Ready or not, Windows 8 is almost here. It is totally new and different. I've installed it and am happy to give you my first impressions.
This March (2012), Microsoft released the Windows 8 Consumer Preview to test this, the newest version of its flagship product. That means that if you are so inclined, you can download this new operating system and try it out at no cost.
If you do, you will find that Windows has been radically redesigned. This is a bigger jump ahead than any previous versions of Windows. The interface has been completely redesigned as have the underpinnings. For any old geek who can remember using Windows on an old text-based monochrome screen, this new version is undreamed-of. Everything is big, bright, and colorful. The new interface, called Metro, uses large colorful tiles instead of icons with text labels.
Although I have yet to do more testing on the interface and speed, I can honestly say that everything moves speedily and things glide smoothly across the screen. I talk about gliding because Windows 8 has a touch-screen interface where you can control things with your fingertips rather than using a keyboard and mouse. It was made to work on tablets and touch-screen laptops as well as regular computers.
So there are really two interfaces. When you turn on the computer you see the Metro interface with its colorful tiles. This interface is easily controlled on a touch screen, but it will also respond to input from a keyboard and mouse. With the press of the screen or click of the mouse, you can get to what Microsoft calls the "Desktop" interface. This is much more like the Windows Vista or Windows 7 interface that we are all accustomed to.
Microsoft has tried to create one operating system for all devices. Only time will tell how well this works. The consumer preview version that I am working with is really a big public beta test-version. Although it gives a really good representation of what Windows 8 will be like, not everything has yet been implemented or tweaked.
My first impressions are that the new Metro interface is elegant, easy-to-use, and much more fun than older versions of Windows. Microsoft has followed Apple's and Google's lead with the creation of an App store where you can download small programs. These appear as colorful tiles on your screen that can display real-time information. (Think stocks, weather, facebook friends, etc.) You can move the tiles around and customize everything. It's almost like playing with large Legos or puzzle pieces. There are hidden controls that can be brought to life with a swipe of the finger or touch of the mouse. I've used this new interface on a Windows phone and without a doubt, it is a winner on a touch screen.
My concern is that on a non-touch computer screen, the Metro interface is currently a little too difficult to control and that many legacy programs will have to use the underlying Desktop interface to be used productively. Does that mean that we will have to relearn two new interfaces just to use Windows 8? Only time and the final version will answer that question.
If you are interested in Windows 8, you can download that Consumer Preview at http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-8/consumer-preview. Remember that this is a test version and may not work with all of your printers and software, so it is best to put it on a spare machine or create a dual-boot on your computer so as to not overwrite your current Windows operating system. If you want to see what Windows 8 has in store for you without compromising your computer, check out the video that is available at the preview site mentioned above or check out a Windows phone, which has similar features.
It is clear that Microsoft has put a lot of time and effort into creating an entirely new operating system in Windows 8. It is a daring update with major changes. I'll keep you posted on my assessment of Windows 8. There are sure to be at least two move test versions released before general availability for the public. Historically, new Windows versions are released in mid-to late October. So I expect that you will see Windows 8 readily available before the holiday season this year. You may also see a rash of new touch-screen computers at that time. As usual, technology is taking us for another wild ride. Hope all of you are ready!