There’s a lot I like about Windows 8, especially as a potential tablet OS. I need to get that out of the way now, because most of what follows will sound negative if you don’t have that knowledge. In fact, I plan on purchasing some sort of tablet or touch-enabled convertible laptop when I get the opportunity this fall(ish) when Windows 8 is rumored to release.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’m dead set on a Windows 8 tablet of some sort. The OS is clearly designed to work well on a touch interface and — even though Microsoft won’t admit it — its design conceits were shoehorned to fit a keyboard and mouse. Something about the interface feels constricted when you compare it to past Windows releases and other personal computer OSs (OSX, Linux), like drinking a bucket of tea with a coffee stirrer. The scope of how you interact with the OS feels anemic compared to what you’re familiar with.
That’s not to say there aren’t nice improvements for the keyboard and mouse user of yore. The task manager has refresh for the first time since Windows 95 and it has a lot more utility than just shutting down rogue programs. The creation of an OS wide spell check eliminates my only concern with IE9 on Windows 7; now wherever you type, you are given the same spell check that ruined your ability to spell in Microsoft Word. The system as a whole is snappier on the old hardware I installed it on than Windows 7 was.
But there’s a pretty big disconnect when the fancy new metro Start screen melts away to the old plain desktop.
This is where the whole Windows 8 concept makes me feel unconvinced from the standpoint of a desktop power-user. I got over the use of the corners replacing the start button and the taskbar icons placed on the charm bar. But the functionality isn’t nearly as complete for a mouse and keyboard experience as it would be for a tablet. I used the computer to manage some of the basic programs and day-to-day tasks that I do. While it works for simple tasks like surfing the internet or posting this very blog entry, Windows 8 has a hard time managing multiple programs in the old interface. It’s just not as clean and polished as the Metro side of things.
Speaking of Internet Explorer 10, the new Metro web browser side of IE10 is shaping up to be a pretty fantastic tablet browser. With a mouse, left clicking in the top or bottom of the screen to get the tabs and URL entry is a bit strange, but with a tablet you’ll swipe in from off screen to prompt those options. The interface is attractive and comfortable for me as a Windows Phone user. I think people who think of IE6 when someone says “Internet Explorer” will be pleasantly surprised. But again, the dual nature of Windows 8 makes the experience seem weird. The Flash and Silverlight plug-ins you’re used to are nonexistent in the full screen Metro version of IE10, and you have to load a desktop version of IE10 to use them.
Reservations not withstanding, the potential Xbox integration, speed of application in Windows 8, opportunity for applications and the fact that it boots from cold to the login screen in 20 seconds or less add up to me being hopeful for a strong operating system from Redmond. However, there are a lot of problems that need to be resolved to make me want to install the final version on my gaming rig.