Windows 8's new look makes sense, if you can take the shock
We’ve heard occasional rumblings about Microsoft’s next operating system — Windows 8 — for quite a while now. Rumors were flying about it even before Windows 7 was released. I even reported on one juicy tidbit back in October of 2009.
But now all of the speculation and gossip can be put to rest, at least partly. Microsoft recently made available the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, which lets us see the wonder that will be Windows 8 for ourselves.
This is, as the name suggests, a preview, and Microsoft has called it a work in progress. But the new OS, designed for tablets as well as laptops and desktops, will mark a significant change in the user experience, and we thought it worth checking out some of the changes in store.
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The first thing it does when you download it is check your system for compatibility. It took about 20 minutes to go through our decently high-end computer running Windows 7 Professional and check all of our programs and devices and see if they could be used within the Windows 8 environment.
We got a few warnings about some third-party software that we had not uninstalled after testing it, but other than that we were good to go. Then after downloading the OS, checking files and installing it, we were in business.
Note that this is not just a shell program that runs on top of your current OS. This is an actual OS that will overwrite your current one, and perhaps your files as well. We remembered that the last two “test drives” – the ones for Vista and Windows 7 – totally replaced the operating system of whatever computer it was installed on. Microsoft says so in its FAQ – there is no way to uninstall it short of re-installing the old OS.
So don’t do this on a computer that you will need anything from without completely backing up first. There are also options for installing on an empty partition or creating a boot DVD or flash drive.
The default interface of Windows 8 is like that of a Windows Mobile device. Not that this is necessarily bad, but if you aren’t used to it, your learning curve is going to make the one for adapting to Windows 7 look like a hike through Kansas (and for desktop and laptop Windows users, you're definitely not in Kansas anymore). I remember how frustrated I became when Windows 7 first came out, upgrading from XP, in having to figure out how to do everything all over again.
I’m starting to feel that again with Windows 8, but I will climb this learning curve if it kills me. Of course, if the pain is too much, there are settings that will present a more familiar style of interface.
Everything in Windows 8 looks alot like a Windows phone. There are blocks for applications, blocks to run programs, blocks to get into the system menus and pretty much a visual representation for everything. It really seems designed for a touch screen, or even a tablet, though clicking with a mouse works, too.
All the blocks are color-coded and customizable, so blue can be for your business applications, for example. And if you, say, spend a lot of time on Facebook, you can have that app launch when you boot with your status right there in one of your blocks.
So this is going to be a big change, like when Windows XP became Vista, and not so much like when Vista became Windows 7. The new Windows 8 makes a lot of sense, probably more so to the younger generations used to doing everything on their phones, and looks to be more customizable than any previous version of Windows. But it’s going to be a shock to a lot of people.
We’ll be monitoring the development of Windows 8 in the lab and keeping you up to date on various changes as this rolls forward — and, of course, we’ll review it with an exhaustive series of benchmarks and other tests when it officially appears. The next pre-release version is due in June, with the full roll-out later this year, reportedly in October.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try the preview yourself. Just be careful, and back up your old system first!