Windows 8 was originally released to manufacturing on August 1, 2012 to general disappointment and condemnation. The primary problem with this new release is its major shift to a tablet-style interface. In this brief review, I am not going to touch on Windows 8 RT as that is not the OS that people will be using in a business environment and, honestly, it holds no interest for me. For a low-powered, tablet-only interface, I am very happy with Android. We will quickly review the original Windows 8 Pro release and then look at the preview release of Windows 8.1 Pro.
Windows 8 Pro
The core of Windows 8 Pro interface is the Metro screen that Windows now boots into instead of the desktop. This screen consists of “tiles” that can show live information or simply be links to applications that run full screen. Navigation is accomplished by swiping on the screen and clicking on objects…..very intuitive for a tablet but extremely clumsy when using a mouse. Honestly, even if I had a touch screen monitor on my desktop or laptop, I can’t imagine stretching my arm out to reach the monitor all day simply to start applications.
Due to the almost universal disdain for the new interface, add-ons are available to bring back most of the standard Windows desktop experience. I have been running StartMenu8 on my laptop and it has returned the functionality required to make my laptop usable. However, it is not exactly like earlier Windows desktops and it adds a significant amount of time to start up.
Another issue I have with Metro is that all these apps run full screen and there is no obvious way to shut them down when you are done. Windows 8 does suspend apps when they are not in the foreground and is supposed to be able to shut them down automatically if resources are needed elsewhere but I personally prefer to actively shut down an application when I am done using it. The keyboard shortcuts (alt-tab to switch between running apps and alt-F4 to stop the active app) work but are not known by most users used to using the X or file-close commands.
Just recently I purchased a Samsung Ativ tablet and have been using it with Windows 8 Pro. This experience shows how Windows 8 was designed to work and I am very happy with it on a tablet. Honestly, I would say this is the best tablet interface I have experienced. Unfortunately, I cannot do my work on a tablet and Windows 8 is not an acceptable interface for a desktop or non-touch laptop. At this time, we cannot recommend the use of Windows 8 on business desktops and have been recommending our clients remain on Windows 7.
Windows 8.1 Preview
Microsoft has recently released a preview of Windows 8.1 and I have installed it on a laptop to assess whether we can recommend a move to Windows 8.1 when it moves into production later this year (MS target is for August). Some of the key changes are:
1.) The most significant in my mind is the ability to boot directly to the desktop and bypass the Metro screen entirely. This should make new users more comfortable but is not a complete fix as the full Start Menu has not been restored.
2.) You can also now configure the Metro screen to show a list of all applications rather than live tiles and sort them in a variety of ways. The two most notable are listing desktop apps (like Office) first or list by most frequently used first (my current choice).
3.) Finally, there is a menu you can get to by right-clicking the apps button that provides some of the functionality previously available through the start button. It is by no means a restoration of the old Start Menu but is it helpful.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that the original release of Windows 8 was a horrible idea and NOT something we or our clients would find useful on their business desktop. Windows 8.1 appears to be on the path to allow business use without too large a learning curve or annoyance factor. However, we are awaiting the final release before deciding whether we can recommend it for use in a business environment.
For a deeper review of the Windows 8.1 preview, please see Preston Gralla’s excellent article Windows 8.1 deep-dive review: Well, it’s a start on Computer World.