As a business student at uOttawa, I get access to various Microsoft software products for free use such as Windows and Visual Studio. As a matter of fact, that’s how I got a copy of Windows 7 Professional to use on my desktop machine. Windows 7 has been my favorite version of Windows by far (I have used Windows all the way back to Win 3.1 / DOS).
To my surprise, while I was checking the Microsoft software repository site for my University a few weeks ago, I noticed that the release version of Windows 8 was available for download! I was surprised because Windows 8 has not been released to the public yet (but it did go Gold sometime in August 2012, I believe). I immediately proceeded to downloading the new OS to see what was all the fuss about. Now that played around with it, it might be a good idea to make a post here so the rest of you can decide if Windows 8 is right for you.
Before I begin my “review” of Windows 8, we must ask why Microsoft decided to release a new OS. Windows 7 is still kind of fresh (only 3 years old) and the OS is generally solid.The answer to this is tablets, smartphones, Apples and Android. Microsoft has fallen behind in capturing the mobile market now dominated by Apple and Android devices, and now it wants a piece of the mobile action with Windows 8 as the strategy. By providing a unified Windows 8 experience across desktop computers, tablets and smartphones, Microsoft is planning to leverage its desktop OS market share to penetrate the mobile market. If you are a Windows user, you can use many of the same apps / services that you have on your Windows phone or Windows Tablet on your PC and vice versa. By understanding this strategy, it becomes easier to see why Microsoft has taken a different direction in Windows 8.
For starters, there are two kinds of “environment” in Windows 8. One is the traditional desktop environment and other one is the “Metro” interface. I am assuming that Windows 8 Tablets & Smartphones will only have the Metro interface while Windows 8 for desktops, laptops and laptop-tablet hybrids will sport both Metro and desktop modes. Basically, you should be able to run your Metro apps across mobile and desktop devices (provided they are compatible) , while desktop apps will only run on PCs/laptops/hybrids. In addition, the Metro interface is optimized for touchscreens.
The start menu is now replaced by the Metro interface. When you click on the bottom left corner of the taskbar, you get the a full screen Metro Interface (no start menu). From here you can launch different programs (desktop or Metro apps) by clicking on them or simply typing the name of an app and pressing Enter like in Windows 7.
I find the Metro interface on a desktop computer a little out-of-place. I understand what Microsoft is trying to do from a business/branding perspective, and I applaud them for trying something new, but in the end, I find that Metro is not an ideal interface for desktops. Metro apps all run full-screen, which is fine for tablets and phones, but on a PC that is an handicap. One advantage of using a PC is to make efficient use of screen space by having floating multiple windows/applications on-screen at the same time, so why restrict yourself to one app at a time? There is a way to do a “split screen” between two Metro Apps or even Metro and Desktop Apps but what is the point since you can carry out the same feat by placing desktop applications side by side? I can see how the Metro/Desktop dual-mode is more useful if you have a tablet/laptop hybrid or a PC with a touchscreen monitor.
As for the look of the desktop interface, the “floating frosted glass” Aero look of Windows 7 is gone and the windows look more “flat”. I am guessing Microsoft was trying to distance the OS from the “Apple look” so I’ll give them credit for that. The rest of the O/S is pretty similar to Windows 7, save for some tweaks, performance improvement and touchscreen gesture support. For example, moving the mouse to the top-left corner of the screen shows a task switcher for Metro apps but moving the mouse to the top-right corner shows a system menu. I would also like to add that the task manager has been revamped with more useful features.
In the end, is it worth it to upgrade if you have a desktop machine? My opinion is that if you already have Windows 7, it is not worth paying the full price to upgrade, since you already have a pretty good O/S. Some Windows 7 owners may be eligible for a 15$ upgrade, which may make the upgrade more worthwhile for them. Right now I am running Windows 8 on my desktop and Windows 7 on my laptop, and I like Windows 7 more with the Start Menu vs Windows 8 with Metro.
In the end, I suggest that you try Windows 8 and see how you like it. It is certainly a good OS, but for some, it may not be a worthwhile upgrade from Windows 7. Windows 8 is more about Microsoft trying to stay relevant in the age of mobile computing than anything else. They had no choice but to make this move or risk losing further market share to Apple and Android.