Re-glazed – Windows 8 Released

Windows 8 was officially released on Friday, 26th October. The lead up to the release has fuelled a lot of speculation as it is said that this version of Windows will either make or break Microsoft.  That might sound like a big call, but Windows 8 is a dramatic departure from what we’ve become used to with previous versions of Windows.

iPads and Android Tablets

First, a bit of history. Apple released the iPhone in 2007 and phones running Google’s Android were released the following year.  Both of these devices were incredibly popular because they had been designed from the ground up solely with touch-screens in mind and this made them very simple and intuitive to use. Riding on their success, Apple released a tablet version, the iPad, in 2010 and Android tablets came out the following year.

Microsoft tablet. The original?

Ironically, Microsoft tablets had been around for a couple of years before the iPhone was even released. Since 2005, there have been Windows XP, then Windows Vista and finally Windows 7 tablets available. However, the touch-screen features on the Microsoft tablets always seemed like an afterthought and certainly never anything more than a clever but gimmicky add-on. Consequently, the Microsoft tablets had never really enjoyed any success or popularity.

Why the change of heart?

Microsoft can’t be the leader in everything, right? So does this really matter? Well, the tablet market has been growing at a phenomenal rate and this has been at the expense of other forms of personal computer. The traditional desktop and laptop market have been in a slow but steady decline ever since tablets took off. The decline is expected to plateau at some stage because tablets are not very effective for traditional business computer purposes. However, Apple and Android tablets already have roughly equal shares in nearly 97% of the tablet market. Yet Microsoft tablets are not even half of that remanning 3%! You can see why Microsoft might want to pull their finger out and get a move on. So, along comes Windows 8.

Your guess is as good as mine

I installed Windows 8 on my laptop the night it came out. I had a 50 page Windows 8 guide, but I’d only had a quick flick through it while I was doing the install (I mostly looked at the pretty pictures). Apart from that, I had also read a few non-technical stories online that had given me some superficial info about Windows 8.

Whenever a new Windows version is released, I mostly try to ignore the technical media so that the first time I use the new operating system, its as close as I can get to the same experience the average non-technical person would have. There is method to my madness; I want to find out what is confusing and complicated in the new version so that when I’m training my clients, I know what aspects to focus on to help make their transition as smooth as possible. In reality though, I’m a computer expert, so I’m going to have an unfair advantage with any new version of Windows due to my extensive experience… right?

Dude, where’s my software?

I have to admit, I was pretty lost to begin with – the last time I remember being this confused was when Windows 95 was first released. The mainstream media had mentioned that there was no “Start” button any more and instead everything was pretty much driven from the new pop-out “Charms” bar at the right edge of the screen. It took me quite a while to work out how to get this charming bar to actually pop-out, though. Once I did, I thought it would all be smooth sailing from there.

My only lasting criticism at this stage was the rather clunky controls – Microsoft has done a complete about face here and made the touch-screens more important than mouse and keyboard controls. For example, the way to close a window on a Windows 8 touch-screen device is to put your finger at the top of the window, and quickly drag it to the bottom of the screen. But on a non-touch-screen computer like my laptop, you have to move your cursor to the top of the window, then click and drag it to the bottom of the screen. Certainly doable, but it was so much simpler just clicking on the X in the top-right corner in previous versions of Windows.

I had actually upgraded this laptop from Windows 7, so there was already a lot of software like Skype and Word installed on it. I thought I’d try running some of them to see if they behaved any differently now… but despite a lot of searching, I couldn’t find them anywhere. I started flicking through the 50 page guide but it was at that point that my 12 year old son said, “I bet I can work out how to do it.” Embarrassingly, I don’t think it even took him 30 seconds to find the solution.

Success or failure

The problem here is that, being the expert, I tried to use my experience with previous versions of Windows to solve this problem. My son, on the other hand, just used his intuition. So, I guess this shows that Microsoft has finally made a product that will fit in comfortably with the intuitiveness of iPads and Android tablets (or does it just show that the younger generations expect computers to behave differently to the older generations?).

So, this highlights the potential for success and failure of Windows 8, the making or breaking of Microsoft. Younger people will probably find it easiest to use and they are the demographic that prefers tablets over laptops and desktop computers. However, will a Microsoft tablet be cool enough to make them bypass an Android tablet or iPad? And what will business users make of it. Without a touch-screen, it certainly isn’t as easy to use as what we’ve come to expect with desktop and laptop computers. The changes certainly aren’t insurmountable, but people hate any form of change and the bigger the change, the more vitriolic they are towards it.

Only time will tell, but I’m certainly looking forward to hearing other people’s experiences of Windows 8 on a computer they regularly use.

Next week

Come back and check out next weeks article. I’ll be pointing out some of the new features of Windows 8… plus some ways to make Windows 8 behave like older versions of Windows.