The Windows 8 Consumer Preview has given all of us a much clearer picture of what Microsoft has in store for its next-generation operating system. This time around, it truly is “next-generation;” in fact, it’s the biggest change since DOS grew a GUI.
Already, the spectrum of responses have ranged from gushing love to seething hatred — with plenty of room for gray-area confusion in the middle. Let’s take a quick look at five of the biggest reasons why Windows 8 is (or will be) a success, followed by another five indications that Redmond has made a terrible mistake. And keep in mind we’ve still got at least half a year before the finished product.
5 Reasons to Embrace Windows 8
- The Metro UI. Not simply another GUI, it’s an entire “design language,” expertly designed to be an efficient system with a beautiful style. Everything from the typography to the animations supports clean usability, a far cry and welcome change from the needless beveled edges, transparent gloss, and “chrome” of previous generations.
- Live Tiles. An intrinsic part of the Metro UI design is to abandon static ‘logo’ icons and shortcuts in favor of big launch buttons that take over where Windows 7 ‘gadgets’ leave off. I can’t overstate the Live Tile potential for showing useful, updated bits of info; why open an app at all, when you have what you need right front of you? Currently playing songs, weather reports, stock tickers, the contents of your most recent email and social media stream, that’s just the start. Just wait until the developers REALLY get creative.
- Pinch me, I’m dreaming. While touch was talked-up for previous Microsoft operating systems, it also seemed tacked-on and incomplete. Not so with Windows 8; this is a fully-integrated multitouch environment from the ground up, with all sorts of intuitive swipe, pinch, and other gestures to make control efficient and fun. Some are even saying that Metro UI is a better and more innovative way to ‘do’ touch than Apple’s iOS.
- Bing. Never thought I’d say this, but the Bing integration shows how powerful and mature Microsoft’s underdog search engine has become. The first time I used Maps and IE10 together, I found myself wondering why the same process in Google couldn’t be that fast; not to mention downright good-looking (and unlike many people, especially recently, I actually LIKE Google).
- Windows to Go. Taking your OS with you on a USB drive is not exactly a new idea, but Microsoft is developing a much more user-friendly and streamlined solution. Enterprise customers facing the increasing BYOD trend will especially love the inherent security and standardization of having users connect to the corporate network from any device, with a ‘locked-down’ and self-contained OS.
5 Reasons to Steer Clear of Windows 8
- Worst of Both Worlds. Why couldn’t Microsoft simply offer a separate mobile OS and Windows OS? What works well for one ‘side’ is utterly wasted on the other.
In Windows 8, the mouse and keyboard approach works a little less effectively in the Windows 7-like ‘classic’ view, and is downright frustrating and counter-productive in Metro. Conversely, although Touch works great in Metro, it’s way too clumsy and imprecise to work in the ‘classic’ view.
This would all be fine if you spent the majority of your time in one or the other, but unfortunately you’ll be going back and forth regularly — unless your needs are VERY limited. Each of the apps and tools are optimized for one view or the other. The sole exception is IE10, and even then there’s no integration or ‘sharing’ of data between open instances of IE on both sides. Maybe there’s a good reason why applications such as Notepad and Task Manager couldn’t have a Metro UI portal, or why any of the Metro UI apps couldn’t be used easily in a window on the ‘classic’ desktop.
- Multitasking. Windows used to be called “Windows” for a reason. I know that mobile devices struggle with switching between open apps, but forced-fullscreen apps are simply a waste for anyone with a decent PC and/or a good-sized display. I shouldn’t have to ALT-TAB between views and apps; it’s like going back decades to the dawn of GUIs.
- Windows Accounts. At the junction of ‘security,’ ‘sync,’ and ‘social’ is the compulsion to turn over personal information. Some of the most tempting features of Windows 8 are hidden behind a ‘login wall,’ which demands that you provide two email addresses and a mobile phone number, and that’s not including the ‘opt-out’ location settings and various other data sharing and collecting that goes on. Sure, Microsoft is merely following the trend of Apple, Google, Facebook, and so many others; but you really shouldn’t have to give the company so much information just to get features that you’ve already paid for.
- Off to a Bad START. Many, many Windows users have complained about the lack of a Start button and menu which, ironically, means that the only real ‘progress’ from Windows 7 and the ‘classic’ side of Windows 8 is a loss of features. It doesn’t really matter if Start is a part of the ‘old way of doing things;’ It Just Works for a LOT of users. Microsoft could simply make the Start Menu an option rather than remove it completely, and given the ubiquity of the complaints, I won’t be too surprised if this ends up happening by the official finished release in October.
- Walled Garden. One of the best things about PCs was the third-party potential. The classic clash of philosophies made Windows PCs about choice and customization, and Apple’s products about accessibility and integration. With Windows 8 and particularly the Metro UI, we’re seeing a sizable shift to Apple’s (undeniably popular and profitable) way of thinking, and the casualties will undoubtedly include personalization, hands-on tinkering, and engagement by independent and amateur developers. Expect the Metro UI to encourage bland/official /‘small fee’/working beta apps for Metro (i.e., just like iOS and Android). Meanwhile, the number of truly fun, interesting, and unique developments will most likely get fewer and fewer each year.
In the final assessment, there are plenty of critics who are simply resistant to change, even if it’s an improvement. But there are many more people, especially in tech circles, who embrace change even when it’s not really an ‘innovation’ (or worse, when it’s simply trendy and/or one or two steps backwards). Windows 8 is a major development, and Microsoft can be praised for its vision and daring, but there’s also a serious risk that the cost will be much of the valuable experience, refinements, and core user base that Windows has earned over the last two decades.
Author Bio: Greg Buckskin writes about everything from technology and SEO, to pop culture and web trends.
The Best and Worst of Windows 8 Consumer Preview
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