Before you do a double take and check which website you’re on, it’s ok….. you’re on Macstarter.com. The purpose of today’s article is to put down my thoughts on Microsoft’s newest OS, and in the process learn something about our Macs.
First, a brief history lesson. My first computer was a Commodore 64 – a thing of real beauty. During my university days, I got to use some IBM XT-8086 machines. Ugly as anything to look at, but they got the job done. While training to become a teacher, I got to use a few Apple Macs. My favourite was the Mac classic, by far. The all in one design, the beautiful operating system, the great hardware and the ease that I could do things just did it for me.
After this, I didn’t really have a computer until the late 90′s, when I bought an Asus laptop. It came loaded with Windows 98, which very quickly was updated to Windows ME and then Windows XP. That was in 1998. The funny thing is, to the present day, whenever I’ve needed to fire up Windows (in VirtualBox) it’s been Windows XP I’ve used. I’ve managed to side step the disaster that was Windows Vista, and not use Windows 7. So, I decided to install a fresh copy of Windows 8 on VirtualBox, mainly for testing purposes with a view that it could become my Windows installation when I need to use a program that isn’t Mac compatible.
The first thing that you will notice when you install Windows 8 is how radically different it is from previous versions of Windows. The Metro User Interface (which is now called Modern UI) is a bold attempt to refresh the Windows interface. Based on “live tiles”, the idea is that you can catch up on things such as email, messages, calendars and other things without having to fire up any apps. For a tablet, this UI is a great innovation. It mimics a home screen of an iPad or iPhone quite well, and although I haven’t been near a Surface tablet yet, I can just imagine that swiping across the screen would come quite naturally. But in my opinion, using a mouse / trackpad to navigate through the tiles doesn’t translate as well.
You’ll notice that one of tiles is the button for the Windows Desktop. Clicking on this takes you to a traditional looking Desktop.
There’s not that much different about this desktop from previous versions of windows. Basically there’s very little difference between Windows 7 and 8 in this respect. The biggest change you’ll notice is that the start button is now gone. Hover your mouse in the bottom left corner of the screen, and you’ll see the Start Page appear as a small icon. Clicking that will get you back to the Modern UI (or live tiles) page.
It’s worth mentioning here that Windows 8 feels like it was made for a tablet. The big bold design is perfect for fingers. A mouse just feels a little clunky in there. Which then leads me to wonder why something designed for tablets would have a traditional Desktop view. And here we come to the heart of the matter. Before the iPhone (and iPad), manufacturers would try to squeeze a full operating system onto portable devices. Window CE was found on a host of PDA’s, and GPS navigation systems. The sheer silliness of using a stylus and clicking on a tiny Start Button are memories I’m trying my best to forget. When Apple released the iPhone, one of the biggest surprises was that their OS X would NOT be on the phone. Instead, we got a completely redesigned system made just for the iPhone. Many questioned whether that was a wise move on Apple’s part, but subsequent years and iPhone models later, we now know that mobile and touch devices shouldn’t run full Desktop environments.
And this is where Windows 8 feels confusing and upsetting. On the Start Page, clicking on the weather App opens it up in full screen mode. On a phone or tablet this is normal behaviour. On a 15″ MacBook Pro it just fills the screen up with empty space. Most apps on the Start Page open like this, and for my taste, it doesn’t quite work on a computer.
Moving to the Desktop, there’s not much of a change from previous windows. Microsoft have opted to go bold in this version. Bevels, highlights, and all types of shiny-ness have been removed from all windows. This has quite a jarring effect on the viewer. Whereas the Mac uses shadows to depict a window being on top of another, Windows 8 doesn’t have any. When you have a stack of windows on top of each other, it can get near impossible to discern what’s what. Say what you will about Apple and it’s Skeuomorphism elements, I believe that users need visual clues as to where they are and what they are doing.
Windows comes with its own App Store, the Windows Marketplace. It very much follows the Mac’s App Store’s lead, but I found the layout to spacey. By that I mean you have to scroll through a huge number of screens before I could find anything. Of course, the Marketplace isn’t as established as Apple’s, so the choice was certainly not as extensive.
All in all, my experience with Windows 8 has been mixed. I love the fact that Microsoft have been incredibly brave with a brand new interface and tried to rethink their operating system. But in my opinion, trying to squeeze the same operating system onto tablets and PC’s is not going to work. If the iPhone and iPad have shown us anything, it that people need something different when they sit at a desk with a PC and when they sit on a sofa with a tablet. Unless Microsoft are hedging their bets and trying to position their brand on both the desk and the sofa, their tablets are simply going to be viewed as watered down laptops that are easier to carry. iPad’s sell by the truckload daily, simply because you, I, our parents, our grandparents and the youngest of children can pick them and use them without any training. The learning curve for Windows 8 was too much for me at time, and I had to google certain things before I could proceed to use it. I can’t imagine young children being able to do that on a Surface tablet.
In the next few months, we’ll see what Windows 8 sells like. Millions, billions. Thousands. But Microsoft is in a position of power. Billions of PCs around the world run Windows XP, Windows Vista and 7. Microsoft will make their money on licensing those OS’s, as well as Office. Having given Windows 8 a runaround, I can safely say I’m thankful for bevel edged windows, drop shadows and crystal clear fonts. I love that Apps can be windowed and turned full screen. I love my keyboard shortcuts, springy folders and uncluttered Finder windows.