Windows 8: Jack of all Touches
It’s almost like, with Windows 8, Microsoft has clobbered together two completely different operating systems. On the one had there’s the traditional Desktop mode, which works and behaves a lot like Windows 7 - except it’s not quite as convenient or as pretty, thanks to its lack of Aero.
While we’re talking negatives, it would have been nice to see native DVD playback and the continued evolution of Media Centre, a half-competent office suite like with the RT version (we’re not asking for Office 2013 to be bundled with Windows 8 X86, but OpenOffice is free after all so surely Microsoft could manage something better than an ad-supported imitation), and more control over the size and colour of tiles.
However, on the bright side Windows 8 is noticeably faster than Windows 7, especially on older hardware. Everything from games to power-hungry programs runs just as smoothly as your PC will allow. It can eke out more battery life, great for mobile X86 devices that just don’t run that long away from a socket. It has newer drivers, giving better device support out of the box. It offers better synchronisation both with your other Windows 8 devices and with the cloud. It gives you more advanced, customisable profiles. And it offers a lot more features in many areas.
Windows 8 Loves Tablets
What really makes or break Windows is touch. It was inevitable that Microsoft would end up with a frankenstein OS on its hands, as on the one hand it needed to provide an X86 operating system with a touch-friendly, app-oriented interface for tablets, touch-enabled all-in-one PCs and laptops, while on the other it couldn’t risk completely alienating existing users who were after a more traditional environment sans touch.
All this considered, Microsoft has done an admirable job. We only wish it had given us the option to make the Windows 8 Desktop just a little more yet like that of its predecessor, rather than forcing users to employ hacks or third-party software.
Mind you, if you are new to Windows and especially if you’re using a tablet, you’re unlikely to care if you ever see the Desktop. What Windows 8 has done with its new Start screen and tile interface is create an attractive, comprehensive and fairly easy to use touch system that generally works well and does so without obviously stealing its style or ideas from rivals. There might be a slightly steeper learning curve than with Android or iOS, but Windows 8 also offers more potential and many advantages - not least of which is its comprehensive stylus support.
Windows 8: Worth the Upgrade?
So is Windows 8 worth upgrading to if you’re happy with Windows 7? Probably not. But then again, if you’re willing to put a little effort in there’s scant reason not to upgrade, either - especially as Microsoft has confirmed a supremely affordable download upgrade price of a mere £24, or £14 if you’ve bought a new Windows 7 device since the second of June 2012. A full retail 'hard' copy, meanwhile, is likely to set you back around £50.
Whether you love or hate Windows 8, a lot will depend on how quickly software companies transfer to using Microsoft’s Windows Store for their products. If a piece of software you really want for your Windows PC isn’t available outside of this delivery system, whether you like the new OS or not becomes somewhat moot.
It’s the same story if you’re thinking of buying another Windows 8 device - whether that’s a smartphone running Windows Phone 8, a tablet running Windows RT, or even another PC or laptop with Windows 8 Pro. Like Apple, Microsoft is creating its own all-encompassing eco-system, and once you’re in...
Considering the challenge of making an operating system that would work as well for a tablet or other touch device as your average desktop PC, Microsoft has done an admirable job with Windows 8.
There are times when the complex innards break through its slick tile interface and we could have wished for a little more familiarity in its classical Desktop mode, but these are minor blemishes on what is generally a very slick OS. Throw in the fact that it not only performs every bit as well as Windows 7 but also runs smoother on older machines while potentially increasing battery life, and Windows 8 is a worthy upgrade - though it really does want touch to get the most out of it.