Thursday, June 2, 2011

Windows 8: First impressions

Windows 8 Screenshot
Hooray for Microsoft. Their view of a Windows 7 tablet world nearly had me worried. However, coming from the labs for a surprising public demo this week was a pre-release of Windows 8. Apparently, Ballmer wasn’t lying when he gave some precursory remarks about upcoming Windows releases last week.

Albeit an interesting new release, my take from the demo is nothing short of Microsoft's attempt to embrace the tablet world without forsaking the traditional, legacy operating environment and applications we’ve been used to for some twenty-five years now. Does it pull it off? Meaning, is it just regular-old Windows with a sketchy touch skin on top? And does it make more sense to combine the flexibility of the desktop into a tablet device rather than build a completely separate tablet OS altogether? We can only know when the final build is released, but for the time being, let’s explore this a little more.

Before today, we all knew that Microsoft was working to make Windows support ARM-based processors. With that only foreshadowing what was to come, it seemed that they still had not learned their lesson that desktop operating systems do not fit on small, touch-based devices. Windows, as it is today, is simply too clunky and cannot compete on a functional level with touch-based products like the iPad or any recent Android tablet.

However, it looks as if they are trying their damnedest to get the best of both worlds for future Windows products. That’s right. We can assume there will be no separate operating environment called the Windows Tab for the tablet, as Windows Phone is to the phone.

In the demos, however, Windows 8 does act like like Windows Phone—live tiles and all—but it may not necessarily be based on the same code. Instead, it seems to be a layered system, where Windows still runs underneath (hopefully with some much needed tweaking and slimming down), but in the forefront you see a “Start” screen like never before. While looking a little like Windows Media Center, tiles are scattered across the screen, just as in Windows Phone. In this UI, you can have news and social media tiles, widgets and other apps all displaying information so you don’t have to fire up each particular application to get what you want—a design feature touted heavily by Windows Phone marketing campaigns.

Again, the system does run a traditional Windows desktop underneath, but the entire OS is said to be completely redesigned for touch input. If you have used a HP TouchSmart PC with Windows 7, then you know exactly how important this is.

Other things of note is a completely new soft keyboard, which seems to work quite well, and also the ability to run touch apps right next to mouse and keyboard apps. It’s hard to tell without using the product whether or not this has any realistic use. But from a technology-advocate's standpoint, it's good to see that Microsoft isn't afraid to try something new, and I think this is a step in the right direction. Only time and money will tell if this is the answer consumers and professionals are looking for.

No comments:

Post a Comment