The Windows 8 home screen
I have been using Windows 8 for a few weeks now, and have compiled a list of thoughts on Microsoft's new flagship operating system. In one word? Ambitious.
Everything from the install and set-up process to the new app store, the interface formerly known as Metro and a raft of others changes means Windows 8, in my opinion, represents the most drastic change in modern desktop history. It raises the question: has Microsoft finally found a winning combination?
Start up reveals some charming new features
When you first start your Windows 8 machine you are greeted with a redesigned log in prompt. If you have a touch screen you can make your password a series of finger swipes, which is a great idea for tablets - although your smudgy finger prints might give away your “password”.
On first installing the OS you are given a tutorial on the basics of the new interface, including the “charms” side bar. The charms bar is essentially a better interface for some of the normal Windows functions that may have traditionally required multiple clicks, such as joining a wi-fi network.
App store introduced as part of operating system
Like Apple, Microsoft has gone down the route of introducing an app store as part of its base operating system. The store is relatively easy to use with context-aware searching, which is a great feature. However, with no search bar or hint bubbles, discovering and finding new applications is slow and inefficient.
Social address book
Microsoft is hoping you will tie your other services with your Windows Live ID, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and your corporate email account, to give a social feel to your address book (now called “people”).
I've had a few issues so far moving between devices. From my understanding, you should only have to set up this linking piece once and then any device you sign in on should configure itself with all those accounts. However, in my testing this hasn't worked.
In theory, using your Windows Live ID should sync content, tiles and settings between your workstation, Windows tablets and your Windows Phone 8, thereby ensuring a consistent experience across all platforms.
New start screen takes a bit of getting used to
You no longer have the start menu and it does take time to adjust to not having one. It has been replaced with a new start screen that places all your apps into tiles, which can be moved around, organised into folders or deleted.
Users can, however, open the traditional desktop from the start screen by using the desktop tile and other familiar options, such as the control panel and task manager, by firing up the All Apps icon.
Has Microsoft got it right with its bet on Windows 8?
Windows 8 is helping Microsoft head in the right direction. It is more consumer focused, thanks to the app store, has an easier to use interface, and the multitude of great devices it will be available on shows that it is designed for both work and home.
Previously the Microsoft Windows focus was to get in front of business and to be configurable and manageable at an enterprise scale. That premise is still there (although it is a little diluted for me) but this release is focused on getting people to see their computer as more than just a work tool and something they actually enjoy spending time on.
Microsoft's biggest challenge will be the training and adoption of Windows 8. Because it is such a radical shift from every other release, it will take people a while to get used to and even then I think a big portion of users will still prefer Windows 7 or even XP.
Businesses will avoid it as much as they can over the next 12 months as it could threaten a serious drop in productivity for task workers. However, like iPads, Windows 8 will begin to be adopted at the C level, as senior management demands the latest, slimmest and lightest devices, which will only ship with Windows 8. From there we will start seeing good adoption numbers in business.
Microsoft is making a large commercial bet in moving from a traditional desktop operating system to something that is radically different. But the reality is that power Office software users will default to the traditional desktop view of Windows 8 every time they close an Office application and may find it easier to stay there, unless a future upgrade better integrates Office and the tile interface.
After a few weeks using and testing Windows 8, I have found it very promising, although initially quite confusing until you get your head around how things work. Once you do, you get a great experience coupled with a very stable operating system and a burgeoning app store with new apps coming every day.
Rhys Evans is national practice manager Enterprise Information Systems at Thomas Duryea Consulting, a Microsoft implementation partner.