Is Windows 8 a giant killer? Due to be released Oct. 26, Microsoft’s latest operating system is arguably its most revolutionary since the original Windows 1.0 was released in 1985. It has a totally redesigned look and feel, and is designed to work with tablets, touch-screen PCs and, of course, the traditional mouse and keyboard. It looks good, it performs well and it’s about half the price of previous versions. But is it good enough?
Microsoft dominates the PC market with some version of Windows running on more than 90 percent of all personal computers (over a billion worldwide). However, for the first time in more than a decade, sales of PCs has actually declined over the last year. That decline isn’t dramatic — not yet.
But the sale of tablet computers running Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems have skyrocketed. Android tablets and iPads have sold more than 55 million units in the U.S. alone. Apple sold more than 17 million iPads in the fiscal quarter ending June 30. Smaller and less expensive tablets like Google’s Nexus and Amazon’s Kindle fire are gaining ground. This is the market in which Microsoft hopes to compete with the release of Windows 8.
PC users have had a love-hate relationship with Microsoft’s Windows almost from day one. Each release has had multiple versions (Home, Basic, Professional, etc.) and each version has had compatibility issues. Then you had releases like Windows ME and Windows Vista, which were not well received by consumers or IT professionals.
Upgrading from one version of Windows to the next has always been problematic and usually time consuming. Programs that worked on one version didn’t always work with the newer version. There we even problems when mixing versions of Windows on a network. And, of course, there was the price. An upgrade version was less than a full version, but still cost well over $100.
Windows 8 still offers multiple versions for home and business, and some versions of Windows 7 will require a fresh install to upgrade to Windows 8 (in other words back up all your data, erase your hard drive, install the new version of Windows, reinstall all your programs, then restore your data). Many industry experts doubt consumers, much less business users, will be willing to make the effort to upgrade to this new platform, even though the price of a full retail version is expected to cost about $69 ($39 for a downloaded upgrade version).
On the plus side, Windows 8 is a very speedy and easy to use operating system. I’ve been running the consumer preview on my Mac using Parallels for a couple of months now. It boots quickly and recognizes programs installed on my Mac and other Windows partitions. Video and music playback is crisp and clear. There was no problem finding and playing music or videos stored on my Windows 7 computer, although there were some issues connecting to my network attached storage (NAS) device. Like Apple, Microsoft is linking its operating system to a Web-based account that stores your pictures, lets you send messages to your friends (who have a Microsoft account) and much more.
However, there is a rather steep learning curve with Windows 8. The ubiquitous Windows Start button is gone. In its place is a slide-out menu activated by moving your cursor to the side of the screen. The menu allows users to search, share, see connected devices and change settings. There is a Start button in this menu, but rather than the list we’re used to, we see a screen of tiles representing the apps and services available on your computer.
As I said earlier, experts figure Windows 8 is going to be a tough sell to people who currently use an earlier version of Windows. As time goes on, the option to buy a PC with Windows 7 will disappear. Quite frankly, though, even the promotional videos posted by Microsoft emphasize the touch-screen and tablet aspects of Windows 8. Whether old-fashioned mouse-and-keyboard users will take to it remains to be seen. But, once I got over the learning curve, I found I liked it well enough.