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Windows cleaning

Date

Charles Wright

A consultant explains Windows 8 to a potential customer.

A consultant explains Windows 8 to a potential customer.

Spring has sprung, along with Microsoft's unfamiliar tile-based OS.

SPRINGTIME in the Bleeding Edge cave has always been a dangerous time. So often in the past, the end of winter has led to a seasonal bout of optimism that nothing - not even the usual chronic hay fever - seems to discourage.

In the grip of this delusion, we look around for things that aren't broken to fix; for things that are new and complicated with which to replace the old and familiar; for dangerous edges of things along which we can gambol.

We're pretty sure this affliction, which we have struggled to control in our own character after suffering unforeseen consequences ranging from the inconvenient to the disastrous, has infected the global software industry recently.

Microsoft, for instance, has spread confusion with the commercial release of Windows 8.

For one thing, users who have already bought boxed copies of Windows 8 Pro report that they are upgrade versions that will only install over an existing copy of Windows.

For another, it seems to us the new Windows user interface has been brilliantly engineered to make life just a little more uncomfortable for many millions of Microsoft customers who use desktop computers and conventional notebooks, in order to attract the as yet comparatively tiny proportion of people who use tablets.

Some users, and particularly younger enthusiasts, will welcome Windows 8 and happily adjust to its changes, possibly even preferring the Metro-style interface's constantly updating ''Live'' tiles and the ability to trigger applications by typing directly into the Start screen.

But we think many more - particularly those who routinely run multiple applications on multiple screens - will go looking for the familiar Start button, and will not appreciate having to use the ''Charms Bar'' or the ''Switch List'' or the Windows key+C combination to find it.

Our policy in relation to new operating systems remains conservative. We are happy with Windows 7 and wouldn't dream of moving to Windows 8 until it has been tried and tested in the wild for several months.

We are equally reluctant to embrace Windows RT - the so-called ''Run Time'' version of Windows 8 that works only on devices using ARM chips, rather than Intel chips. We don't think users have been adequately informed about RT and its limitations, or, for that matter, the hardware on which it runs.

While we like the idea of Microsoft's Surface tablets, currently limited to ARM chips and RT with custom versions of Microsoft Office and other applications, we won't be rushing to buy one.

We intend to wait for the Surface Pro, which will run conventional Windows applications on Intel's ''Clover Trail'' chip, before we think about making what amounts to a significant investment - and not just financially.

At that point we are going to have to decide how the Microsoft tablets fit in to the company's Office 365 strategy, with products such as SharePoint and Lync. That will depend on what software is available for the RT-based Surface devices. The Clover Trail models are likely to be heavier, but at the moment it doesn't seem to us that things are sufficiently clear for anyone to be able to make an informed choice.

We are having a few minor problems with the new interface, but we expect them to be resolved quickly. If not, we are going to go back to the more familiar interface. When it comes to ''improved'' software, it is always handy to be given that option.

cwright@theage.com.au

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