Just yesterday, Microsoft showed off some of the new features of "Windows 8" at the CES, including an all-new touch-friendly interface. Is this radical change a natural evolution of Windows, or is Microsoft pulling another Windows Phone 7? Here, I'll outline some of the major changes as well as my own thoughts about them.
The first thing you'll notice about Windows 8 is its all-new finger-friendly user interface, which should look familiar enough to anyone who's seen Windows Phone 7. This makes using Windows on a touchscreen device extremely intuitive, and puts the most important stuff right in your face when you first turn your computer on. The classic Windows Explorer user interface – with a ribbon in folder windows – is also available, in order to allow older programs to run.
What does this mean to the average Joe? More Windows-powered devices, including thin, light, and energy-efficient tablets that previously could only run Android, energy-saving thin clients, and battery-sipping laptops.
It used to be that the next version of Windows slowed your computer down to a crawl and mandated expensive hardware upgrades. While this is inevitable to some extent, the fact that Windows 8 is designed to run on low-power ARM tablets should say something about its performance on existing PCs. That new Core i3 just might last you longer than you expected.
Full-screen Apps: Tools or Toys?
Windows 8 seems to be designed with the "one app at a time" paradigm, with rich, beautiful, graphically-intensive applications taking up the entire work area. This is great for smaller tablet screens, and looks impressive on bigger screens... more on this later. It's possible to multitask by just sliding your finger (or mouse pointer) inwards to "dock" apps to the sides and thus have instant access to vital information.
On the downside, this seems like a technological regression. I use 3 monitors and regularly juggle windows back and forth. While making many "tiles" is quite convenient on a single large monitor, I have no idea how well this will play out with multiple screens at different positions. The whole point of a larger monitor isn't to stare at bigger pictures – it's to fit more work in. Thankfully, Windows 8 still provides the mouse-and-keyboard-friendly Explorer interface as a choice.
Let's face it: this is probably the biggest change in the Windows user interface since Windows 95. Unlike Windows 95, though, this one seems to simplify the user interface to an almost no-brain-required simplicity, which has its merits and pitfalls.
And myself? I'm pretty excited, but also a bit humbled. It's a new Windows world out there, and that means it's time to update my programming skills to match the new architecture. If I'm lucky, I'll get my hands on a pre-release copy and then I'll do a full review.