With Windows 7 standing as the fastest selling operating system to date, the next iteration certainly has some large shoes to fill. However with a massive surge of tablet sales and interest in touch friendly computing as of late, Microsoft wanted to be sure they weren’t left behind before their latest form is even released. With that we have Windows 8 – an operating system divided sharply between touch friendly areas and standard computing. Many of us have seen the available Developer and now the Consumer Previews, both of which demonstrate the touch-centric versions of this unreleased operating system, with the Professional and Ultimate varieties still tightly under wraps. The question is how did Microsoft do? Also, how did this massive shift in mentality work out and is it really good for the day-to-day? As one who has been using Windows 8 daily for over 5 months, on a touch enabled Lenovo x200t, I hope to provide some first-hand insight on these important queries.
For those who haven’t been following the Windows 8 Previews, there is really one simple thing you need to know Metro, Metro UI everywhere.
For these touch versions of Windows, the start button and menu are removed and upon pressing the Windows button the user is presented with a Windows Phone 7 style panoramic array of tiles. In this new panel, users can use their nubbly digits to easily navigate through finger friendly applications. To be honest, I don’t find myself spending a particularly large amount of time in this area because I need this tablet for school work but whenever I do, it is very fluid, quick and multitasking is a joy to use.
Comparing this to my past Android tablet, a Viewsonic gTablet, I’m at a loss for a true application but I see them as comparable. Combine a standard mobile tablet with BlueStacks the ability to run Android applications on Windows, full Microsoft Office, and a desktop operating system and the Windows 8 tablet takes the cake in my mind.
Everything in the Metro area should look and feel familiar to all those who have used Windows Phone 7 devices. The vast majority of these Metro apps are styled directly off their WP7 counterparts, merely appropriated and adjusted for use on a larger screen.
That being said, with all of these applications being direct extensions of a phone, what use is the tablet? Like I mentioned earlier, I personally could never quite find a realistic application for my Android Tablet no matter how hard I tried, but I know there are a lot of people who do and a Windows 8 Tablet could certainly fill a similar gap. I imagine my inability to find an appropriate usage for these tablets is because I am, and always have been, a huge proponent of the Tablet PC and have one deeply integrated into my daily student life. For the past three years I’ve carried this tablet every day to every class, and have logged tons of digital notes, homework assignments and designs. As a result, despite having all these touch friendly Metro goodies right at my fingertips, I find myself spending the vast majority of my time on the standard desktop in Microsoft OneNote.
Even in the standard Windows desktop, the new touch features of Windows 8 are certainly not lost on me. With kinetic scrolling enabled in nearly every application, a new ribbon UI on the explorer, a fantastic new touch keyboard, and generally larger buttons throughout, Windows 8 is exceptionally finger friendly. It was actually because of this increased affinity for my nubby digits that I stuck with the Developers Preview, over Windows 7, for so long despite initially going into it as a test.
Returning to our initial inquiries:
How did Microsoft do?
Personally, I feel Microsoft did a smashing job all around. They added finger friendliness everywhere possible to the classic Windows, adapted the WP7 UI to tablets, and most importantly initiated a bridge for future “Desktop” software on ARM. I certainly recognize that the Metro UI doesn’t appeal to everyone, but for the most part the Windows Desktop is still there with significantly improved finger friendliness. For those who are upset with the removal of the iconic start menu in these tablet versions of Windows 8, know that I was quite livid about the removal and sat grumpily in that very same camp. However, after using Windows 7 on this tablet for years and becoming dependent on the start menu, I slowly learned how terrible it was for fingers. I’m not saying the new app search methodology is significantly better, but for fat fingers it is certainly easier to not pick the wrong application.
How did this massive shift in mentality work out and is it really good for the day-to-day?
After 5 months of doing just that, I would give a conditional yes. Conditionally because not everyone will like Windows 8 on a Tablet, but then again, the same can be said for tablets in general. For those willing to give it a fair shake, I think they’d discover a lot of time and effort went into nearly every one of these major shifts in design of Microsoft’s baby. For a Tablet PC user, Windows 8 is an improvement in nearly every single area over Windows 7. For a non-touch enabled laptop, Windows 8 will give you a lot of cool new features, but a majority of the Metro madness won’t be particularly useful. For a standalone touch tablet, Windows 8 is shaping up to be a solid competitor to Android tablets and iPads with a few special tricks up its sleeve.
Overall, I’m pleased with the current configuration of Windows 8. Microsoft’s foray into ARM, touch based UI and a break from the standard PC mold could potentially yield better battery life, increased mobility, lower costs and a wide variety of form factors for everyone. As one who never quite gave up on the idea of the Courier, I am thrilled that this direction could mean a full comeback, albeit possibly not from Microsoft. The Consumer Preview is free and currently available to everyone, if you have a touch enabled computer or tablet, I highly recommend checking it out. Personally, I’m 5 months deep into “checking it out” and now with a new build now under my belt, I look forward to several more years with this tablet and the future of Windows 8.
If you have any questions regarding my experiences with Windows 8 so far, please feel free to ask them in the comments below and I will try my best to answer as many requests as possible.
Download Consumer Preview: Microsoft