over 1.24 billion hours of testing went into the new operating system and is in many ways hedging the future of the company on the new release. Because of the increased pressure from Apple and Google, Microsoft wants to assure consumers that they are still relevant in today’s world.
Windows 8 marks a radical change for Microsoft in terms of the layout of their operating system. Gone is the traditional start menu, replaced by an entirely new start interface with “live tiles” and an array of downloadable applications from the all new Windows Store. Current windows users will notice a drastic change from Windows 7 to Windows 8. While the traditional “desktop” is still there, it is no longer the center of the computer’s processes, and more of a “background application”. Part of Microsoft’s reason for making such drastic changes to the interface is to make their operating system compatible across more devices. Microsoft is trying to not only keep hold of the traditional PC market, but also branch into tablets and smartphones. Windows 8 is truly built more for new hybrid, touch-based computers and tablets more so than traditional desktops, though it is built to run on those as well.
Having already downloaded Windows 8 to my laptop early this morning, I have only had a short time to interact with it. That being said, I noticed one thing right away, there is a steep learning curve. The interface, short of the traditional desktop which is now essentially an “app”, is completely different. Even for someone that is very familiar with the way Windows computers work, navigating Windows 8 is in many ways a whole new experience. That is not to say that all is bad. I do like the modern interface that Microsoft has introduced, and I like many of the new, full screen applications that are available from the Windows Store. I also like the deep integration with all Microsoft services, if you have an email account, that allows many settings and files to be synced over the cloud.
There are, however, plenty of drawbacks, at least currently, to Windows 8. For starters, nothing is where it used to be. Just trying to turn the computer off takes multiple steps that may take users a while to figure out. Also while Windows 8 is “easy” to navigate, it is more so for a touch screen rather than a traditional computer. A traditional keyboard and mouse feel “out of place” in this new user interface, save for when working with the traditional desktop. I understand Microsoft wanting to make Windows 8 touch friendly for tablets and new touch-enabled computers, but traditional computers upgraded to the new OS feel a bit neglected. In addition, the current offering of applications in the Windows store is very limited, and until more popular applications are added, it will suffer.
Overall, my opinion of Windows 8 is still up in the air. While I think it is a must have if you are looking for a new, touch enabled PC, it is not yet a necessary upgrade for existing computers. If Microsoft continues to add new, relevant applications to its Windows Store and allows easier ways to interact with the traditional desktop, then I think it will truly be useful to everyone. It remains to be seen how the radical change in design will impact sales of the operating system, but one thing is certain right now, it is a new age for Microsoft and for the future of personal computers.