Emerging Technology

GADGET WATCH: Windows 8

Patrick Stafford /

Microsoft is gearing up to release the newest version of its operating system, Windows 8. With an October launch looming, the latest build of the software has already been tested by reviewers and they’re spreading their thoughts on the internet.

Microsoft is aiming to retool Windows 8 with a new user interface (formerly known as Metro). But is it really something new or just a rehash?

Hardware and Features

The biggest change in Windows 8 is the new interface. Instead of starting up at the desktop, Windows 8 shows a multi-coloured tile-based screen where users can choose to open apps specifically designed for that interface – very much like the Windows Phone software.

Users can open specific apps in that framework, including mail, web browsing and media players. The desktop itself is in one of these apps.

However, the Start Button has been removed, with the new “Start Bar’ taking its place, although it acts in pretty much the same way.

Other changes include the File Explorer which includes a ribbon toolbar, native USB 3.0 support, integration with Xbox Live and a new Internet Explorer version, which acts as both a desktop program and an app within the new interface.

What’s the consensus?

Although Microsoft hopes to reinvent the wheel with this release, the reaction has been decidedly mixed.

As Gizmodo points out in its review, the biggest challenge is getting used to the new user interface. After having used the traditional Windows software configuration for so long, this is a whole new way of working.

“Commands, icons, apps and menus glide on and off screen, and things zoom in and out of its interface in a near vertigo-inducing fashion. Getting your feet beneath you is tricky.”

However, once you get there, Gizmodo says it can be quite nice, mentioning that organising apps on the Start screen can be quite intuitive and the personalisation features are nice.

Apps, on the other hand, are a mixed back. Gizmodo says while music and mail are well designed, they need some polish.

“It felt more like mobile mail than a desktop client. While the new interface is certainly tablet-optimised, this app made me want to swap into desktop mode in order to see more of my inbox at once, and swap folders more easily.”

Over at TechRadar, the reaction was a little more positive, saying the design options are good and that the app organisation screen was also well done. It also praised the “charm bar” which appears when users swipe to the right and opens options such as searching and access to settings.

“It’s all remarkably clear and simple, once you relearn habits such as pressing Start to shutdown.”

One desktop app TechRadar pointed out specifically is the new Backup system, which takes more regular copies.

“Frankly, Storage Spaces is one of the neatest features in Windows 8. Forget the complexity and rebuild issues of RAID; you can plug multiple drives into a PC and see one large storage ‘space’ whether the drives are the same size or all different.”

Finally, PCWorld was also welcoming, but had some concerns.

“It looks like Windows 8 is certainly going to take some getting used to. But underneath that daunting new interface are a wealth of smart decisions that go a long way towards dragging the behemoth that is Windows into the future.”

Who’s it for?

It’s impossible to give a full review of Windows 8 considering the final release hasn’t been given out. But based on these early views, it looks like Windows should at least be applauded for trying something new.

On tablets, Windows 8 works like a dream. On desktops, however, it takes some getting used to. Individual users would be well-positioned to download it and try it themselves. But business users might want to hold off until October.

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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