Monday, April 01, 2013

My take on Windows 8

You've probably heard all the doomsday stories. It's terrible. It's unrecognizable. Nobody will be able to understand it. Where's the desktop? Where's the start menu? I've heard it all, and I'm here to tell you that things are just not as bad as some people are trying to make it out to be. I've given windows eight a decent test run and I can state with confidence that with a 30 to 60 minute tutorial I can get you off and running in windows eight with no interface problems. Note that I am not commenting about application compatibility or driver/hardware issues.

I don't know anyone who works of Microsoft, so much of what I'm about to tell you is supposition. I believe the that in an attempt to evolve Windows to the next level, Microsoft came to the realization that they had to renovate the interface to be ready for touchscreen computing. There wasn't really much wrong with the desktop, but the start menu was another story. For one thing, the start menu is quite small. You can only fit a dozen or so features in that space and everything else hides behind the all programs menu. The other problem with the start menu is that you keep having to click the start button to get to it. I think Microsoft tried to solve these two problems by converting the start menu into the Windows 8 start screen, or the Metro interface as it was known during development.

So when you log into a Windows 8 computer, you will be greeted by the new incarnation of the old start menu which is now the larger than your display. The Start screen is the essence of Windows 8. It greets you with tiles, each tile a representation of an app. If you're thinking to yourself, this sounds like a description of a phone's screen, you are right. The start screen essentially takes the old fashioned shortcut icon and blows it up into a mini window, previewing what's hiding inside the application. So when you look at the weather app tile, you see fast facts about your weather. When you look at the Facebook app tile, you see snippets of status from Facebook. When you touch or click the tile, you're just opening the program to see more information. If you scroll to the right, there are more tiles to see and at the far right are familiar tiles to access things like your Office programs and anything else you decide to pin to this screen. Best of all, the tiles can be rearranged to suit your needs.

Click on the desktop tile and you're taken to the more familiar desktop screen. But the start button is gone. This tends to freak people out. Fear not. Press the Windows logo key and you're right back at the start screen. Press it again and you're back at the desktop. See how easy that is? One of the things I like about Windows 8 is that it leverages keyboard shortcuts even more than Windows 7 did. You'll find you'll be using the right mouse button more too.

Another oddity of this new interface are the hot zones at the far left and right sides of the screen. The left hot zone gives you access to the other open programs, both to switch to them and to close them. The hot zone at the right brings up the Charms Bar, which gives you access to search, other installed programs and settings. No matter where you find yourself, if you get lost, the start screen is one Windows logo key away.

Apps are pre-installed, but there are many more available, some at a cost, but many for free. They can be gotten using the store app tile. Opening an app is a little daunting at first because the familiar window controls for close and minimize are missing. Remember, this interface is designed for touch screens, so you're going to be scrolling and right clicking stuff a lot.

Corporations are avoiding this version of Windows like the plague, mostly because this is a big change and they're afraid of the learning curve for users. I'm convinced they have little to fear. A 60 minute tutorial should be sufficient for most people. I've been playing with Windows 8 in a virtual machine in my classroom for weeks and demo it to anyone who will sit down for 15 minutes. It's fun, especially with a SmartBoard attached.

1 comment:

mcramblers said...

Mitch and I both have windows 8 phones and we love them. Recently we both updated our computers I got the Surface Pro and he got some giant ass desk top with Windows 8, so he can do his web design. I like the touch screen, its' very much like the phone. However I find that I do most of my 'work' from the desktop app. There are some frustrating things that we've found with both our computers but I think that's just a learning curve. We have many friends that work at Microsoft, but so far none of them are listening to any of the great ideas we have for improvement. :)