Microsoft is betting big on Windows 8’s new interface that is designed more for touch screens and tablets than keyboards and mice.
The biggest and most noticeable change happens after the machine boots, where a colorful start screen replaces the traditional desktop interface and start menu.
Applications are represented by small and large squares on the screen. Clicking or touching them launches the application, but they can also display information. For example, the weather application that comes bundled with Windows 8 will display current conditions without having to launch the app.
The design change reflects Microsoft’s decision to more aggressively pursue the mobile device market after losing significant market share to Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android devices. The same week Microsoft introduced the new operating system they also introduced their Surface tablet that runs a mobile version of Windows 8 called Windows RT. The Surface operates identically to the desktop version of Windows 8, although the tablet version won’t run traditional Windows applications. A more robust Surface tablet to be released later will run older desktop software.
The new Windows 8 apps run full screen with a very tablet-like look and feel – a significant departure from previous Windows applications. Microsoft includes a number of these native applications with the Windows 8 installation, including apps for weather, finance, and a version of Internet Explorer that runs full screen. Microsoft also features an app store that is similar to stores on Apple and Google platforms. It even has a number of touch-friendly games like Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds.
Watch Fruit Ninja running on a Windows 8 touch screen computer:
Older Windows applications still run just fine, taking the user to a traditional Windows desktop that runs in the background. The existence of the desktop feels a bit like an afterthought, and is reminiscent of how early versions of Windows ran on top of Microsoft’s text-based DOS operating system.
Is it worth upgrading? Maybe not right away. Interface changes aside there’s not much in the way of under the hood improvements to warrant moving away from Windows 7. Windows 7 is Microsoft’s most solid operating system release ever, and it will be supported by the company for some time to come. The best time to upgrade to Windows 8 will be when moving to new computer hardware, as many new PCs will better take advantage of the new operating system’s features.
This recommendation may change as more Windows 8 software is made available. Undoubtedly the allure of Microsoft’s Windows 8 only application store will prove to be irresistible to developers who have seen how effective (and profitable) the captive audience of a built in app store can be on Apple’s iOS platform.
One thing’s for sure: touch based interfaces are likely going to be the future. Microsoft will run in ‘hybrid’ mode for awhile, but it’s clear the PC’s of the future will likely abandon the interface language Macs, PCs, and dozens of other computing platforms have used over the last 30 years. Microsoft’s gamble will be whether customers, especially those in the enterprise, are willing to use something so different.