David Goldman reports that the new Windows 8, due out later this year is a game changer. It is essentially an attempt to combine the capabilities of a PC with the intuitive look and feel of a tablet. It has touch screen input but can work with a mouse and keyboard as well. The opening screen is in the Metro Interface (tile-based), from which you can access apps or a traditional Windows user interface. It has its own app store, and these look and feel very much like those of the iPad. At heart, though it is still a PC.
“The iPad is the simplest entry point to what Apple calls the “post-PC” world, but PCs haven’t outlived their usefulness just yet. Most people still go to their PCs for tools like Microsoft Office and more complex content creation tasks
“That’s where Microsoft sees uncharted territory. It wants Windows 8 to power each user’s primary device, which can be as portable and intuitive as the iPad but also be able to perform all the intricate tasks that today’s tablet users flock to their PCs for.
“Microsoft does that by making the desktop itself into an app. The PC boots to the Metro interface, which serves as the “start screen” and main backdrop for Windows 8.
“Metro is ideal for everyday tasks like Web browsing, e-mail, photo sharing, social networking, and casual gaming. But when you need to manage files, edit a document, or do anything else you wouldn’t typically try on an iPad, a tap or click on the desktop app launches what looks and feels like the Windows 7 interface.”
Not everyone is so taken with Windows 8. Preston Gralla writes that a backlash against it is building. The main complaints seem to be that although those who have tried it on a tablet generally like it, on a PC it is difficult to use with a keyboard and mouse. Another complaint is that trying to meld desktop and tablet OSs produces an unholy and tenuous alliance. “Metro and the Desktop are essentially two different operating systems incompletely bolted together.” He points out this humorous YouTube video of a writer filming his father trying out Windows 8 for the first time. He gets out of Metro to the desktop but can’t get back! The gentleman says “Who puts this out?” On being told, “Microsoft,” he retorts “They trying to drive me to Mac?”!
Well, this is a preview version, so hopefully they will fix some of the problems. It is easy to see why Microsoft is trying to put out a universal OS. They only have to maintain one product rather than separate ones for tablets and PCs. It would be easier for organizations (including universities) to maintain a mixed platform of desktop PCs and tablets if they all run the same OS. App development would be simplified because the same apps would run on both.
We recently had a rather lively debate in my department on the merits of tablets vs. PCs. On one side are the iPad supporters, who see its intuitive features as the future of computing, and the desktop/laptop people who point out that, try as you might, you still have to come back to a traditional workstation to do work requiring high-performance resources. As for me, I’ll stick with my laptop for now. True, it is a lot heavier and bulkier than an iPad, and the battery life is much less. But I have a larger screen that doesn’t get mussed with fingerprints and I have office on it and plenty of power to do the things I need. It’s a tradeoff I’m willing to live with.
To my mind, if Microsoft can come up with an operating system that can work on all types of devices, it would be great, provide that it works. Goldman points out “Windows 8 meets Microsoft’s goal of producing a ‘fast and fluid’ operating system. It’s so lightweight, in fact, that even on a five-year-old, battered Dell laptop with a puny Intel Centrino processor, Windows 8 booted up in 16 seconds. By contrast, my iPhone 4S takes 27 seconds to start up.” Windows 8 seems to have a very small footprint that would enable it to run on tablets and make PCs blazing fast. Seems like they learned some lessons from Vista after all.
Anyway, we’d better get used to the idea, because it looks like Microsoft is redesigning the rest of its product line to take advantage of Windows 8 duality. Matthew Shaer reports that the latest version of MS Office, officially titled Office 15, is now out in limited preview mode. It has the Metro style interface and has touch editing features. So it looks like Microsoft’s foray into the mixed-mode world is more than just some toe dipping. It seems to be a major shift for the company. You can’t blame them for wanting to stay relevant.