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Published On: Wed, Sep 19th, 2012

Windows 8 review – Improved but still not the ultimate one

Before Windows 8 officially came out, it was leaking out from the labs since September 2010. The RTM or Release to Manufacturers is now out and you can also download a 90 day trial of this OS to see what it is all about. Windows 8 will easily be the world’s most installed OS in a short period. Our team had this OS for testing for a few days and here we are writing a full review about it.

Metro Interface

To start with, this new OS boots up faster than the predecessor by about 25 seconds. The manufacturer also says that it wakes up from hibernation about 35 percent faster than the Windows 7 OS. However, the biggest change here is the interface.

Windows 8 has borrowed a lot from interface of mobile devices and everything has been modified in a really good way. You now get cloud access to updates, personal files, and connectivity. All this is available in a user friendly interface.

First thing that you will notice here is the Metro start screen which is new. You will be staring at intelligent, blocky stacks while switching through the applications. The menus are accessible but they are now put on the edges of the screen. Right side has the charms bar which has all the settings, content sharing, and search in-app.

The settings are available all the time from Settings sidebar. You can swipe on the left side for the apps that are used previously. The sides, top, and bottom are dedicated to apps but I didn’t really find it intuitive. It works smoothly but there are some clunky moments and you will need some time to get used to the entire thing.

Every single block on start screen is app for quick launch and it includes old styled desktop which you will be using for traditional applications. You can’t drop them to folders but you can regroup them by just dragging on interface which continues on right and left side beyond the screen edges.

If you aren’t comfortable with the new system, there is desktop tile which brings back old school – Windows 7. Here there is the familiar taskbar, File Explorer, Internet Explorer, and Recycle Bin.

Metro Interface

Metro apps

These are Web front ends and are built using new run time APIs. All of them run on full screen and are coded with JavaScript, CSS, and HTML5. Apart from this, they also run on both processors of tablets and PCs. The traditional apps which run on old school Windows interface need to be coded separately for each architecture.

Due to common set of APIs inside, the Metro apps swap data from PC and smartphone without any configuration. This is courtesy of set of standard protocols lying inside. Now you don’t need to copy all the things to a clipboard or save to intermediary file like that on Windows 7.

Metro Apps

Start screen

Start screen on Windows 8 has borrowed a lot from Windows Phone 7. A closer look to the opening screen grab tells you that these blocks aren’t just dumb app launchers but they are also information sources. You will see recent tweets on Twitter app, all quotes on Stocks app, the temperature on weather app, etc.

New start screen is made more for people who are using it on touch screen devices. But for people who are using regular PC, there is still the traditional start menu. The implementation is done really well and both gel very well.

There is some bad news though – clicking ‘start’ from any of regular app in old style Windows OS interface will bring in Metro tiles and this is not needed if you just want to launch Excel or Word.

While testing, I thought that Microsoft is slowly pushing us to get used to Metro and they expect us to get tired of the traditional smaller apps in workspace. They think that we will eventually opt for the Metro friendly alternatives and I strongly feel that they will be successful in their endeavors.

Windows 8 is now a good mix of clickable buttons and tappable blocks. One of my office colleauge who also tested this OS said that Microsoft has replicated touch workflow with keyboard and mouse very well. The integration between the two is quite good. The tile design is made more for touch but it isn’t irritating to use it with mice.

Start screen

Multi touch gestures on the touch pad

All laptops will be having 3 default gestures – 2 finger scroll, edge swiping, and pinch to zoom. Through edge swiping lets you activate edges on the non touch screen PCs apart from using mouse.

Internet Explorer 10

This Web browser works well in both the halves of Windows 8 OS but differently. However, in Metro incarnation, the plug ins are dumped for pure HTML5.  Microsoft says that this is done to improve the battery, reliablity, security, consumers’ privacy, etc. This means there is no Active X, Silverlight, and Flash. If you need them, then you will have to use the desktop version or switch to a site which does not need legacy support. Adobe will frown here because Flash is now further marginalized on the tablets.

In standard use, the sites load up fast and you get to pin them to Start Screen in the form of tiles. There is new interface too having location bar on bottom and bigger thumbnails on the top for open tabs. You can tap on location bar for searching or for seeing the pinned sites, favorites, or pages which are visited frequently.

Internet Explorer 10

Control panel and preferences

There is a Metro version which is touch friendly and it opens up core functions in one bold interface. There is also the older Windows 7 type control panel for classic users.

There is also settings over lay on start menu inside Metro side of this OS. This can be used for fixing volume, brightness, network access, etc.

Control Panel

Task manager

If you go in to the older Windows style, then all the improvements are inside there. Here, you don’t get to launch any of the apps unless you are hunting them down using Windows Explorer. You will need to keep them mounted permanently on task bar or clutter the desktop with a lot of shortcuts. However, when you click on ‘start’, you go to Metro tiles and your best move here is to start typing fast. A search box will pop and read all the keywords and then narrow down the results list real time. From here, you get to click ones that you want.

Task manager

Task manager now has a new look and it is there in two forms now – dirty and quick panel. The former kills the unresponsive apps. There is also a diagnostics tools which identifies the problems and solves them. The applications and processes are now split in groups and the inactive Metro tiles are marked suspended.

You get to organize all the processes – dormant and active – according to the consumption of memory,  processor power, network bandwidth, and disk space. The apps which are using a lot of resources come with dark backgrounds and this makes it easy to identify which process is hogging the resources of your computer.

Windows 8 Task Manager

Conclusion

To conclude, I would say that Windows 8 OS gives you great value. Pricing isn’t out yet but rumours say that if you have Windows XP, Vista, or 7, then you will have to pay $40 for an upgrade in US. Considering the upgrades in speed and security along with better utility and driver support, the price is well worth it.

Apart from all this, Microsoft has done well to unifying computing on tablets and PCs in a very cohesive way. It is really quick and all the apps are presented in original manner which avoids any repetitiveness of iOS and Android and you get connected to the Internet in a great way.

There is a learning curve involved but there are also a lot of similarities between Windows 8 and Windows 7 and hence the transition will be smooth. I would recommend you to go for an upgrade but this OS still isn’t the ultimate one; Microsoft can do better.

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