Microsoft is determined to turn our PCs into overgrown tablets as it unites computers, tablets and smartphones under Windows 8.
Depending on how you feel about the tablet revival, Windows 8 is either the best thing to happen to computing in 20 years or the worst. In a nutshell, Microsoft is bringing its touchy-feely “Modern UI” smartphone interface across to the desktop, giving Windows 8 computers, tablets and smartphones all the same look and feel. It presents a steep learning curve for some people, but the trade-off is one slick interface to rule them all.
When you boot up Windows 8 on your desktop or notebook computer you’re no longer presented with the traditional Windows desktop. Instead you’re faced with interactive tiles which you can tap and flick with your finger, similar to an iPad. It’s quite a shock to the system if you’ve never spent time with touchscreen smartphones and tablets. Even if you have it takes a while to find your way around Modern UI, especially if your computer doesn’t have a touchscreen and you’re forced to rely on your keyboard and mouse or trackpad.
You can hide away Modern UI to find the traditional Windows desktop, but this is when you discover that Microsoft has banished the Start menu because supposedly we don’t need it any more. With time to adjust you can live without the Start menu, but scrapping this familiar feature while forcing Modern UI down our throats is just plain stupid. People fear change, especially if they’re not overly-confident with technology, and if Microsoft is trying to scare people off Windows 8 it’s doing a great job. You’re entitled to ask why you should need to relearn everything you know about computers just in order to make what should be a smooth upgrade from the reliable Windows 7.
Microsoft’s determination to “reinvent” Windows at any cost means that Windows 8 will make a bad first impression on many people. But if you persevere you’ll find that the new Modern UI does have its strengths. Like an iPad, Modern UI on Windows 8 makes it easier to perform day-to-day tasks such as checking your email, browsing the web, flicking through photos and playing games. You’ll find yourself resorting to the desktop less and less.
I’ve spent several months using the various pre-release versions of Windows 8, plus I’ve tested it out on a new Acer notebook with a touchscreen display. Once you grasp the basics, Modern UI does grow on you and you even find yourself reaching for the screen when you’re using traditional desktop applications. Yet I’m in no hurry to upgrade any of my computers from Windows 7 to Windows 8, or to buy a new Windows 8 touchscreen notebook. I just don’t think Windows 8 brings enough to the party to make it worth the hassle.
I own a mix of Macs and PCs, with the Windows 7 computers in my house all serving specific roles. One is my Media Centre PC for watching internet video on my television. Another is my tiny notebook for working while I’m on the road. A third is my test rig for reviewing new hardware and software. None of these computers would benefit from a new touchy-feely interface, if anything it would just get in the way.
It’s not that I don’t like Modern UI. I appreciate what Microsoft is trying to do and I’m sure it will be great for some people. But I just don’t need a tablet interface on my computer. When I am in the mood to tap and flick I’m more likely to put aside my computer and reach for a tablet or smartphone. When I’m in the mood to get things done I’ll reach for a real computer with a real desktop operating system. Perhaps I’m stuck in my ways, but I don’t need a computer that thinks it’s a tablet.