Friday, 19 October 2012

Windows 8 - Brilliant and/or Flawed?

I've been spending the last month or so working on a Windows Store app, and, as a result have installed the OS on a tablet and desktops. I'll come to telling about the app in a week or so when it's live, but the experience of using Windows 8 in anger has been interesting. And it's a tale of two halves.

On tablets, Win8 is a gamechanger. iOS is a slick OS and an iPad works great for the tasks we've grown accustomed to using a tablet for like web browsing, mail, gaming and some note-taking maybe. But how many people do you know who've ditched their MacBook and run only on an iPad? Pretty tough to do that, what with missing or hobbled key apps, small HD, no USB etc

The Win8 experience has made it possible or even likely to run a slate as your only computer. USB and HDMI out means you can plug in your monitor and keyboard, SD card slot means you can drop in another 64Gb of storage at low cost, and you have a full fat work PC. But then you come to the OS experience on a desktop. And I have to say there's a learning curve. In an attempt to develop one OS to rule them all, the erstwhile Metro UI elements mean you'll be scratching around for a while even trying to find things like Power Off and Control Panels (or maybe that was just me). Navigating the UI with a mouse is perfectly possible, but it feels like eating grains of rice with chopsticks.

In a touch environment, the whole thing makes sense. The UI makes iOS look dated, the UX elements that aggregate feeds into the Start page make life easier, and the fluid touch interactions that take some learning (from within any app, just swipe from the top of the screen to the bottom to close it) soon become intuitive. Shifting back, iOS felt clumsy, jabbing at buttons the whole time. Snap View even works well, running an app just in part of the screen while you get on with something else.

So I think Microsoft is to be applauded in trying to bridge this divide - one OS for all you do. There will be a vocal minority (majority?) who will not learn how to get the best from the OS and hate it because it's not Win7 (or even XP). But for those who give it a couple of days and realise they can run everything from one device, it's a gamechanger. Apple showed us how to build a tablet. And maybe Microsoft have shown us how it grows up.

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