Microsoft is under tremendous pressure from multiple fronts. Every vertical of the company’s business is facing steadfast competition from battle hardened brands like Google and Apple. Frankly, they missed the smartphone revolution and it looked like they were about to lose the desktop and tablet revolution to the Mac and iPad.
For a company deeply entrenched in bureaucracy, Microsoft bounced back with the stunning Windows Phone 7 and now, Windows 8. Windows 8 is designed to offer the familiar user experience of the past and a brand new one for the future. Join me after the break to find in detail what the future of Windows holds for you.
You can install Windows 8 in two different ways. First, you can use the default option – the Windows installer – wherein you install a download manager from Microsoft to download and install the OS at your convenience. This method is quicker and simpler, but do note that you will have to install Windows 8 on the computer where you download the OS.
There is no way to use the downloaded OS to burn it on a DVD, install in a different PC or even use it on a virtual machine. Go with the ISO download option if you plan to use the Windows 8 copy in multiple PCs and to have a backup handy.
Going the Windows installer way does have a couple of perks, one being the option of in place upgrade of your current version of Windows. This being a beta version, it isn’t fair for you to expect the OS run all the crazy apps you have installed right away. Thankfully, there is a powerful compatibility wizard that analyzes your software set up and offers a comprehensive report.
The compatibility report gives you a complete rundown of apps that work and the ones that don’t. Being an app reviewer, you can bet I’ve a ton of apps installed in my Windows rig. Of the lot, only three didn’t make the cut.
For those who download the ISO image, clean installation is the way to go. Clean installation of Windows 8 is no biggy if you have installed Windows 7 earlier. It’s a lot similar.
The steps and screens are all strikingly similar. But, the installation took far less time to complete when compared to its predecessor. While the installation didn’t take much time, the preparation stages took twice as much time to complete.
The Windows flag is nowhere to be seen during the installation process and instead we have a cute, little fish as the mascot.
Unlike Apple, Microsoft has decided to roll out both the tablet and desktop operating systems into one package. The Metro user interface is not just tablet specific and spans large portions of the desktop experience as well. For the first time ever, instead of a relatively empty desktop, you will see a snazzy Start screen with Metro styled UI.
The screen is divided into sections with each one containing blocks of apps. A radical change to user interface, but it’s a whole lot of fun to use. Apps are far easier to discover and launch this way. Let’s delve into the selection of apps later on.
The start button is legendary. Over the years it has gotten visually better, but still isn’t a very aesthetically pleasing thing designwise. Now, all of a sudden, you don’t have it anymore. Instead we have a couple of charms (invisible ones) on both the ends of the screen. The charm on the lower left corner of the screen can be accessed by moving the cursor over it and the Start screen will be revealed.
So, the Start button might not be there where it used to be, but its functionality is still there.
The charm on the lower right corner of the screen gives quick access to Settings, Control Panel, Power Options, Devices, Clock etc.
I launched the Settings screen from the charm and a completely revamped, user friendly version of the screen was presented in front of me. From basic operations like Volume and Brightness Control to links to the Control Panel and Personalization Options, quick access to oft used settings are all here.
A year ago, if somebody told me that Windows is going to get a makeover that’s gonna blow my mind, I would rolled the floor laughing. The PC settings screen is a sparkling example of how much Windows has changed for good. It’s the same old control panel, but in Metro style (Don’t worry, the old control panel is available too) and the design cannot be any more intuitive. Besides the refreshing design reboot, too many confusing options have also been removed from every single category. If you are planning to change a setting as quickly as possible, PC settings is the way to go.
Device management is one of the irritating things in Windows. Not any more. Both adding devices and accessing already connected ones have never been easier.
In addition to the standard user accounts which can be created locally, we now have the new Microsoft accounts. This feature helps you sign in with your email account and download apps from the Windows Store, access files from anywhere and to sync settings with multiple PCs including your browser favorites and history.
I used my Live id and after filling up a form (mobile number, country, secret question), my Microsoft account was successfully created. You will have to click on a couple links emailed to you to verify your mobile id and the computer name and once that’s completed, you can start using the Microsoft account.
For quick access of the computer, you can now set a PIN. Instead of typing a complex password, a short numerical PIN might help you gain immediate access. Creating a PIN requires you to type the current password and you can’t just copy and paste it in this screen either. If you have a Microsoft account enabled and have a complex password, it’s gonna be frustrating!
If you have opted for logging in with your Microsoft account, all your contacts will be readily available in the Messaging app. Unlike the tiny vertical, rectangular interface of the IM client we have all used so far, a fullscreen app with conversation threads is definitely a refreshing change. The app claims to help you use different messaging services, but right now, only Facebook is supported.
I would love to use a desktop email client, but none of the top ones aren’t upto my satisfaction. Looks like it’s gonna change with Windows 8. The Mail client replaces the good old Outlook Express and is downright gorgeous and intuitive. Conversation threads aren’t supported yet though.
It’s evident that no stone was left unturned while coding Windows 8 and this is evident from the mail customization options that show up in the Compose and Respond screens of the app. There is a chance you might forget about the existence of such options in other web or desktop mail interfaces, but they are hard to miss in the Mail app. For some reason, mails that are older than a week weren’t showing up in the app though.
By now, I’m convinced that everything looks gorgeous with a tinge of Metro goodness! The Calendar app looks, performs and syncs better than the best calendar app I have ever come across – Google Calendar. Like every other decent calendar app out there, all standard functionality like reminders, recurring tasks, color coding, invites etc. are supported out of the box.
By default, the monthly view is enabled and I was a bit disappointed to find that the weekly and day views are absent. On top of your own calendar, a public holiday calendar with a starkly different color code is available for quick reference as well.
Windows Explorer is one of the painpoints of the OS. People always complain how hard it is to find something with the help of Explorer. Windows 7 brought in a number of new features to ease things a bit, but with Windows 8 things are gonna be far better. First, the Explorer now sports the ribbon interface. From creating new file and folders to moving and copying files all common file operations are all available readily in the Home tab of the Explorer.
Shareaholics will find the Share tab to be quite handy. Attaching files to emails and archiving them have never been easier.
As you might have inferred, from the View tab, you can customize the way Explorer looks. Many of the right click functions have found a place in this tab. The Show/hide section of the tab should eliminate all the fumbling around to see hidden items and showing or hiding file name extensions.
Most notably, the details pane at the bottom of the screen has been removed. After selecting a file, you will now see only the file size at the bottom of the window and if you need more info, you will have to enable the details pane. Once enabled, it shows up in the right pane and doesn’t collapse even when you haven’t selected a file, wasting valuable screen real estate.
I cannot imagine my life without TeraCopy. It infuses life into the otherwise dead slow file transfer operations. Thankfully, file transfer is one among the many aspects of Windows 8 that has gotten better. The entire process in general is quicker and now you get to pause the transfer midway when necessary. Can’t believe it took them so long! The graphical representation of the file transfer is a nice touch, but is largely useless.
Task Manager comes in two modes – compact and expanded. In the compact mode, you can see the apps that are running and nothing else. Click on More details to bring up the full featured version which sports a brand new look.
The Processes tab now lists apps as well as background processes. There is no need to jump to the Processes tab to see which apps are consuming too much resources and are presented in the most readable format ever.
Better graphs are now available in the Performance tab. Major metrics are perfectly highlighted and the graphs are easier on the eyes. Instead of going through some ninja command line operations, you can now see and disable Startup processes from a dedicated tab that goes by the same name.
Searching from the Metro interface is very comprehensive. In addition to the conventional file and app search, you now can search individual apps as well. For instance, you can type a keyword and search for it in your Mail app and later in the Internet Explorer search history. The Search history feature will help you save time if you often search for same things over and over.
I’m not a fan of IE, any version of it for that matter. Windows 8 comes bundled with Internet Explorer 10 and in the Metro interface, it’s so much fun to use. For a change, the interface is minimal to the core and runs on a fullscreen mode all the time. Open tabs can be accessed at the top of the screen and the navigation bar at the bottom. When your mouse isn’t over any of these, you can surf the Internet without any frills.
I’m running out of superlatives here. App discovery and buying is fast restricted to walled gardens dubbed as app stores. Windows 8 App Store is a new addition, but is by far the best one to discover and download apps. The inherent simplicity and fluid nature of the Metro design deserves the credit for the silky smooth navigation.
App details page has only those details that matter. The description is short, screenshots are clear, reviews are many, ratings are transparent and details are comprehensive.
The Downloads screen needs a lot of work. At present there just is a progress bar and it wouldn’t hurt to see ETA and the progress of the download in numbers.
A lot of effort has gone into the lockscreen. What was earlier a dumb screen keeping others away from sneaking a peek at your desktop, now it has become a mini message center. At a glance, you can get a quick preview of the mails, IM messages, tasks that have come up after you locked the screen. The beauty is that the entire screen is customizable to boot not only with the background images, but also with the apps that need to run in the background too.
Forcing Metro UI right from the start screen at launch is the equivalent of throwing someone who doesn’t know swimming into the deep end of the pool. I feel users should be given a choice beforehand between the good old Windows UI and the Metro immediately after installation. A major chunk of Windows users will definitely prefer to use the familiar and boring interface instead of a newer version of the UI even if it’s far better. You don’t want freak out that userbase willy nilly.
Yes, removing the Start button and menu is a bold move and got the mainstream media talking, a lot. But, ultimately, I don’t see the point. Instead of one single click to access your settings and favorite apps, now you will have to go through a couple of clicks to do the same. Not really an improvement IMHO.
Over a period of usage, you will see that Windows 8 has a fancy wrapper for tablets and the familiar parts of the OS are all the same. Apps are fun to use in the fullscreen mode, but for those who are used to multiple apps running side by side keeping an eye on all of them, it will take some time to get used to.
I don’t care what others say. As of this moment, Windows 8 is the best operating system under the sun for both desktops and tablets. Period.