Windows 8 doesn’t matter just because it’s the next operating system coming from Microsoft. No, Windows 8 matters because it’s going to entirely change the way we interact with our PCs. It will be available in three different versions and it will run on laptops, desktops, and tablets. And of course, it features a brand new interface – codenamed “Metro” with support (done right, this time) for touch-based input.
Touch done right. The Metro UI steals elements from Microsoft’s mobile operating system — Windows Phone (which, incidentally, is also getting a refresh). The OS is built around “live tiles” that allow you to see information like your inbox, the weather, your calendar, investments, and more, all at a glance without opening any apps. You can click any element to view the full app, and the experience will be (mostly) seamless across all of your devices. That is to say: You will see the same sort of UI, live tiles, and apps on all Microsoft products, including the Xbox 360, Windows Phone devices, tablets, and computers.
The right version for you. As I mentioned earlier, Microsoft will release three versions of Windows 8, including Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, and Windows RT. Windows 8 is right for “many consumers,” Microsoft has said, and will support touchscreens, keyboards, mice and the ability to switch between using touch and keyboard and mouse at any point. It also offers improved monitor support, an updated version of Windows Explorer, and Internet Explorer 10.
Windows 8 Pro is intended for “tech enthusiasts and business/technical professionals.” It features everything in Windows 8 but also includes additional encryption features, virtualization options, domain connectivity, and PC management. Windows Media Center will be available as an optional add-on for the Pro version.
Finally, Windows RT is designed for ARM-based devices, including one of Microsoft’s upcoming Surface tablets. They are lower-powered and offer a tablet experience akin to what you might expect from the iPad and Android tablets. You won’t get a full desktop experience, but you’ll get enough power for on-the-go computing. Unfortunately, this version of Windows doesn’t support full desktop applications, so the app store will likely be very limited at launch.
Super powerful tablets. Windows 8 will be huge for portable computing. For the first time, users will be able to carry tablets that support keyboards, mice, multiple monitors, and more. You’ll be able to sit at home and keep a thin tablet on the desk and work as you would normally, complete with two monitors and a hardware keyboard. Then you’ll be able to continue your work on your commute using a touchscreen.
It’s coming soon. Perhaps one of the best reasons for why Windows 8 matters is that it’s coming soon. The company has confirmed it will launch on October 26th in the US either as an upgrade to Windows 7 or on new PCs.
It ties in with Windows Phone. Microsoft has said that Windows 8 will tie-in with its Windows Phone 8 mobile operating system, which is also on schedule to launch this fall. Details on interoperability are still slim, but I imagine you’ll be able to easily transfer data between a Windows Phone 8 device and a Windows 8 computer using near-field communications (NFC), which is supported in Windows Phone 8. So, imagine snapping photos with your phone and then transferring them to your computer or tablet with a simple tap. That’s the kind of sharing I think we’ll see in the not-so-distant future.
Fair pricing. Windows 8 isn’t that expensive. Right now, you’ll likely cough up about $100-$200 to upgrade to Windows 7 from an older version. However, the upgrade to Windows 8 Pro will cost just $39.99 (downloaded), or $69.99 (on DVD). That’s a bit steeper than what Apple charged for its most recent OS X Mountain Lion upgrade ($19.99), but it shouldn’t break the bank, either.
Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system could very well change the way we define “personal computers.” Typically, tablets are left out of this category because most of them don’t run on traditional x86 processors. However, Microsoft’s Windows 8 tablets will — and they’ll offer the same type of experience that you can currently get on a desktop computer. There’s a lot to get excited about, and I can’t wait to tell you more once I get my hands on a final build this fall.