The Windows 8 RTM (Release to Manufacturer) build has been available to technology professionals now for several weeks, and I recently took the plunge by installing it on my Dell Inspiron 1500 laptop. Even though my Inspiron was sold as a “Windows 8-ready” laptop, it definitely wasn’t ready for the RTM build. Despite repeated attempts to upgrade the existing Windows 7 installation (a path most folks will likely take), I ended up wiping out the entire OS and installed Windows 8 from scratch.
First, say something positive…
First impressions are important, and let me tell you, the new Windows 8 user interface is eye-popping and unlike anything you’ve seen on a desktop OS. Versions of this UI have been evolving on Windows Phones, the Xbox 360 and the Zune for months, and the designers behind the look of the OS have clearly been working very hard, and to great effect. The Windows 8 interface is a stark contrast to the shiny, chromed look of Windows 7 or OS X, using bold colors and geometric shapes in what they are calling a “tile” based interface.
It’s engaging, intuitive, and not as huge a paradigm shift in how we work as you might think. On the whole, the new OS ran as fast or faster than the previous install of Windows 7, and even though my laptop did not have a touch-enabled screen, I was able to navigate around the new interface comfortably after spending a few hours familiarizing myself without how it works.
…There’s a “but” and it’s a big one.
If Windows 8 blows your mind with its look and feel out of the gate, be prepared to have some of that wind sucked right back out of your sails. Windows 8 maybe ready for its close-up, but the rest of the world isn’t quite ready for it. Knowing this, Microsoft actually did the only thing it could do: incorporate large chunks of Windows 7 into 8 so as to maintain backwards compatibility with its gigantic (and predominantly slow-to-change) user base. This “layering” of two different OS’s will be a tremendous struggle for the average user, and it’s even a bit of a headache for seasoned technology professionals. In a nutshell, either your applications are designed for and run in Windows 8, or they run in the “desktop” layer, which is essentially a stripped down version of Windows 7. Some of them, like Google’s Chrome or even Microsoft’s own Internet Explorer, run in both environments, but they don’t use the same settings, nor do they communicate with each other! Say, for example, you have Chrome open in the desktop environment. Windows 8 alerts you via audible beep that new email has come in on your Hotmail account (which has it’s own app in Windows 8), so you punch the Windows key on your keyboard to bring up the tile interface. After reading the email, you punch the “Chrome” tile on the start page, thinking to go back to your surfing session in Chrome. Nope, that tile opens the Windows 8 version of Chrome with a blank window. To get back to your desktop session, you have to Alt-tab to the other Chrome window. As you can imagine, this will continue to be confusing until the majority of your applications live entirely in the Windows 8 world, and the desktop environment fades into memory.
What this means for you:
Unless you have a compelling reason to do so, avoid installing Windows 8 on any work computer for the time being, as at minimum you’ll be frustrated and slowed down by the awkward transition phase the new OS will be going through for the next 12-18 months. When ordering new machines, make sure (if the option is even available) to “downgrade” the installed OS to Windows 7. If you really want to try out the new Windows 8, think about purchasing a Surface tablet (arriving later this month) or installing it on a non-essential computer so you can take your time to learn the new OS without hampering your ability to get work done. If you really want to take the plunge, make sure your critical business applications and platforms can work with the new OS, and be prepared for a period of reduced productivity as you and your employees adjust to the new OS.