So Windows 8 is done, about to be available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers and soon to be shipping to the public. So now that it is here, the question is – why should you care? What’s new in Windows 8 that you should consider when deciding to update? Below is a list of the best new changes to Windows.
New Start Screen (Metro apps)
Windows 8 heralds an entirely new start screen, filled with Metro apps and shortcuts to legacy desktop apps. This dual-system has received a lot of criticism, usually from people who haven’t actually used Windows 8 for any significant length of time. At first its certainly a very different experience, one that does take some getting used to.
Fast forward a few weeks and it becomes a non issue. Currently I’m spending about 20% of my time in Metro apps and 80% out on the desktop. I fully expect that as more Metro apps are released those time fractions will change significantly.
Ultimately if you wanted to, you could live happily on the desktop in Win8, although its almost identical to Windows 7. Those who try to ‘switch off metro’ or get the old start menu back are really missing the point of Windows 8.
Last year at the first Build conference, Microsoft spoke about a future where they see all screens being touch enabled. This belief really is reflected by Windows 8’s touch first philosophy. It’s a no brainer that the Metro start screen and apps work fantastically with touch, while still operable by keyboard and mouse. Things get a little more interesting as we move to desktop apps that will be available even on Intel-based Win8 Pro tablets.
Touch points have been made a little larger in the desktop of Windows 8, there’s also an improved press and hold gesture for right clicking. While the concept of reaching out to touch the monitor in front of you sounds like a horrible nightmare, its actually a much more efficient to press a button on the screen than maneuver a precise mouse cursor to click on it.
The idea of the one size fits all Windows 8 Metro/Desktop dual mode does actually make a lot of sense when you think through it. With the emergence of tablets, more consumers are computing on the go, a perfect use case for Metro apps. Then when you arrive home, slide it into a dock, grab your keyboard and mouse and be back to the more complex desktop apps.
While looking at Windows 8 on the surface, it certainly seems a strange decision. However when you look at the fact that people only have to learn one operating system regardless of desk or mobile operation, they learn once.
When using Windows on a tablet with a horizontal resolution higher than 1366 pixels, applications can be snapped to the left or right side of the screen. This allows a new type of multi-tasking than we’re used to on tablets. Typically tablets are single applications at a time, but in Win8, you can snap a twitter feed to the side while replying to email or browsing the web. All apps are required to support snapping.
Windows 8 is complemented by other Metro-style designs like the Xbox dashboard, Windows Phone and now almost every Microsoft website including Hotmail and now SkyDrive.
Buying and selling apps in a store or marketplace is a proven model that simplifies the process for consumers and developers. In fact, installing and uninstalling apps (the Metro kind) in Windows, has never been easier and will now be done by every Windows user.
Underlying systems may not be as sexy as the new tiled interface, but they really are an important difference in Windows 8. If you own content app that enables sharing, then install a social app that knows how to share that content (lets say Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube), there’s nothing the original developer needs to do to support that. The share contracts underlying Windows 8 are pure genius and make for a great extensive experience.
No discussion, Windows is faster than any previous version of Windows. It just is. Faster to boot, faster to perform tasks, faster to sleep and resume and faster to shut down. The other speed benefit is that the resources used from the OS is a lot lower than Win7, meaning that more of that hardware can be allocated to running your apps.
Windows Updates are something we all should do, but often get forgotten about. Updates, in particularly security updates are something that should just happen and in Win8, they will. Updates will happen in the background and simply be installed the next time you restart. While this may have some control freaks, well, freaking out.. pushing critical updates to computers will benefit us all, with unpatched zombie boxes to be a thing of the past.
Virus and malware protection is enabled out of the box in Windows 8. This is the biggest change in security since XP SP2 enabled the firewall by default. Long overdue, Microsoft have finally taken responsibility for their code and provided protection for every Win8 user. There’s certainly still provisions for paid 3rd party providers to be installed in Win8, but its becoming an increasingly hard sell.
Log into any Win8 PC
If you’ve ever used a large corporate network, you’ll be familiar with a roaming profile. In Win8 your Microsoft account emulates that experience. This means you can walk up to any Windows 8 machine, log in with your MS account (Hotmail or Xbox account), then you’ll have your personalized experience flows into that machine.
Personalisations like colours, background, lock screen and profile pictures as well as app settings, internet favourites and history can all be synced across to any Win8 computer. The first time you try this, it’s a pretty amazing experience, which will be a new experience for many. Also because your store downloads are linked to your account, just visit the Store, right-click and select ‘Your apps’ to download any you’ve purchased before.
No longer do you have individual applications popping up alerts each with different designs, locations and worst of all places to turn them off. In Windows 8, the centralized notification system means you are in control and can disable notifications per application or all at once. A quick sleep option for notifications is available under settings. Muting these notifications for 1, 3 or 8 hours is a very useful option to have.
As hardware manufacturers unleash their Win8 devices, we’re going to see a very competitive spec list. One differentiator is likely going to be sensor support. There’s accelerometer, GPS, NFC to name a few, OS-level support for these open up a world of possibilities which developers can build on top of.