Microsoft will release its latest operating system, Windows 8 today. While this release is exciting for a number of reasons, it will undoubtedly have very little impact on business’ for the near future. It may however be worth some attention if you’re a Windows user and still debating the purchase of a tablet of some kind.
Microsoft describes the design of the Windows 8 interface as “touch-first” which means that it was designed to be used primarily by touching and interacting directly with the interface. This also means that many of the devices (traditional desktop computers, laptops and tablets) will have some kind of touch capability. The promise of a touch-friendly Windows computer is certainly something to be excited about especially if you dream of the possibility of using a sleek, lightweight tablet device to check email, browse the web and use Microsoft Office. Microsoft Office is the one application suite that is missing from Apple and Android tablets; and it could be the most compelling reason for someone to choose a Windows based tablet. There are a few issue though…
1. Which version of Windows 8?
Windows 8 comes in two distinct flavors; Windows 8 and Windows 8 RT and the differences betweens these two versions is very significant. Windows 8 will run on the computers we have and use today, our desktops and laptops and will allow users to install their own Windows applications/programs from CD/DVD or downloaded from the internet. It will also allow users to install “apps” from the Windows Store (thinks App Store or Apple or Google Play for Android). These apps will work in the new Windows tiled interface while your other programs (Adobe Photoshop, WordPerfect etc…) will work on the traditional desktop interface much the way they do now. This version of Windows 8 is the most flexible it allows us to use the programs we already have and still allows us to use new “apps” that will be available only through the Windows Store.
The other version, Windows 8 RT will be only available pre-installed on devices (primarily tablets) and will include an special copy of Microsoft Office 2013. Windows RT was made specifically for tablet devices which are going to cost less than desktop or laptops and have longer battery life. Windows RT sounds like a winner except that devices running Windows RT will ONLY run “apps” available from the Windows Store, the same way the iPad will ONLY run apps from the App Store.
2. Backwards Interface Compatibility
Another issue or potential issue with Windows 8 is the fact there are two very distinct ways to interact with it; there’s the all new Start Screen, and then there’s the Desktop that we’re all used to. The Start Screen is the interface that Microsoft is moving towards, its the interface you see when you start a Windows 8 device. The Desktop that we’ve been using since Windows 95 is only present to provide backwards compatibility with the programs we currently use. This sound great in theory; Windows 8 has a new touch-first interface that allows us to use tablets and new touch friendly applications and also allows us to use our older apps that we’ve invested money and time into but you should be wary that switching between both interface can be jarring. Before I got used to making the switch (if I’m even actually used to it) it felt like I was leaving the warm, cozy, safe surroundings of the Start Screen and being dragged out into the attic of the desktop where older applications are relegated to. It almost seems to me that depending on which apps or programs you use the most, you’ll either feel most at home in either the Desktop interface or the Start Screen interface and your secondary interface will simply feel foreign. I suspect that Microsoft will need to complete the Start Screen interface and completely remove the Desktop (while still allowing older legacy desktop applications to be installed and run) before Windows feels cohesive again.
3. Where are the apps?
As of September of this year the App Store had hundreds of thousands of apps (over 700,000) while the most recent Windows Store numbers show just over five thousand apps. This isn’t a problem if you’re running Windows 8 but if you’re using Windows 8 RT then you have a very limited pool of apps to choose from. I personally don’t believe that the Windows Store has to have the most app but it is important that it has the apps you want, and there’s a much better chance of that happening if there are more apps to choose from. It’s also interesting to think that as an IT Professional I HAVE to use a Windows machine because most of the programs I need to do my job are ONLY available for Windows. Up until now if you need a program to do [insert name of task here] it was most certainly going to be available for Windows and sometime only for Windows. It’s obviously too early to tell how Windows RT will fare where apps are concerned but I know that if I get a new Windows 8 device it will not be a Windows RT device but rather a Windows 8 device that will be able run all Windows programs and apps.
I’m personally excited about Windows 8, not because of the technology, but because of what it represents for Microsoft; a bold, risky foray into the tablet world that has long been dominated by Apple’s iPad and the move towards a SaaS business model and more consumer services (ie. Skydrive, Office 365, XBOX Music etc.). The few items I mentioned above are cause for some concern though and then there is the “Microsoft curse“, which may play a role in the success or failure of this windows release (if you’re superstitious). Either way we’ll what happens starting today.