Microsoft, often accused of being unable to anticipate or respond to people's changing needs, has decided it's time to do something dramatic. Traditional desktop and notebook PC sales have stagnated over the past year or so, while over a hundred million iPads alone have sold in the same time. The threat is no longer OS X or Linux, but an entirely new category of devices. Faced with the prospect of becoming somewhat irrelevant, Microsoft has decided to prioritise touchscreens over mice and portability over power. Windows 8 could be the biggest risk the company has ever taken, and for better or for worse, there are no half measures anywhere.
We've spent the last six months using Microsoft's official previews as well as the final version of Windows 8, which was released to manufacturers in August. We've also been able to spend a few weeks with a Samsung XE700T1A tablet running Windows 8 to get an understanding of how it works on such a device.
The new Start screen with Modern UI elements
By now, the look of the "Modern" user interface (formerly named Metro) is quite familiar to us. The Start screen, with its big flashing tiles and stark colours, was first unveiled over a year ago. Members of the press and public have been able to use beta versions of the new OS for at least six months now. Even so, it takes a lot of time before it will feel natural. It's hard to give up on 17 years of learnt behaviour and habit, but we've tried not to hold this against Windows 8 for the purpose of evaluating it on its own merits.
When we previewed the Consumer Release version earlier this year, we were left with the impression that Microsoft was trying its hardest to do justice to its new ideas without the risk of alienating the massive Windows user base. It seemed as though users would be trapped between two worlds, primarily because the Modern UI and apps were just not enough to satisfy anyone who wanted to be productive or multitask the way they've been used to all along. Since that time, Microsoft has improved the quality and functionality of the built-in apps and many more viable ones have made appearances in the Windows Store.
We had to authorize our PC before automatic syncs happened
Installing Windows 8 is surprisingly quick and painless. Downloading it from Microsoft's website is the primary new method of distribution, which makes sense in an age of slim laptops without DVD drives. If you're installing on top of an existing version of Windows, you'll have to run through a compatibility checker which will let you know if any software or hardware might not work smoothly. One important thing to note is you'll need to type in your product key before the installation actually begins.
Windows 8 is designed to be tied to an online account. Any Microsoft account will do, including your Hotmail, Windows Live, Xbox Live, Passport or MSN which are all now known as Microsoft Accounts. Keep in mind that everything associated with that ID, most likely an email account but also possibly your links to Facebook, etc, will end up integrated into the Windows 8 environment. You'll also use this ID to access the Windows Store, which means saving your credit card details somewhere down the line. You'll also most likely end up using SkyDrive a lot more. For those reasons, you'll want to use a very strong, unique password even though it will make logging into your computer multiple times a day more annoying than it should be. If you're worried about privacy or the security of anything in your online accounts, it's probably a good idea to create a fresh ID.
All apps view and search bar
You can still choose to use Windows 8 offline, though apps will then constantly remind you to sign in or risk living without various features. You'll also have to use separate work and personal accounts if you use the same device everywhere.
Whether or not you use a Microsoft account, you have the option of signing in with a "Picture Password". This involves choosing any image and then defining taps, circles or sliding gestures over it. You have to create a sequence of three gestures and then repeat them each time to log in. A Picture Password could be great for many people, especially on a tablet or PC with a touchscreen and no physical keyboard. On the downside, watching someone perform these gestures and then repeating them to gain access to their computer is child's play.
As your account is being set up, you'll be led through a short animated sequence that attempts to explain some of Windows' new conventions, including the Start screen, gestures and the Charms bar. What confused us was that the instructions involved a mix of tapping, clicking, pointing, dragging and swiping but no direction as to when each action is appropriate. It would have been better if Windows had been able to detect the presence or absence of a touchscreen and then display appropriate tips.
Updated 24 May, 2013, 3:57 pm IST
Windows 8 , Microsoft Windows 8 , Windows , Windows 8 Review , Windows 8 India , Metro , Modern UI , Windows 8 tablet , Windows 8 ultrabook , Windows 8 Features , Win8 , Microsoft Windows , Windows PC , Windows 8 PC
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