The only constant in life is change, and the digital world is no exception. Just when you get the hang of one operating system and start to think you’re pretty smart they go and change everything. Just to keep you on your toes. Apple does it. Facebook does it. Google+ just did it, and now Microsoft is getting on the band wagon. The creators of the Nike slogan would be so proud.
Having not been one of the millions of consumers who consider Apple to be the greatest thing since the dawn on internet, I’ve stuck to my guns and remained a loyal Microsoft user. Yes I get a lot of slack from the majority of my friends and colleagues who worship the very ground the new Apple iPad is displayed on, but I like the way Microsoft works. I know where everything is and how to use it.
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Well, that’s all gone right out the window as Microsoft is about to launch Windows 8. Rob Bernstein, expert and consultant in the field, shares his insights into what the new operating system means for the next generation of the Microsoft consumer market.
What is Windows 8?
Windows 8 is the next version of the Windows operating system which is expected to be released in October 2012. A consumer evaluation beta was made available last month and it goes without saying that it’s faster and better than any previous version of Windows, but that’s not its raison d’être.
The reasoning behind Windows 8 is to provide a single operating system which will run on all devices. These would include smart phones, tablets, laptops and tower PCs. The look and feel of the user interface would be identical on all of these devices.
But why fix something that isn’t broken?
While Microsoft has monopoly in the PC business market, it has been less than successful in the cellphone and tablet consumer markets. The reason for this is very simple.
The popular cell phones and tablets do not have a keyboard or mouse. Sure, BlackBerrys have a keypad — but not for too much longer as pressure from the big dogs in the market is pushing RIM to move over to a new look.
With the current version of Windows a keyboard and mouse are mandatory, so it doesn’t cut it in the consumer market. Hence introducing a totally new interface for Windows 8. It is designed around having a touch screen which is sensitive to taps and swipes in the same way the iPhone or Android phone is.
So this is good. Right?
If the objective is to take over the consumer keyboardless device market, then it’s not only right, it is the only option.
In its current state, Windows 8 boots to a touchscreen friendly Chiclet button screen. Everything runs in a full screen mode and windows cannot be rubberbanded or resized, which is all very appropriate to working with a 7” screen.
But it is NOT appropriate when one is working a 3 x 20” screen desktop via keyboard and mouse. Unfortunately, Microsoft has made it less than friendly as to how one navigates around the new interface when using keyboard and mouse. It has removed the old comfortable start menu and replaced it with a difficult to use start screen.
Gone are the days of user-friendly start menus.
No longer do you have a desktop covered with all your familiar icons which can be clicked to fire up an application at a whim.
Instead of being able to run an application via a click or two, one now has to change screens and either type part of the application name or scroll horizontally across numerous icons. Inconvenient yes, but even more so when your memory is bad and you can’t remember the application name.
‘Hotspots’ have been placed in the corners of the screen design with the aim to aid navigation, however they are pretty difficult to find to start off with, and once you manage to track them down they provide to be even more difficult to use. Some of the users on the beta system struggled for hours to try to even locate where they were.
Not too good on the user-friendly scale.
It’s non-negotiable. In order to remain competitive in the growing consumer market Windows 8 has to happen. Microsoft needs penetrate the consumer smart phone & tablet markets else they face the scary reality of hearing a graveyard with the likes of DOS.
One thing Microsoft should bear in mind, is that in order not to alienate the millions (yes Apple-drone, there are millions of us!) of loyal Microsoft users who are used to and comfortable with the old operating system, Windows 8 needs to become keyboard/mouse friendly to be accepted in its conventional markets.