Windows 8 is the latest version of Microsoft's Windows operating system. Introduced in September 2011 and released for general availability in October 2012, Windows 8 has a number of key differences to Windows 7 and earlier versions of Windows. The most immediately obvious changes affect the UI; Windows 8 has a new interface that's been significantly altered.
The new Windows 8 interface was created with touchscreen device compatibility in mind. This means that users will be able to control Windows 8 applications using gestures. Although Windows 7 did provide support for touch, this was limited. Windows 8 attempts to rectify this, providing an interface that's intended to be as easy to use with touchscreen technology as with a traditional keyboard and mouse.
The addition of expanded touch support is an important feature of Windows 8, as the new OS will be rolled out on Microsoft's various tablet PCs and other touch-enabled devices. User reports indicate that the touch functionality is well-realized and has been successfully integrated into the OS.
Farewell to Aero
The move away from Microsoft's Aero glass-style interface brings a major change to the look and feel of Windows 8. In 2003, when Aero was introduced, translucent "glass" effects were hugely popular; this style was led to a great degree by Apple. By 2009, when Windows 7 was released, the Aero effect had been added to almost every element of the Windows UI. Aero was fairly popular with users, many of whom appreciated its light, airy feel.
While visually appealing, however, Aero proved deleteriously inefficient and power-hungry. The rounded shapes, layers of translucent color, faux-reflections and highlights demanded significantly more electricity to process than simple flat color. While perfectly appropriate for a desktop-oriented operating system, Aero was found to take a heavy toll on the battery life of mobile devices. For this reason, Aero has been scrapped in favor of a crisp, Metro-style interface using squared corners and flat colors to reduce processing power and conserve battery life.
Instead of booting to the familiar Desktop with the Start button in the left-hand corner, Windows 8 takes the user to a new Start Screen. Live tiles allow you to launch applications and if you're using an application that requires it, you'll be taken to the Desktop. You can also access the Desktop by clicking the Desktop tile in the Start screen. Here you'll find the recycling bin and other desktop items.
The Metro-style live tiles are rectangular blocks on the screen. They are colored according to the application they are associated with. You'll see tiles for the Control Panel, for Internet Explorer and for other commonly-used applications and programs. If you can't immediately see the application you want, you can access more tiles by scrolling across the screen.
A major innovation for Windows 8 is the introduction of what Microsoft is terming "Charms". Charms are accessed by moving the mouse to the right-hand margin of the screen; or, on a touchscreen device, by sweeping a finger from the right to the left. The Charms allow you to access important Windows functions.
One of the Charms lets you access the Start Screen; you can also bring this up by using the physical Windows 8 button or key. The Charms are contextual, offering different options depending on what application you are currently using when you access them. Other Charms include:
- Search, which lets you looks for programs, files and folders on your computer;
- Settings, which allows you to adjust settings such as the sound volume and monitor brightness, as well as tell your device when to hibernate and which battery power plan to use;
- Devices, which enables you to connect to and interact with other devices;
- Share, which facilitates the sharing of documents, images and other material.
The Share Charm is particularly interesting: accessed from within a social networking application, such as Facebook on a Web browser, Share can allow you to share a file using that application more easily. The Share Charm is one way in which Windows 8 emphasizes social applications, networking and interactivity over traditional computer use.
Search and Social
The Search menu is also accessible via the main Start Screen. A search box opens and you can find what you're looking for by typing a term into the box.
As with other Windows 8 functionality, the Search function is contextual: if you're currently using a word processing application such as Microsoft Word, for example, Search will attempt to find text documents. If you're currently browsing a social network, Windows 8's Search function makes it easy to find people by typing a name into the text field.
It's worth noting here that Windows 8 supports several widely-used social networking platforms natively, making them very easy to launch and use. These include Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. The Windows 8 interface makes it simple to check for updates to all your social networking feeds.
Windows 8 represents a radical departure from traditional desktop computing. Some adopters may initially feel rather "at sea" with the new interface; however, user reports indicate that after a period of adjustment, it's reasonably easy to master. Tablet and touchscreen device users in particular will find the UI accessible and intuitive. As computing expands beyond the desktop, new approaches will be needed; Windows 8, while not perfect, is a step towards a new kind of computing.
Jamie Cody is an admin over at centernetworks and writes about finance, start-ups, and services like 1and1 reviews and other hosting solutions.