Windows 8 has been in beta for almost a week now, and after having read countless blog posts and user comments about the pros and cons found in the consumer preview, it became clear that Microsoft is doing everything it can to reinvent the way people think about desktop and mobile operating systems.
Whether or not you agree with the Metro UI being added in parallel to the Aero interface we experienced in Windows 7, it’s hard to overlook the potential impact this change could have on the consumer market.
For one, Metro offers a different take on security, app integration, and a new way to download and run software on Windows. Instead of traditional Windows programs that may or may not utilize the Windows registry system or have an obvious method of being uninstalled, apps in Windows 8 go through a centralized app store which guarantees consistency and reliability.
The very nature of how these apps operate has changed considerably from the legacy Windows programs currently being used in the traditional Aero Windows environment.
Combining this new app structure with a dramatically different UI may be a jarring experience for die-hard Windows users, but what about the average user? Could Windows 8 bring people back to the fold, or will it drive them further away from the Microsoft ecosphere?
Here are five reasons Windows 8 could be a success.
The Metro UI is Simple
The Metro UI is incredibly simple. In fact, I’d consider that to be an understatement. Metro brings the simplicity of a mobile operating system to the desktop environment in a way that allows you to get to the programs you need in as few motions as possible. You no longer need to navigate through various menus to get where you need to go.
Bottom line: As different as the Metro UI may be, it is a leap forward in terms of simplicity and usability. Click-and-drag touch-screen functionality coupled with the power of a complete desktop-class operating system makes the Metro UI a platform capable of delivering some serious bang for your buck.
The question is whether or not average users will like what they see in Metro. If first impressions are not absolutely perfect, this dramatic shift will deal a serious blow to Microsoft’s chances of success.
Apps Are Inherently More Secure
Microsoft has been wrestling with the problem of security for decades. Windows has always been the biggest target for malicious software, and part of the reason for this is the relatively open infrastructure that has accepted software from a wide range of sources. By bringing a new apps platform that passes through a trusted hub before reaching the open market, users will have a more dependable source for new software.
Furthermore, each Windows 8 Metro app operates as an island unto itself. This means that scripts are less likely to cross-contaminate multiple programs, leading to a potential security risk for the user. Once a particular program has been put aside, it goes into a form of suspended animation, freeing up vital system resources for other important tasks.
That isn’t to say that you can’t still run legacy apps through the existing Aero desktop. With anti-virus and other important features now baked directly in to Windows, even this process has a little boost in terms of security without hindering functionality.
One Interface to Learn Across Desktop and Mobile Devices
Switching from earlier versions of Windows to Windows 8 comes with a learning curve. This is inevitable and a given with any operating system crossover. That said, Windows 8 will work the same way on a tablet as it does on the desktop. Phones will also benefit from the same basic user interface, making it easier to learn one UI and stick with it from the start of your day to the very end.
We all know someone who prefers something because it’s what they know, and they don’t do well with change. While this may cause some initial backlash from the greater Windows user base, it may ultimately result in a wider long-term acceptance from users over time.
App Stores Make It Easier to Find Good Software
In addition to bringing a new level of security to the Windows platform, a built-in app store makes it easier to purchase and download programs and apps that you may need. Instead of heading to a wide range of different sites to download programs directly from each developer, you can find (eventually) almost anything you could need in one central location.
This method has worked wonders for Linux and OS X, and as long as Microsoft plays by the same rules, it should do quite a bit to improve the overall Windows experience.
App stores give you the ability to find and easily install vetted software that has passed the Microsoft sniff test. This isn’t to say that it will all be particularly good, but at least you’ll be free from the phishing scams out there promising the world to you and delivering little more than a headache.
Less Confusion in the Long Run
Chris Pirillo, LockerGnome’s founder and long-time customer experience advocate, put it best when he stated that Windows 8 takes the term “dumbing down” to a whole new level. While OS X has been widely applauded for its simplicity over older versions of Windows, Microsoft’s latest operating system makes great strides towards simplifying virtually every operational task you could imagine.
The Task Manager, startup settings, customization options, privacy tools, and even the process of adding and removing software has been entirely revamped and simplified in a way that makes sense to the user.
If there is one takeaway from the entire Windows 8 experience, it should be that Microsoft is finally listening to the user’s demands for less hassle. It would appear, at least on the surface, that Microsoft is acknowledging the pundits out there who are declaring the desktop computer a dinosaur in the world of modern computing.
During a keynote held by Apple on March 7, CEO Tim Cook declared that more post-PC devices have sold than PCs in the last quarter. Marketing spin aside, this is still a strong indication that more people are turning to smartphones and tablet computers to handle everyday tasks than their desktop counterparts.
Yes, there will always be a place for the desktop and laptop in the world of business and consumer computing. The question is, are we at the point where blending these two very different worlds together will be a recipe for success, or simply a last-ditch effort on the part of a software company to make an impact on a market that has already moved on?
In my opinion, Microsoft may very well have a big hit on its hands with Windows 8. The success of this operating system depends greatly on good word-of-mouth and excellent timing. Whether or not it’s too early to blend the world of desktop computing to the emerging mobile platforms is up to the users to decide.
What do you think? Is Microsoft on the right track with Windows 8, or is this destined to be another example of the software giant biting off more than it can chew?