I’m at the Windows 8 launch today and once again people are suggesting that this may be the last launch of an OS from Microsoft, though, frankly, I don’t see this ending anytime soon. The event itself was interesting; it had more energy than most Microsoft events have had over the years and, strangely enough, it actually adopted some of Apple’s best practices to do that. But I figured you’d like to hear what stood out about the product.
Let’s cover the three things you’ll love about Windows 8 and the one you’ll hate.
Having just left the McAfee Focus event where it was clear that any OS prior to Windows 8 is simply not secure enough, it is easy for me to gravitate here. The industry has been anticipating a catastrophic attack, calling it a “Cyber 9/11,” and the most likely platform to be hit is Windows, and the most likely method is to do something catastrophic like reformat the drives utilizing an exploit in the OS, or more likely in a seeded “free” popular application.
A few weeks back, as part of an attempt to update my beta Windows 8 tablet, I reformatted the drive. Windows 8 has a secure boot layer and this became very evident after I realized I’d just bricked the tablet. However, just to see what would happen, I tried to boot it and the system asked if I wanted to fix Windows. I said yes and about 3 minutes later everything was back. Not only would the attack McAfee demonstrated on Windows not work, but, if someone came up with one that did, it would still be a 3 minute recovery. If there is a “killer app” part of Windows 8, this quite literally may be where it resides.
One other security improvement is a picture-based gesture option that gets you into Windows much quicker.
This is really the keystone advantage of this system. It is fast; in fact, you have no real perception of how fast this is until you try it. Cold boot is in seconds, suspend resume (unless there is an app that won’t go to sleep) is like flipping a switch. Your ability to move between apps, to work with linked apps (something that will take a while to learn), search and navigate are all massively faster than it was with Windows 7. Part of this though is due to hardware as most of what is being presented is running on the latest generation of SSD drives and providing an added benefit of mobile PCs that are starting to standardize on 10-hour battery life.
With the launch of Windows 95 were a massive number of apps, and over the years since its launch these apps have largely died out. As we moved to smartphones, we became familiar with the concept of app stores where you could browse online and buy apps. This is not available in Windows, but what is interesting is that a process that takes minutes on most smartphones, takes seconds on Windows 8 because it isn’t as performance-constrained, and generally isn’t as network-constrained.
This is a curated store so you are also a bit safer than taking the risk of downloading an app from a website that might turn out to be malware. This is a huge difference in the ability to find unique apps and get them installed quickly. A number of companies have switched to using the Apple store as a major part of their internal app development and deployment effort, and now can get the same kind of experience (though likely easier) with the Windows version.
What You Won’t Like
This is a very different operating system than earlier versions of Windows. Virtually everything has been changed, which means you have to unlearn some things and get back into experiment mode to get the full advantage of the OS.
Much of the speed in navigation comes after you discover you can just type a search term from the main screen to search, and from the value of gestures and the power of the corners and Windows key. We, as humans, don’t like to relearn things and I think that even though I can see all of the changes as improvements, some massively so, most require learning to do old things in new ways, and until you do that you’ll likely struggle with this new OS.
The worst part is that kids will undoubtedly pick this up more quickly than we adults do and that can be particularly annoying (I’m pretty sure there are some kids I need to kick off my lawn).
Wrapping Up: Big Changes
I didn’t mention touch and Microsoft didn’t mention Kinect, which are both major parts of this move, and some of the best tablets showcased were developed by Microsoft. Windows 8 represents the beginning of a change that will likely eclipse the one that Windows 95 showcased. This change will not only change how we interact with the product, but change the dimensions of that interaction because this is really the first OS that anticipated Kinect and we haven’t even seen the tip of that iceberg yet.
Another area to be aware of is that this is an ecosystem product and lives under a “better together” strategy that extends from phones to the Xbox (TV) and up into the cloud. Increasingly, benefits will come from using the products together and this may be one of the strongest strategic paths for the company. Be aware that we clearly have not yet seen all of the devices yet.
Also, Microsoft named its tablets “Surface” for a reason and that reason is not yet fully evident. So think of Windows 8 as a major step in a new direction, but the major part is directional only. Microsoft clearly is anticipating accelerating into a world where keyboards and mice are only a very small part of how we interact with a platform that is increasingly differentiated by the services behind it.
Further reading on Windows 8 from our network of technology websites:
Windows 8: Is the Enterprise Ready? at eWeek
Windows 8: New Business-friendly Security Features at eSecurity Planet
Why the iPad Mini Will Sell 10x More than Surface at Datamation
Windows 8: Microsoft Keeps Small Businesses in the Loop at Small Business Computing
Building the Developer.Com Windows 8 App at Developer.com
The Best IT/User Windows 8 Feature: Windows To Go at IT Business Edge