Apple has dominated the ‘cool’ factor in the computer industry for years, and Microsoft is well aware it can’t compete directly, so what it has done with 8 (and the Xbox 360 dashboard and Windows phones, lest we forget), is make a visual statement of its own.
Right angles are nothing new – think back to Windows 95 and remember the blockiness of edges – but to follow a design concept all the way through has taken courage on Microsoft’s part. The result is ‘Metro’, or what was referred to as ‘Metro’ until they decided to do away with a name altogether, a regimented yet customisable layout in bold colours.
Of course, appearances are always just the tip of the iceberg, and since consumers willing to give 8 a closer look are not likely to be convinced by style over substance, the OS needs to have the talk to accompany its fancy new trousers.
The functionality of how the system works changes from the outset, with an immediate link to your Windows Live ID or Hotmail login (though local logins are still available, if you can find them). From here the first thing desktop fans will notice is the missing start menu.
The multi-coloured and multi-tiled start screen stands proudly in its place, luckily still connected to that Windows key on your keyboard which you may be fond of. The first few hours spent with Windows 8 will most likely be spent getting to grips with where the start menu items you know and love have run off too.
At first the logic is frustrating, but soon you find yourself being able to combine the functionality of multiple programs with ease and the benefits of 8 start to shine. Menus are hidden on virtually on every side of the screen, with the most useful being the ‘Charms’ menu on the right, which gives you instant access to Search, Share, Start, Devices and Settings, most of which adapt and change depending on what you can see on the main window.
A handy example of the functionality is that you can set a picture as your lock screen and in the same breath share it with your admirers online. Depending on how connected you are with your online world makes a massive difference to how helpful you will find many features of 8.
What 8 really gives you is a strong starting point. At present, the App Store is limited – particularly for third party sites and software, Facebook and Google are conspicuous by their near-absence. Also Microsoft’s own services are still struggling to pull together, in the long run the ‘live’ brand will cease to be and the consistency of the own-brand offerings will mean they all tie together seamlessly.
Admittedly, the first party apps on show so far, whose instant updates make up many of the almost uncomfortably transfixing ‘Live Tiles’, are impressive, and the system itself is quick and responsive.
That said, it’s clear that the interface was designed for touch input. Navigating around with the mouse can be clunky, occasionally needing pinpoint accuracy to make something appear and then not immediately sink into the background once more.
After the initial setting up, customising, and getting used to not having the one-stop-shop of a start menu, you quickly find things begin to make sense. The programs which you would have used on the desktop before are still there, but the Windows 8 interface mops up all the other bits and pieces which can take time like checking email, messaging, or stalking people on Facebook (now you can do Facebook, Twitter and others all from one screen).
At the current upgrade price of £25 from Microsoft it’s difficult to say no. Make full use of the compatibility program on offer, which automatically determined if programs will need to be re-installed, to minimise fuss, and perform a full back up – just in case.
The infrastructure which Microsoft has put in place is one which strives on its simplicity, and provides a platform to build on with more of a lean towards user-friendly operation than ever before. Once more big names get on board with apps of their own it will undoubtedly be a far more flexible experience, but right now is the perfect time to give it a try and get used to it before you have too many complicated new toys to play about with.
James Michael Parry
And now for a nonsensical trailer…