The software giant Microsoft is on course to reinvent its core software, Windows, for the modern era. Windows 8 changes Windows entirely, yet leaves it untouched in some key ways.
According to recent statistics, close to 90% of today’s computers run some version of Windows. While that guarantees Microsoft a certain level of success no matter what happens, no one wants another Windows Vista, which was plagued with issues ever since it launched in 2006, and never achieved the adoption of its predecessor, Windows XP.
Windows 8 is a bold step forward for Microsoft, since the experience on mobile devices — specifically, tablets — was a key part of its inception. While there currently aren’t any Windows tablets with significant market share, Windows 8 will finally give them an operating system tailored to their touchscreens and low-power needs, potentially breaking that market wide open.
Here’s what you need to know about Windows 8, including a few details you may not have noticed yet.
Windows 8 is a top-to-bottom rethinking of Windows. It looks and works differently than any version of Windows ever made. The idea was to create a version of Windows that was just as friendly to touchscreen devices like tablets as it was to traditional desktop PCs with mice and keyboards.
The new interface is called Metro, and its overall aesthetic and functionality is very similar to Microsoft’s mobile operating system, Windows Phone. The Metro interface is centered around touch-friendly “tiles,” instead of files, folders and icons. The traditional desktop is still part of Windows 8, however, and users will be able to toggle between it and Metro with a single click.
Microsoft is very aware of the growing importance of mobile devices in “personal computing.” But unlike Apple, Microsoft doesn’t have a strong mobile platform to build on; the original Windows Mobile phones are almost phased out, and the relatively new Windows Phone platform is barely out of the gate.
Although the iPad is dominant in tablets, the market is still growing. At the same time, traditional PCs (laptops and desktops) are relatively stagnant. Windows 8 is a long-term bid by Microsoft to leverage its powerful position in PCs, and to to create an strong ecosystem for tablets while simultaneously re-imagining its core software to be more in line with today’s consumer needs.
Metro has much more in common with the tile-based Windows Phone interface than the familiar desktop. You launch apps by clicking (or touching) tiles, and those apps take up the full screen. Microsoft apps — like Internet Explorer — are still there, but re-imagined for the interface. Gone are the pull-down menus of yore, replaced with big, clear labels and “charms,” basically function menus that you can call up with a right-click or finger swipe.
When you really need those files and folders, the familiar desktop is still there, accessible with a single click. In fact, you can use a Windows 8 machine entirely in “legacy” mode, never turning on Metro, if you wish.
Windows 8 will only feed Metro to a single display (the primary one). Other screens get the traditional desktop.
Windows 8 is designed for sharing, and apps can tell the OS that there’s something to share via a “contract.” When Windows 8 sees the contract, it’ll add the app’s icon to the Share menu, which is available in every app. Icons for Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn all ready from every app.
Contracts also work with search. If your app tells the OS that it has searchable content, it’ll show up in your search menu, letting you search solely for content that that particular app touches.