Read our review of Windows 8 and Windows RT to find out what we think of this ground breaking reinvention of Microsoft’s popular operating system.
By Adam Z. Lein
- Overall Score: 7.9
While everybody loved Windows 7 on the desktop and it was the best-selling operating system of all time, it really wasn’t so great for any of the new human-computer-interaction methods that are quickly becoming popular. Things like touch screens, 3D gesture interaction (Microsoft Kinect), and voice recognition just don’t work well with the old style graphical user interface designs that Windows and Mac OS have long been made for. That’s where Windows 8 comes in, but it still needs to work well with the sort of interaction methods that people are used to; there have been some changes compared to those keyboard/mouse inputs which may seem foreign at first, but actually offer a significant increase in usability once you get past the learning curve. The three dimensional gesture interface and modern speech UIs aren’t part of Windows 8 just yet, but you can preview how this new type of interface can easily adapt to those methods if you try the Xbox 360 with Kinect and its 2012 dashboard software update.
Since all of the desktop Windows features are kind out of the scope of this site, our review is going to concentrate mostly on the tablet-related features and “MX” style apps with just a dash of keyboard/mouse functionality.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Brandon’s video about Windows RT below:
Windows 8 vs. Windows RT
It has always been the case that when there’s something different about a new operating system, it will have a different name. While Windows 8 and Windows RT are nearly identical at first glance, there’s one major difference that you have to understand. Windows RT is only capable of running apps that are available in the “Store” app that is included on the device. Windows 8, on the other hand, can run anything that you find in the included Windows Store app (just like Windows RT), but it can also run just about everything else written for Windows 7 and x86/x64 processors. This concept is much simpler than what you have to go through to figure out which apps run on which version of Mac OS X: some require the Intel processor version of Mac OS, some only work on the Power PC version, some only work with classic mode, etc. Windows users should be used to this as well since Windows NT also supported numerous completely different processor architectures and each of those had compatibility issues running different types of programs even though the operating system itself looked exactly the same. Windows RT is kind of the new version of Windows CE for ARM processors, except it’s the same core as Windows 8 and ARM processors are finally powerful enough to handle something so much more complex.
The Touch Interface
Picture password is a fantastic and secure method of logging into touch screen tablets. You can select any picture you want, and then to set your password you’ll draw three gestures on the image with your finger. Those can be circles, lines, or just points. You don’t have to be extremely accurate when you log-in either. If you’re off a little bit, but still get the general gesture area right, it will accept that without problems.
Of course Windows 8 and RT support multiple user log-ins so you can create separate profiles for each person who might use the device, but one thing that’s new and very welcome is that your profile settings can now sync with a Microsoft Account. If you enable that, and save all of your files to SkyDrive, you can have a very portable personal Windows 8/RT experience that simply downloads wherever you log-in.
The Right Edge
Windows 8 is primarily about bringing a new method of touch screen interaction to Windows. With previous versions of Windows on touch screens, your finger was basically a replacement for the mouse pointer: you point at something, then touch it to click. It sounds like a simple transition, but it turns out people have big clumsy fingers and can’t aim them very well at small buttons and scrollbars.
With Windows 8, Microsoft has added a completely new touch interaction paradigm. First of all, the screen edges have become much more important. Swipe your finger inwards from the right edge of the screen and some “charms” buttons will appear, no matter what you’re doing within the operating system. This gives you instant access to a number of important functions.
The top one is the search charm which is usually context sensitive, meaning that if you’re in a particular app that supports searching, all you have to do is swipe in from the right, tap the search charm, and start typing your search. If you decide mid-way that you’d like to run that search on some other app, all you have to do is tap the app you want to use listed below the search field. It’s very useful and very easy and most importantly, consistent across all apps that support search.
The next charm is labeled “Share”. Again, this a context sensitive button that is also extensible by third party applications. Say you’re looking at a particular news article and you want to share it with some one. Just swipe the right edge, tap the Share button, and off you go: no right clicking, no copy/pasting, just a single motion swipe-and-tap. From the Share charm, you’ll find any number of options depending on which apps you have installed. As mentioned before, the Share pane can be extended by third parties for more sharing options. By default, you’re probably going to have Facebook & Twitter share options courtesy of the People app, plus email of course. Unfortunately, the Messaging app doesn’t seem to integrate with the Share charm so you won’t be able to send content or links via Messenger or Facebook chat so easily. One nice touch is that the Share pane makes frequently-used sharing options more readily accessible at the top. For example, if you frequently share via email to a specific person, a single button for you to email that particular person will become more prominent at the top.
The center charm button is the Windows key which brings you back to the start screen. The placement is perfect for touch screen tablets because you can easily hold the device with your right hand, swipe from the right edge with your thumb in the center, and then tap to get the start screen. Some tablets will have a hardware button for this function which would be similar to the iPad’s home button, however that is completely unnecessary. In fact, having to reach to the bottom bezel with your hand and pinch the button to activate it is far more tedious than the ergonomic and instant swipe-from-the-right gesture implemented in Windows 8.
Next is the Devices button. It may not be immediately clear as to what this does, but it turns out that this is where your printers live. Say you want to print an email; just hit the Devices charm and choose the printer. Other options like projector screens, PDF writers, XPS writers, and “Send to OneNote” will also be available here.
Lastly is the Settings charm, which again, is context sensitive. I didn’t know this was the case at first, because it’s not really clear. I figured it was just the new name for the control panel or system tray, but it isn’t. When you’re in a specific app, the settings pane will show you settings options for that app at the top, but it will also give you a set of system settings at the bottom. Things like volume controls, network connectivity, power, keyboard, screen brightness, and notification settings will always be available at the bottom. Once I realized that the settings charm was context sensitive, I found it to be much more useful.
The Left Edge
That was a lot of great functionality easily accessible from the right edge, but what does the left edge do? The left edge, very simply, is for multi-tasking. A full swipe from the left will throw the previously-used MX/Metro-style app into the foreground. This happens extremely quickly. As soon as you finish the swipe, the previous app is ready to go. Give another swipe and another one of your open apps instantly comes to the front.
If you don’t want to keep left swiping until you find the app you want, start your finger swipe from the left edge towards the center and then swipe it back to the left edge. That will bring up a column of thumbnails that show your open apps all along the left edge. From there, you can see everything at once and tap the one you want to load to the front. All of this is very easy to do with one hand if you’re holding the left side of the tablet. Compare it to Apple’s method of multi-tasking on an iPad where you either have to move one hand all the way to the bottom and double-press the home button or put four fingers on the screen and swipe left/right.
The Top & Bottom Edges
A short swipe from the top or bottom edge of the screen in Windows 8 does the same thing: open the context sensitive menu bar(s). These menu bars house hidden functions available for whichever app you’re currently using. You can think of it as a right-click menu (and that’s exactly how you access the menus with a mouse.) Closing an app happens if you swipe your finger all the way from the top edge of the screen to the bottom edge in one motion.
Keyboard & Mouse
All of those touch gestures are great when you’ve got a touch screen, but what about when you want to sit at your desk and use a real keyboard and mouse like you’ve had for 20 years? No problem! While it’s not immediately obvious, Windows 8/RT includes some fantastic efficiency enhancements for keyboard and mouse usability. I’ve been counting clicks, and if most tasks don’t take the same number of clicks, they often take less.
The Four Corners
While the screen edges are the best places for accessing commands with a touch panel, the four corners of the screen are the best places to put commands for a mouse. The reason for this is because those are the easiest places to click. Close your eyes and move your mouse towards the upper left, then click. There is almost zero accuracy required in clicking those corners because no matter how quickly or how inaccurate your mouse movement turns out to be, that pointer is going to end up in that corner.
So now that we’ve established how important the four corners are for mouse usability efficiency, what does each corner do? Well, the bottom left corner gets you to the start screen with a quick click. Or, if you’re already on the start screen, it gets you back to the app you were previously using.
The top left corner gives you one-click access to previously used apps, and simply gesturing into this corner along with a slide down the left edge will show thumbnails for all of your open MX apps, allowing for one-click switching to whichever one you want. The two right corners show the charms bar when you push the mouse into them, and then a slide up the right edge will let you single-click the one you want. That’s right: one-click access to application settings, printers, sharing, or in-app search.
If you’re a keyboard shortcuts person, there are a host of new shortcuts in Windows 8/RT that help you access the things you need much more efficiently. For the power users out there, try the Windows Key + X for a shortcuts menu made just for you.
The Desktop Environment
What’s kind of strange and jarring about both Windows 8 and RT is that it is attempting to merge the desktop style computing environment that hasn’t changed much for almost 20 years, with this new style of user interface that’s supposed to be flexible enough for all of the applications and interactive methods of the future. Many people will continue to work in the desktop environment, since that’s what all of their existing applications were designed for. Even Windows RT wasn’t able to completely leave the desktop environment behind, since Microsoft wanted some parts of Office 2013 to be included, and no one has been able to translate the power and flexibility of that suite to the MX style interface just yet.
The best way to think of the Desktop Environment is as its own app. It’s got a tile on the start screen like other apps, you can swipe from the top screen edge to the bottom to close it, and you can switch to it with left edge swiping just like other apps. You can remove it from the start screen if you want and you might never have to even look at it. The way I think of it is like a virtual machine window. On Windows 7, I could open up “XP Mode” whenever I wanted and from there I had Windows XP… different UI and all. Even Mac OS has had these weird duality transitions. For a long time Mac OS X also included Mac OS 9, which could be run within OS X in order to run applications not compatible with the new OS and new user interface.
MX Style Apps
Windows 8 and RT use a new type of application that runs full screen and gets rid of (or subdues) all of the cluttered user interface elements like scrollbars, close buttons, taskbars, and drop down menus of the past. Microsoft used to call these “Metro” apps based on their codename for this new design language, but we’re not supposed to call them that anymore, so I call them MX apps.
The web browser has become a very important part of all operating systems. Windows 8/RT comes with two versions of Internet Explorer 10. Only the MX full-screen touch version shows up by default in the app listing, but if you launch the “Desktop” app/environment, you’ll see another Internet Explorer app pinned to the task bar.
MX Internet Explorer 10 is primarily HTML5 based. There are no plug-ins available for this browser. You can swipe from the top edge to access and switch between tabs, and if you touch the address bar to type a URL, large predictive buttons appear that help you quickly access the website you were thinking of visiting. Frequently used sites appear as large buttons when the address bar is active, as well, thus saving a lot of time trying to access them.
If you run into a website that mentions some kind of missing plug-in like Flash, then you can touch the little wrench icon in the bottom right on MX IE10 and choose the “View in Desktop” option. That will send the web page to the desktop version of Internet Explorer 10, which DOES support plug-ins such as Flash, however its user interface is pretty much the same as IE9 on Windows 7. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you plan on using the Desktop environment with a mouse pointer. Most Flash sites don’t work well with touch UIs anyway, so it’s probably a good idea to switch to the desktop environment to use those types of sites. Another advantage of the desktop version of IE is that you’ve got the more familiar tab interface, favorites button, etc. While it is pretty easy to switch from the MX version of IE and load the same page in the desktop version, there’s no easy way to go back to the MX version. You’ll have to copy the URL and paste it back into the touch-friendly IE 10 or add it to your favorites in one, and then access it from the other. Both Internet Explorers are also missing the “Share to Xbox” feature on Windows Phone 8, which is fantastic for loading websites on a larger screen and using them with SmartGlass. Again, you’ll have to copy/paste the URL from IE to the SmartGlass app’s browser URL field instead.
Email, Calendar, People, Messaging
These four apps are actually installed as one in the Windows Store and that’s probably because they share a lot of connectivity. It’s important to realize that swiping from the right and choosing the settings charm is where you’ll be able to add accounts and change the preferences for each.
In the email app, you can add Exchange 2003-2013 accounts, IMAP, POP3, Gmail, and Microsoft Accounts. They’ll all appear as individual accounts listed on the lower left of your screen, with the folders listed above, the list of emails in the middle, and the actual contents of a selected email on the right. You can’t resize the reading pane in order to give yourself a larger reading area, but if you turn the tablet into portrait orientation, you will get the full view of just that message. I’ve noticed some bugs with the “Sent Items” folder, though. You can specify a folder for your sent mail to be archived to, but the “Sent Items” folder sometimes isn’t listed there depending on the account. There is conversation view enabled by default (optional in the settings), however there is no way to see all of your emails from all of your email accounts in one unified listing. The UI feels very sparse if you’re used to working in an email client that’s full of dozens and dozens of options like Outlook, and for the most part this reflects its “basic” or “simple” nature. However, be sure to swipe up from the bottom edge occasionally in order to find some more advanced features, like adding attachments to messages.
The Calendar app again is very basic. It syncs with Exchange, Gmail, and Microsoft Accounts (Hotmail, Outlook.com, Live.com, MSN.com, etc.) so you’ll easily be able to access your calendar. It supports multiple calendars, too, and you can choose different colors for each one. Unfortunately, it does not sync your Facebook Events like Windows Phone does, so that’s a bit of a disappointment.
The people app integrates contacts accessed from Exchange, Microsoft Accounts, Gmail, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Windows Live Messenger, and Skype (if you install Skype). You can search for them with the search charm, edit their info, send emails, send instant messages, or initiate Skype calls. Swiping up from the bottom edge will let you filter the contacts by who’s online on Facebook Chat, Windows Live Messenger, and Skype.
The People app is not only a decent contact management program, but it can also be used as a Facebook and Twitter client. On the People home screen, there’s a “Me” tile where you can see your own Facebook photo albums, Facebook/Twitter “What’s New” feed, and you can post status updates on Facebook or Twitter (but not both at the same time). You’ll also see social networking notifications that will tell you about all sorts of activity, such as comments or twitter mentions, and you can easily tap each one to read and respond. For many people, this can serve is a perfectly acceptable Twitter and Facebook client, however it is not as “full featured” as dedicated apps would be.
The Messaging app supports instant messaging on Windows Live Messenger and Facebook chat. It’s one of the only apps with an unlabeled text field, which turns out to let you search for contacts that you’d like to send messages to. It does support multiple sign on as well as background processing. You also don’t have to launch it and manually sign in to the app in order to be able to accept instant messages; just set your status and it’s always available. For tablets with connected standby support, it should accept incoming messages even when your device is asleep, too. By the way, this is probably going to be one of the more popular multi-tasking apps, since you can snap it to an edge of the screen and see your instant messaging threads while doing something else on the other side of the screen. Unfortunately, there are a lot of Windows Live Messenger desktop features missing from the app. Forget about video/voice chat, file attachments, web sharing, video messages, etc., unless you install the desktop version of Live Messenger on the Desktop Environment, but you won’t be able to do that with Windows RT due to its different processor architecture. Still, it’s good for a low-resource, high-availability instant messenger.
There are a couple extremely cool things about the Photos app. One is the fact that it loads your photo libraries from your local computer, your SkyDrive, your Facebook account, AND any of your remote PCs that have SkyDrive installed! So, say you have a desktop PC that has the SkyDrive desktop app installed and you’ve got a few terabytes full of photos from over the years. The name of that PC will show up in the Photos app on your Windows 8/RT tablet, and you’ll easily be able to browse through them.
Another cool thing is the slideshow-type screensaver. On the home screen of the photos app there’s a play button on the bottom left. Pressing that will generate a dynamically changing photo collage of your images that periodically animates and loads different images. Sometimes it loads them randomly and sometimes it loads them from a particular time period (which it labels with some text). Oh, and it loads these photos from your remote PCs associated with your SkyDrive account, too, so don’t be surprised if you see some photos from your desktop PC that you haven’t seen in many years.
The normal library browsing interface is very finger friendly. The folder views usually load in a filmstrip-type view, but if you want to see more photos at once, just pinch the screen to re-organize them into a group of thumbnails. Once you dig into a photo you like and view it full screen, you can swipe up from the bottom edge and there’s a “Set as” button where you can make it the background of the app’s home screen, set it as the lock screen image, or set it as the app’s tile image. The photos app also works with the Share charm and any apps within the Share charm that support images.
If you’ve got an Xbox 360 with the latest 2012 dashboard update (which includes Internet Explorer), you’re going to love the Xbox SmartGlass app for interacting with your Xbox content. It works best when both your tablet and Xbox are on the same network. For some reason, a WiFi router with your tablet connected to WiFi and your Xbox connected to a wired Ethernet port often does not allow the Xbox to be recognized as being on the same network, so you might want to connect the Xbox to WiFi if you see that problem.
SmartGlass is not just about controlling your Xbox remotely or sending music or videos from one device to another. There are multiple scenarios where SmartGlass adds to your Xbox experience. There are certain app experiences that can be launched within SmartGlass that are context sensitive to what you may be playing on the Xbox 360. For example, if you’re watching certain movies like “Marvel’s The Avengers”, SmartGlass will load a companion experience that gives you all sorts of information associated with the movie while you’re watching. Normally it will show the names and photos of the actors currently on the screen. You’ll also have access to the scenes menu where you can scroll through and jump to whichever one you want. When you’re listening to music, you’ll see related artists in addition to playback controls as well as artist bio information.
Another fantastic part of SmartGlass is the web browser control. First of all, one of the most annoying things about using a web browser on a TV is trying to type text into text fields. When you select a text field while SmartGlass is connected, you get the same text field on your SmartGlass device and from there you can use the much-easier-to-use native touch screen (or hardware) keyboard. It’s practically a god-send compared to some of the other convoluted text-input methods you’ll see for TV-based UIs. After you get a web page loaded on the Xbox 360, SmartGlass becomes a touch screen controller that behaves just like the web browser on your tablet: swipe the touch screen to move the pointer around, two finger swipe to scroll or pan, and pinch to zoom. It all works instantly to control the browser, but the Xbox browser does often need a little time to catch up and re-render parts of the page.
Even the normal “Controller” is very well designed. Large colored buttons that correspond to Xbox controller buttons are located around the corners so that they’re easy to find and activate without looking at your tablet. Tapping the center activates the “A” button which is generally used for activations and selections while simple directional swipe buttons change the focus.
Xbox Video and Xbox Music
Windows RT doesn’t even include the old Windows Media Player for managing music and videos, so you’re stuck with the new Xbox Video and Xbox Music apps. Both include their own stores for purchasing content. You can rent or buy movies and TV shows from Xbox Video and often there is free content to download as well. Unfortunately codec support is kind of lacking, so while Xbox Video will list and probably show thumbnails of many of the videos in your library, there’s a chance that some of them won’t play.
Xbox Music also gives you access to your music library on your device as well as the Xbox Music Store, but it also offers free unlimited ad-supported music streaming so that you can listen to whatever you want while connected to the internet. If you have an Xbox Music Subscription, things get even better, since you can download whatever music you want for offline listening (as long as your are on the subscription plan). The Xbox Music “My Music” section also syncs with your cloud collection which consists of everything that you may have bought from the Zune Marketplace in the past. Playlists that you create are also saved on the cloud. For example, I created a playlist on the Xbox 360, and it showed up automatically on my Windows 8 tablet when I opened Xbox Music. While listening to music, you’ll see a gorgeous animation of artist imagery along with a biography of the artist and links to other information. Thankfully the Smart DJ button is very prevalent in Xbox Music as well. This is one of my favorite features that has made it over from the Zune. Smart DJ will create a dynamic playlist of music that’s related to whatever artist you first selected. It will load music from both your collection and the cloud so that you’re sure to get a nice variety. Another nice touch is when you press the volume buttons from anywhere in the operating system, you’ll also get music controls on the screen.
The games hub is very Xbox style as well. You can browse all sorts of Xbox games available for Windows, Windows Phone, and the Xbox 360. You’ll also see your own game activity based on your Xbox LIVE account. You can see which of your Xbox friends are online (along with their animated avatars), see new friend requests, edit your own avatar, edit your profile, and browse through your achievements. Unfortunately, there is no way to send or receive Xbox LIVE messages, which seems to be a glaring omission. In terms of actual games, many of the options in the Windows Store are build-ups from their Windows Phone counterparts, considering it is very easy for Windows Phone app developers to re-purpose their code for Windows 8 devices.
Bing, News, Sports, Finance, Weather, Maps and Travel
A host of Bing-driven apps are included on both Windows RT and Windows 8. They have beautiful landscape designs with large pictures and content loaded from throughout the web. All of them also employ great animated live tiles for the start screen that update with new imagery and content throughout the day.
The news app loads the “Bing Daily” on the home page, which always includes a top story with a large background photo that changes periodically throughout the day. Sliding the content towards the left reveals numerous other top stories arranged in columns similar to a newspaper. That’s great and all, but what you really want is news that you’re personally interested in. Just swipe down from the top edge, and you’ll see a number of new options including “My News”. An “Add” button at the bottom will let you create your own news related searches which will generate nice custom newspaper-style layouts with the news articles that you’re interested in.
The sports app is a lot like the news app, except you get sports related information. There’s news, videos, scores, slideshows and a swipe down from the top edge will give you access to your favorite teams (which you can specify) in addition to a slew of different sports categories. One thing that’s not immediately apparent with the menu that appears from swiping down from the top edge is that it is also horizontally scrollable, with more options.
The Finance app again has a beautiful design similar to the Bing news app, but of course it loads all sorts of financial news from a variety of sources on the web. You’ll see stock quotes, market trends, and videos and the top-edge menu will let you add your own custom stocks to a watch list. Each stock quote that you add can also be pinned to the start screen in case you want even faster access to specific information.
The weather app is among the most useful when it comes to live tiles. You can add any number of locations to the app for weather tracking and then pin each location to your start screen as separate live tiles that update periodically throughout the day. As with the other Bing apps, the data is generated from multiple sources so you can actually see a variety of forecasts, just in case you think one might be more reliable than another. There’s also a cool “World Map” view that lets you quickly see weather information around the globe.
At first glance, you might be pretty lost when the maps app loads, and all it is is a map! It turns out you’ll have to use the search charm to do some searching, and you’ll also find some advanced options in the bottom edge swipe menu. The maps app will let you plan directions, find points of interests, and look at traffic using Nokia map data and Bing.
Bing’s Travel app begins with a large beautiful background image of an interesting destination. You’ll also see some very cool interactive panoramic images available for a number of different cities as well as travel related news and videos. The most useful part of the Bing Travel app is the Flight and Hotel search capabilities. The flight search will get you airline ticket prices from all the airlines all at once so you can see all the prices to compare. The hotel search has a similar function, but also offers 360 degree panoramic interactive images of certain hotels so you can see what they’re like inside.
There’s also a dedicated Bing search app. It will return results for web pages, images and videos, but it’s not as powerful as the HTML5 web-based version of Bing that you can get in IE10. However, one advantage to the Bing app is that you can snap the results to a smaller column on the side of the screen, and as you tap each one that interests you, it will load the sites in the web browser on the other side of the screen.
- + Very touch-friendly and unique new user interface design that’s sure to translate well to both very large screens and smaller tablet screens.
- + Easy and fast one-handed task switching
- + Touch screen controls are accessible by swiping the screen edges for very fast access
- + Cloud syncing of account settings, music collection, playlists, photos, SkyDrive documents, OneNote, etc.
- + Noticeably faster and more efficient than previous versions of Windows (once you learn how to use it)
- + Xbox SmartGlass and other hefty Xbox 360 integration options
- + Live tiles on the Start Screen offer instant, one-touch access to loads of information important to you
- + Extensive hardware support compatibility including many printers and peripherals
- – Significant learning curve
- – Reduced discoverability of features (many commands are hidden in edge menus)
- – Windows RT version does not support traditional desktop applications due to the processor architecture it runs on
- – UI does not yet support navigation with 3D Kinect gestures or voice recognition like the Xbox 360
- – Many of the touch-friendly MX apps are not yet nearly as powerful as the x86/x64 programs that have been under development for decades.
We often talk about two different types of user interface usability aspects that are important to the design of an operating system: is it easy to learn and is it easy to use? The “easy to learn” aspect is often built upon what everybody already knows about interacting with a computer. That’s why practically all graphical user interfaces on computers are very similar; it makes them easier to learn for people who are familiar with other GUIs. The problem with that is that it can stifle innovation and progress. Now we’re in a time where the traditional PC is transitioning to both much more mobile types of devices, such as smartphones and tablets, but also towards a much more larger-screened interface that you would interact with using hand gestures or voice recognition (Xbox 360 with Kinect). The traditional desktop PC interface really doesn’t translate well to these new scenarios, so that’s what Windows 8 is trying to break away from.
Unfortunately, you really can’t make a clean break because people still also use computers while sitting at a desk, and all of the powerful software programs that have been built over the past decades still need to be used. So, right now it seems kind of messy, just as the transition between the command line and the GUI, DOS and Windows 3.x, Mac OS9 and OS X, Windows 3.x and Windows 95 were all a little messy. But we eventually got used to those transitions, and moved on to the new thing.
On the bright side, the transition between Windows 7 and Windows 8 is actually much smoother than many of those transitions of the past. While other operating systems of the past employed backwards compatibility through slow, resource-intensive subsystem routines or virtual machines, Windows 8 actually makes using your traditional programs faster and easier than ever before. We can’t say that for Windows RT, though, since that doesn’t run traditional programs, but that version brings a lot of compelling and nice-looking consumer features to inexpensive battery-friendly tablets that are also fantastic Xbox 360 companions.
Now getting back to the “easy to learn” issue… I’ve been using Windows 8 in various beta forms for many months, and I remember consciously trying to have patience and frustratingly tweeting questions like, “How do I add an Exchange account to the Calendar?” – something that would be obvious if I knew that I had to swipe the right edge to get to the app settings. So that’s where Windows 8/RT really loses points in the “easy to learn” department. However, Apple’s iPhone was by no means easy to learn for someone who’s used to hardware keyboards, mouse pointers, and scroll bars either… until you saw a commercial and were taught how to use it. Hopefully Microsoft understands how to use commercials to show people how much “easier to use” this new design could be if you took the time to learn it.
I think if you’re a student or part of an Xbox 360 family, then the Windows RT-type tablets will be great. They have Xbox games, Xbox integration, video rentals, free music streaming, and the Home & Student version of Office 2013 for some light schoolwork. That’s not to mention multiple user support for sharing the device with the family, and a more budget-friendly price tag. If you’re more of a business power user who needs a tablet that does absolutely everything, and would also like some great touch-friendly consumer apps, then the far-more-flexible Windows 8 is sure to bring the best of both worlds.