If you’re on the Internet in the next two weeks, chances are you’ll run into a story about Windows 8. Microsoft is launching its newest computer (and now tablet) operating system on October 26 and it wants to come out of the gates swinging. Windows 8 is the biggest change in Windows since Windows 95 and it represents a huge shift away from the
OS’ history toward the newer mobile operating systems we’ve seen infiltrating the landscape since the iPhone’s debut.
With Windows 8, Microsoft wants to have it all. It wants to satisfy and excite everyone using a laptop these days; it wants to drum up buzz and redefine itself as an exciting tech company; it wants to woo those who have been defecting to Apple products in the last decade; it wants to stop Google’s ascension into the tablet and PC market with Android; it wants to please all of the businesses around the world using Windows; and it wants to dominate the new world of touch-based devices that are starting to creep into PC sales — fueled by the might of the iPad.
Microsoft has a lot of goals. The question is, can Windows 8 deliver? We really like some aspects of Microsoft’s new OS, but even after a year of betas and changes, we still have some fundamental issues with Windows 8. Here they are.
It’s two operating systems jammed together
Microsoft wants everyone to know that it’s new Start Screen is not just a shell on top of Windows 7, but using the operating system immediately sends mixed and confusing messages. When you boot up Windows 8, you’re thrown into a colorful world of touchable tiles, but you are thrown back through time to the world of Windows past the moment you want to use a robust Web browser, make a folder, use the task manager, or do just about any other complex task. Whether you love the Classic Desktop or the new Windows 8 style environment, you’re going to be upset because Microsoft still forces you to hop back and forth between them to get things done. What’s worse is that they both operate quite differently, especially if you’re on a touchscreen. On the old desktop you’ll be double tapping and managing pop up windows and tasks, but on the new Start Screen everything is built for swiping. It’s a downright turn off to have to use the classic desktop on a touch tablet, and it’s slow.
There’s Windows “8” and there’s Windows “RT”
Okay, so you’ve forgiven Microsoft for its ultimate compromise of jamming two operating systems into one. (Microsoft actually calls this its “No compromise” policy) If you can get used to using two environments, you’re going to also have to learn that there are two completely separate versions of Windows 8 available. Oh, and their capabilities are vastly different. Some laptops and tablets will run Windows 8 Pro, and run on Intel processors, much like the laptops and desktop PCs you’ve been using for decades. These Windows 8 machines will be able to run any application you had on Windows 7, like the Chrome browser, Spotify, iTunes, or any other program or game you like. However, be careful, because some Windows 8 machines look the same but actually run an OS called “Windows RT.”
Windows RT devices run on ARM processors like any smartphone or tablet (including the iPad) that you own. These devices will likely get better battery life and be cheaper, but they do not have any backward compatibility with older versions of Windows. Confusingly, Microsoft has put a classic desktop on them, but that desktop is essentially useless. You can’t install a new browser like Chrome or Firefox, and you can’t install and play any game or application you may have used on a Windows 7 or Windows Vista machine. Windows RT has other, less known limitations like the inability to install browser plugins, as well. Soon, we’ll publish a complete guide to the differences between these operating systems.
There are “apps” and there are “Windows 8 style apps”
With Windows 8, Microsoft isn’t just introducing a new interface to Windows, it has completely reinvented the “app.” Previously, apps on Windows machines were found on Websites and installed. This is still possible with Windows 8 Pro, but not with Windows RT. In both versions, Microsoft really wants you to download your apps from its own Windows Store. Like the Google Play store or the iTunes app store, the Windows Store is a single destination to buy apps. These apps take up the full screen and are forced into style guides so that they look and match the colorful, boxy Windows 8 Start Screen.
All apps you download from the Windows Store will be under a form of Digital Rights Management (DRM) that prevents you from installing them on computers that you aren’t logged into or own. There is no way to share app installation files with friends or anything like that. All new software for Windows must be purchased through Microsoft’s store (partially so that Microsoft can get a 30 percent cut of every app you buy. This new way to get apps is easier to manage, but puts a dangerous amount of power into the hands of Microsoft, which now controls all apps for its system. Apple has similarly rigid control over its apps. Google’s Android currently allows other app stores and side-loading of apps.
If you happen to have a Windows 8 Pro machine, you can download applications through the Classic Desktop. So you can install Chrome, if you want it or other software you use, like Adobe Photoshop. However, applications on the classic desktop will be treated differently than new Windows 8 style apps. Newer apps auto update and can be flipped through using multitasking swipes and gestures — Old-style applications cannot. You cannot auto update older applications and the Classic Desktop is kind of treated like one big blob. You can flip to your Desktop, but if you have more than one program open on it, you’re entering a mess. Microsoft could have improved the classic desktop, but it hasn’t done much.
The new Microsoft Office is not touch friendly
Many new Windows 8 computers and tablets will come with Office 2013, which has supposedly been re-engineered from the ground up for touchscreens. That may be, but it’s still not a good touch experience. The new Office apps do have slightly larger buttons, but still open up (slowly) in the Classic Desktop environment and have complicated, small drop-down ribbon menus like previous versions of Office. It’s an improvement, for sure, but can be quite frustrating to use with your finger. Microsoft has a lot of work to do if it wants Office to be touch friendly.
It’s not fun to use with a keyboard and mouse
After using beta versions of Windows 8 for a year on standard computers, I must say that it isn’t… fun. It’s confusing to get used to Microsoft’s new Start Screen, tiley, colorful user interface, and it feels forced on a standard computer. If you happen to purchase a new tablet or touch-enabled laptop with Windows 8, well, great! The operating system shines when you use it with touch, but for those of you thinking about upgrading your current PC (Microsoft has made it cheap), I would make sure to try before you buy. Go to a Best Buy or some store and try Windows 8 without touching the screen at all. There isn’t a lot that this new operating system will offer you if you don’t have a computer capable of touch, and it’s sure to have plenty of glitches and problems out of the box. Microsoft is furiously updating and patching the operating system as we speak.
It’s not all bad
I wrote this to warn you about some of Windows 8’s larger issues, but if you’re willing to put up with some inconvenience and annoyances, it’s not all bad. Windows 8 is a bold step forward for Microsoft, which typically doesn’t take big chances. The company is all in too. Almost every one of its other products has been given facelifts to better resemble Windows 8. On top of that, Microsoft has been updating apps and the operating system constantly, hoping to iron out major problems before launch. If you’re willing to learn how to live in the past and present of Windows at once, Windows 8 might serve you well. If not, it won’t be but a few years before Windows 9…