On October, 26, 2012, Microsoft unveiled a new addition to the Windows operating system sphere – Windows 8. Windows 8 is different in many ways because it redefines your experience with computers and tablet PCs. Windows 8 boasts a completely new minimalistic design, a design that works with large white spaces and big well designed fonts that Microsoft calls the Modern UI, (previously known as the Metro UI).
It’s evident that Microsoft has chosen to walk the path of the tablet because of Windows 8’s intensive focus on touch-screen and multi-gesture navigation; even the design feels like it’s been designed for small tablet screens rather than bigger computer screens.
Microsoft is gambling here, much like the gamble it played with the release of Windows Vista and its introduction of a new file system, new coding for applications, and a graphically intensive user interface. Windows 8 is more radical than Windows Vista because it not only introduces a new file system, a system for any operating system to manage files on the computer, but it offers a completely new way of navigating and working with the operating system, unlike any other previous version of Windows. Learning to use any new release of Windows has always been easy because of the fact that there haven’t been major changes in the way users interact with it. But with Windows 8, all that’s changed and a completely new way of navigation has come into play, this is where Microsoft makes its biggest gamble.
With Steve Balmer taking over Microsoft, his radical idea of a new and modern minimalist user-interface design, much like Google’s Chrome Browser, comes into the world of operating systems. With Balmer’s pervious works on the Microsoft Office 2010 and the Zune Music Player that introduced clean and well-managed interface with very little icons and plenty of white space, it’s apparent that his view of a new modern user-interface comes to life in Windows 8 and its Modern UI that works exclusively around color and text.
But the questions still linger: Are users willing to make the change to Windows 8 that asks a little too much from its users? Using Windows 8 feels like relearning to use the computer altogether because it introduces new concepts like the Charms Bar that boasts a Universal Search Bar (What happened to searching for music inside a media player?) or the flashy tile-based Start Screen that looks like it’s been pulled right out of Windows 7 phones. The learning curve is too steep for newcomers and veteran Windows users alike which may frustrate users.
Also with Microsoft’s decision to create a universal operating system for both tablet PCs and desktop PCs alike seems to make it much more difficult for users to adapt because with Windows 8’s desktop interface, users are immersed in an environment similar to that of Windows 7; but a single ‘Windows’ key away, a completely different interface awaits.
An operating system is supposed to be invisible; much like its namesake, it should be a ‘window.’ However, with Windows 8, Microsoft is asking users to make an effort to understand and work with a completely different interface, making it much more visible to users who in the past have learnt to look past operating systems.
A major flaw in Windows 8 seems to be the fact that it sidelines the whole desktop environment to make way for a very tablet-influenced environment that depends a little too much on touch-based navigation. The design itself feels like an operating system for tablets because it forces all of its applications to run on full-screen mode that makes it difficult for desktop users to navigate between application, and even the Modern UI’s limited multi-tasking ability makes Windows 8’s focus on tablets obvious.
But what about the millions of users working on desktops, and users who work professionally on a computer, or those who use professional applications, like the Adobe Suite or 3D modeling applications like Autodesk Maya or even heavy video-editing software like Sony Vegas? Does Microsoft expect them to get more acquainted with the rudimentary Modern UI that they might not end up using at all?
All in all, Windows 8 does promise more for young home users who may have the time and patience to experiment with the new design, or for users looking for a more Apple-like clean and organized experience. Many application developers have already started jumping on the Windows 8 bandwagon with the Windows App Store offering 35,000 applications, as recorded in December of 2012.
But still, the adoption rate of Windows 8 seems slower than even that of Microsoft’s infamous Windows Vista, according to Zdnet’s online web survey conducted on November 26, which shows Windows 8’s adoption to be at 1.19% below Linux and Mac OS X as well.
Windows 8 promises to be a good operating system for tablets but does very little to entice desktop users. Maybe in the future, when all desktops come equipped with a touch screen and the mouse and the keyboard become a thing of the past, an operating system like Windows 8 would be an instant hit. But making that assumption and forcing technological evolution to touch-screens seems overly ambitious. Most of the applications used on the Windows desktop still works with a mouse and a keyboard, and the touch-screen only seems like a luxurious add-on, and Windows 8 only seems like an operating system that in a way is trying to force the hands of time.