Windows 8 Review

It’s been a while since the developer preview of Windows 8 has been out and I’ve tried spending a bit of time working with the Microsoft’s answer to the ‘future of computing’ where tablets , desktops, laptops (and maybe even mobiles) peacefully coexist under the same umbrella (I remember reading about OS X moving in that direction somewhere?!).

The reason for Microsoft’s success as a quasi-monopoly OS has been due to their tremendous efforts in making a platform work across multiple hardware configurations, which can be quite a nightmare to deal with. However, at an era (1990’s and early 2000’s) when hardware improvements were progressing at a much faster pace, this was an even more challenging task but the lack of any significant competitive threat meant that Microsoft could live with its much known for delays in product launches.

Turn the clock to 2011 and the world is a much different place. Tech experts and geekologists have already started writing obituaries for PC (Microsoft’s bread and butter) and are talking about the post-PC era. In such an environment, can Microsoft deliver a solution that for once is ahead of its time?

What stuck out the most?

Microsoft has probably taken the biggest step in refining its UI since its Windows 3.0 days with Windows 8. At the outset, the desktop has its familiar Windows 7 look to it but you click on the start menu, you don’t see the usual list pop-up but instead you are led to page that scrolls horizontally (perhaps a first on Windows) with large tiles that present a refreshing view. I am assuming that the reasoning behind this UI shift is that it could possibly be replicated on tablets without much difficulty.

 

While its possible to use some of the applications currently and test them out like Internet Explorer for e.g., (49.59% of the world still used IE – yes its true. Source: ars technica) the others just lead you to a blank page. You can also see how this will help developers building apps on the Windows Mobile platform. They could possibly port them over to the desktop version without much difficulty. This could help Windows 8 get some good traction with people already using Windows Mobile and continue to have a smooth, seamless user experience (The Apple model anyone?)

There is also ample evidence to suggest that Microsoft is going all out to integrate the social web experience into the Windows 8 UI (Twitter, Facebook and Microsoft subsidiary Skype).  This is perhaps most evident in a place where you would expect it the least – Control Panel! I can see how easily the social experience can make the difference with Windows 8 (look no further than Windows Mobile 7).

I’ve been a fan of the Windows Mobile OS since version 7 came out (I also happened to use Windows Mobile from the early 2000 smart phone days) and I can see the amount of effort that Microsoft has put in to make it refined and easy to use. I only hope that some of those best practices will be put to good use when Windows 8 goes live.

In terms of the hardware, I’ve been running Windows 8 on Parallels 6.0 (Core 2 Duo 2.0 Ghz Processor (running as a single core) with 4 GB RAM) and it is running smoothly! Normally Parallels running Ubuntu or Windows 7 causes significant resource drain and runs out my battery faster than normal but with Windows 8, I’ve noticed that its quite light on drawing system resources (maybe because it’s a developer preview and doesn’t have too many apps running).

If this is an indicator of what to expect in the future, then its definitely a positive sign. I only hope and pray that system manufacturers don’t load unnecessary bloatware and crapware to degenerate the user experience as they have done in the past.

Microsoft has a lot at stake here since they have been fairly stagnant and slow to respond to the fast changing technology world and in the process have made some risky bets. They have the most to lose with the ushering in of the post-PC era.  Once again with Windows 8, Microsoft is placing a risky bet by moving away from its traditional UI that has remained the same for well over 15 years now.  By integrating social features into the core of Windows 8, Microsoft hopes to continue to remain the cornerstone of the fast changing technology world (as a large investor in Facebook and the new owner of Skype) Microsoft already knows the pulse of the customer and hopefully this will help them with achieving the much talked about convergence that has eluded them for a while now.

Disclaimer: Any links and sources are from 3rd party websites. The images are from my Macbook running Windows 8 DP.

I use a MacBook running OS X Lion as my primary computer accompanied by Microsoft Windows XP and Windows 7 (running on Parallels within OS X Lion). I use Ubuntu as the primary entertainment engine and iOS 5 and Android as my mobile computing platforms.

 

 

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