FOR the past three months I have been tinkering around with an early version of Windows 8, Microsoft’s new operating system that thrusts itself into the touchscreen device market.
With the consumer preview now available to anyone, there will be a lot of comparisons to Windows 7, and the user experience provided by Apple and its devices.
So what are the key differences between 7 and 8?
After booting up you are faced with the new Metro-style screen full of coloured tiles, similar to the Windows Phone experience. Worry not, fans of the traditional desktop, as you are able to toggle between Metro and the familiar desktop view with one click.
What’s all this about Metro?
Metro is Microsoft’s new design language that is starting to pervade through its software and products; anyone using the latest update to Xbox 360 will notice the similarities. Microsoft took an approach inspired by the typography and layout normally found in public transport systems – where complex information needs to be put across quickly and simply, hence the name Metro. The basic tenet for Metro is to provide users upfront with useful information.
In Windows 8 (and Phone 7 and Xbox 360) the main screen is built from block colour live tiles arranged in a grid. These tiles, as well as launching their respective programs, display static information or animations relevant to you.
That’s all very well, but it relies on developers and companies making Metro-compatible applications. However, Microsoft has a good history of supporting developers and encouraging third-party applications.
Is the user experience richer?
Windows 8 can link up with your Windows Live ID; syncing information through the Cloud to allow you to access your apps and desktop set-up on any machine. That’s nice if you use different PCs for work and play! Metro Apps interact with each other in a predictable way so that users can share and search information across applications such as Facebook and Outlook.
Users have the choice of either the touch-friendly option or the standard keyboard and mouse. There are also several different options in terms of how you log in; a traditional password, a PIN (similar to the iPhone) or a picture password which uses direction and order finger mapping.
It sounds good for the consumer, but what about the business user?
Microsoft has been a bit quiet about releasing details of new business-level features but some details have slipped out. Windows 2 go will allow IT departments to give home users a bootable USB stick with a fully featured work environment – turn off, plug in and go. They are also introducing a new file system called ReFS which is designed to protect against data corruption or loss, allowing you to recover files from automatic secondary copies that are not corrupt by using Storage Spaces.