Friday, August 17, 2012

Windows 8 Has RTM'd; What's The Bottom Line For Consumers?

   One of the hot topics of tech this year has no doubt been Microsoft's entry into the tablet space by launching Windows 8 and Windows RT, and more recently announcing their Surface tablet. It's been a long journey for Microsoft. After months and months of development, Windows 8 has finally RTM'd, or released to manufacturers. This essentially is a almost completely ready-to-ship version of Windows that OEMs (manufacturers) are now testing out on their hardware before Windows 8 goes on sale to the masses in late October.

   Windows 8 has stirred up a lot of controversy from the start. The controversy over the new Metro UI (I'll call it Metro despite the fact that Microsoft isn't calling it Metro [for legal reasons].) The new Metro UI focused around tablet computers. While the Metro UI has been praised by some, others have been extremely critical of it, saying that the new UI makes Windows no longer Windows as we think of it today.
Microsoft's biggest problem of course was that they should've made Metro a completely separate product, instead of trying to mix it in with the Windows brand. Instead, Microsoft tried to combine the Metro tablet experience with the traditional Windows desktop and behold, Windows 8 is born.

This is the "Metro UI' as Microsoft has been calling it, although they don't call it that anymore. At the heart of the user interface, which involves prominently displayed tiles that feature interactive content that helps you get the most out of your tablet, without ever entering an application.

Now despite the negative opinions of Windows 8, I'll try to explain it rationally. The case to be made for Windows 8 is quite simple, but just requires a little bit of a thorough explanation to ensure that the consumer really knows what they must sacrifice when they purchase a Windows 8 or Windows RT tablet.

1. The Metro UI
 The Metro user interface involves tiles that are capable of displaying personal information that will help you get the most out of the Metro interface. The benefits of these tiles is to display important information from the app on the Metro interface, instead of explicitly visiting the app. This interface was designed for touch enabled computers, like tablets and desktops with touch capabilities. Applications that run on the Metro UI can only be run on the Metro UI. In other words, these apps don't run on the desktop. They run in this interface.

2. Desktop Applications
  Unfortunately, one of the main areas of confusion around Windows 8 is the desktop. With Windows 8, you can have two types of devices. You can have the traditional x86 (Intel or AMD) based Windows 8 computer or tablet. Or you can have an ARM based tablet. The Intel or AMD based devices will run Windows 8, while the ARM based devices will run Windows RT, which is a special version of Windows 8 designed to take advantage of the features of the ARM platform. The important distinction is made around desktop functionality. Windows RT, or ARM based devices, can only run third-party, non Microsoft apps, in the Metro UI. So with Windows RT, third party apps can only run in the Metro environment. With a full Windows 8 device, you can run third party apps on the desktop. 

3. The Desktop Has Been Stripped Down
  One of the things that I find disappointing about Windows 8 is that the desktop has been stripped down. What do I mean by 'stripped down?' At least in my opinion, all the features that I fell in love with in Windows 7, all the UI improvements, such as the Aero visual effects, have been stripped down to bare bones in Windows 8. So if you're someone, that like me, loves the Windows 7 desktop, you'll likely hate the Windows 8 desktop, as Aero has been stripped down and the visuals of the desktop have been changed drastically. 
4. The Benefits of Windows 8, and yes, there's even benefits for desktop users.
  There are benefits to upgrading to Windows 8, even if you're using a desktop. Although primarily, upgrades would be helpful for those with existing Windows tablets. Windows 8 includes dramatically improved boot times, and overall, the OS does indeed feel snappier than Windows 7. And while those aren't the only features worth noting for desktop users, they are the big ones. The biggest benefit of Windows 8 is marketed at potential tablet customers. Those that are interested in tablets will probably receive the most benefit of waiting until Windows 8 releases to purchase a new tablet / laptop-hybrid. 

5. The Benefits of Purchasing a Windows RT Tablet
  So far, I've only spoke about the downsides of Windows RT. But the benefits of Windows RT, that is, choosing to buy an ARM based tablet, may almost outweigh the consequences. The big marketed factor of ARM based devices is efficiency. The architecture of ARM is designed around immensely higher processor efficiency, and therefore, much better battery life. And while that is the concept, we will have to wait and see whether the OEMs deliver on their promise that ARM based devices provide better battery life. 

So what does it mean for me?
  Windows 8 is ultimately centered around a multitouch experience. Windows 8 really shows off the potential of tablets, with showing the promises of the Metro UI. Microsoft has launched its own application store for 'Metro style' applications which should populate with more apps as we near the launch of Windows 8. My recommendation for you is to wait until we see a healthy variety of both RT and Windows 8 based devices to compare the pros and cons of each. Until then, just consider the trade offs of going the Windows 8 route versus the iPad route or the Android route. Each ecosystem has its own pros and cons, so consider each before making a solid decision. Right now, I'd recommend not making a final decision until, at the very least, Windows 8 releases. And if you're a desktop user interested in upgrading, I'd try to discourage you to the best of my abilities because the benefits of Windows 8 are pretty much entirely focused at tablets. This isn't much of an upgrade for desktops, but it sure is a big deal for potential tablet buyers. Windows 8 will be available to consumers on October 26 at the upgrade price of $40 for existing Windows users. 

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