Microsoft has recently gone full bore with the launch of their new Windows 8 operating system. In fact when I make IT purchases from our vendors it’s very hard to find a computer with Windows 7 on it anymore. The systems are loaded with a downgrade but the restore DVDs are Windows 8. They are blanketing the TV and pop culture with creative ads for their Windows 8 powered tablet. The Surface isn’t the only Windows 8 tablet on the market, though. Windows, being Windows, means you have a good selection of hardware from a handful of different vendors. Reviews have been mixed but generally positive. Windows 8 is a big departure from versions in the past but represents, what I believe, the future of computing.
I’m not discrediting the success of the iPad and Android powered tablets. The iPad itself has defined and pushed the move from PC computing to tablets. They are the very reason a lot of what Windows 8 has come about. Speculation of course. But why should we be paying so much attention to Windows 8? What about it makes it the next step in computing? The answer is very plain but often lost in a sea of glittery interfaces and apps.
You have a tablet
I’ve seen it written in reviews that the biggest thing you have to remember when using Windows 8 is that it’s not a tablet. This is only a half truth. A tablet running Windows 8 is still very much a tablet, but it’s so much more. The start menu design of Windows 8 gives you a wonderful user interface that differs from the static swipe and slide based menus we’ve seen so far. Live tiles are an innovation in themselves. Seeing quick snippets of information relevant to you at a fast glance is critical when scanning a tablet menu. Calendar events, recent emails and social media interactions all flip in pleasant graphical form. Many of the apps themselves run and load the same way.
When you live on the “start menu” (traditional speak) you live on a tablet. Complete touch integration and action all meets the things we’ve come to expect that tablets do. Windows 8 takes off where Windows Phone 7 started and lets you get in and out of what you’re doing fast. Integrating your chats and SMS into one section, all your social feeds into one and contacts another makes finding things fast. The interface flows effortlessly and is easy for someone with simple technical skill to figure out. There are many features to list but they aren’t any different then what other tablets offer on the market. Where Windows 8 shines as a tablet (and on the mobile) is SkyDrive. Signing in using your Windows Live account gives you access to a roaming profile service that takes your personal information with you. Documents, pictures and other important things are kept on the cloud. Accessible anytime, anywhere. The concept is a difficult one to explain to people who haven’t used it but it speaks volumes to those who have.
With a huge assortment of apps from games to editing to news and weather, Windows 8 is a fully featured tablet operating system. But, as I said before, it’s also more than that.
You get a PC
I have often wondered about using an iPad as a replacement for my laptop. Something far lighter and more portable to handle 90% of the tasks I do on my laptop. I know I’m not the only one who has considered this. Sadly the iPad in truth makes a poor replacement for a laptop. It has some of the productivity functions needed but there are still gaps that only a laptop can fill. One of those is the desktop. Another is access to a file system. Windows 8 gives you both. While you can spend most of your time living in the graphical world of “tablet” Windows 8 you can just as quickly move to “PC” Windows 8. A full desktop brimming with all the functionality of a more traditional Windows installation waits. The productivity you missed on other tablets isn’t missed in Windows 8. My first impression of being able to tweak the operating system and run through the local network shares with only a few taps was a huge leap for me. Navigating this part of Windows 8 is a bit tricky with purely touch but the built in track-pad and keyboard on the Surface cover more than make up for that. Plus, you can always plug in a USB mouse. That’s right, USB.
The real “all-in-one”
This is why Windows 8 should be taken seriously. It does what nothing else does but all of what they do at the same time. With a tablet running Windows 8 you don’t need to lug around a bag carrying a Laptop, iPad and an e-reader. It takes all the computing platforms we have and merges them into one tablet. A true laptop replacement with the ease and navigability of a tablet. It may take consumers a bit to break free from the glitter of marketing hype before they realize it, but, Windows 8 truly is the future of personal computing. Nobody else has anything like it.