If you were taken aback after reading the title and your mind has suddenly filled with dozens of thoughts and questions, let us quickly put your mind at ease: Yes, Microsoft has released a new version of Windows. Although only released a “Developer Preview”, there is still plenty to play with in this new version, known as…add suspense…Windows 8. Although the new OS (operating system) has been optimised for both tablet and desktop PCs (laptops included), the name wouldn’t suggest it.
[O]ptimised for tablet PC? Yes. Windows 8 now offers greater support for touched based computing, even though most people relate the Windows OS, unsurprisingly, with desktop PCs and laptops. Although Microsoft have been teasing us with their new project for over a year now, most of the South African public, and even businesses still run on Windows XP. After the disaster that is Windows Vista, it comes as no surprise. For those users who found the learning curve of migrating from MS Office 2003 to MS Office 2007 (and 2010) too steep, Windows 8 will leave you back in the age of wanting to throw your PC out the window.
At first glance, Windows 8 shows almost no differentiation from Windows 7, apart from the installation process. However, a simple click on the Start Menu and you’re left wondering “what just happened?”. Microsoft have made the bold decision to remove, what has become synonymous with Windows, the Start Menu, and replaced it with the Metro-style User Interface. To explain is simply, the Metro-style UI is visual representation of the applications (apps) installed on your system, with preference given to Windows apps, such as Internet Explorer, Control Panel, the desktop and Windows Explorer, then your apps downloaded from the Microsoft App Store (not available as yet), at finally to your, conventionally installed, applications such as Adobe Reader, VLC and MS Office. It is imperative to note the importance of this change, as most users, almost subconsciously, rely on the Start Menu to run installed programs, search for files, and even Shutdown or Restart their PCs from this menu. All of this functionality, although not completely removed, has been replaced for the app-centric styled menu.
Note for those users struggling to find recently installed programs: after clicking the Start Menu to search for your programs, instead of trying to make sense of the new layout, type the first letter of the program you’re looking for. A Search Menu then appears to save the day, presenting to you all programs starting with that letter. If that is still of no help, simply press the backspace key to show all installed programs (similar, in concept, to the much-loved Start Menu).
This, however, is not the only change Windows 8 boasts. Also, the Windows Explorer has adopted the Office 2007/2010 styled menu theme. This might be very annoying to most users, but it is important to mention the added functionality the explorer now provides, which is highlighted in the menu, and is different for each type of file you select. Additionally, Windows 8 allows you to customise the way you log in. Still presenting the options for password-based entry, facial recognition from a webcam, and fingerprint scanning, the OS now allows gesture-based log in capabilities. Although this is geared toward touch screens, it is still available to mouse-based platforms, albeit a tad trickier to constantly replicate time and time again. Also included are new versions for Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, Paint, Alarm, Control Panel, but to name a few applications. A rather peculiar experience, though, is running the same programs from the desktop as compared to running from the Metro-style UI. Internet Explorer, for example, looks much different when run from the two different starting points. An even more strange phenomena is the fact that the Internet Explorer run from the new menu does not run flash-based websites, for one, although the Internet Explorer is “supposed to be” the same versions. Another observation is that none of the games from previous versions of Windows remain, even though Microsoft have taken the time to add new games, some of which come across as pretty pointless, Air Craft for example. Applications for social media and news, in the form of RSS feeds, integrate smoothly, and users are able to update their profiles, status’, and receive the latest news with the same ease as found on most smartphones.
One noticeably great improvement is the boot up time. Users will be happy to find this new version booting up in less than one minute. Running on a PC with dual-core 2.8GHz CPU, 2.5Gb of RAM, Windows took approximately 20 seconds to reach the login screen, from shut down to switched on. Microsoft recommend specs of 1Gb RAM and 2GHz CPU to run Windows 8, although there have already been tests posted online running the OS on 128Mb RAM PCs, which is a significant improvement over Windows 7, and the resource hungry Windows Vista. Installation of your old software, however, is not always straight forward. For some, less common, applications, you have to set the compatibility mode back to Windows 7, even before you start the installation process. For more mainline applications, such as Microsoft Office, this is not an issue, and will work fine on a regularly (double click executable) installation.
Note: Be wary of installing graphics drivers, as these may cause your screen to appear green, with only the task manager able to appear.
All-in-all, this version of Windows has an overall pleasant look and feel about it, as well as improved functionality. Though there a many bugs and details to iron out, two words should be pointed out, “Developer Preview.” If this is merely a preview, the potential for Windows 8 is massive, even though only 12 more months remain between the release of this preview to the final first version of Windows 8. This is definitely something to look forward to in the gadget world for late 2012. And if Microsoft keeps its promised release date, it gives us at least one or two months of solid use before the Mayan End of the World.