After nearly a decade at the helm of computer operating systems, Microsoft has released its latest operating system, Windows 8.
It features touchscreen capabilities and a drastically different interface from what we have experienced over the years, and runs on tablets as well as PCs.
It can be controlled entirely by touch, with a mouse and keyboard, or by any combination of your preferred input options.
The operating system is a daring effort by Microsoft to stay relevant as PCs are being overtaken by mobile devices.
Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems are dominating the tablet and smartphone market, and Microsoft is attempting something big, different and risky to catch up.
This is Microsoft’s first operating system since the respected and highly successful Windows 7 which hit the market three years ago.
It is a complete re-imagining of the desktop computer interface, but it is built on the same base as Windows 7, so all things remaining the same, all your old applications should continue to work just fine, if you upgrade.
The most noticeable difference between a Windows 8 and Windows 7 PC is the Start screen interface. Windows 8 ditches Windows’ familiar Start button, and adds a home screen with tiles making the operating system look exceptionally similar to a phone, specifically its Windows Phone 7 devices.
Just like you might download apps for your phone from a specific app store, Windows 8 has its own app store as well.
Apps can be downloaded from the store and will then show up on your home screen. Tapping on an apps icon will launch it.
Windows 8 and the app store have been available as a developer preview for some time, and as a result there are already a fairly substantial number of apps available – mostly free – in the store, including familiar names such as Netflix and Box.
Windows 8 is aimed at the everyday user who doesn’t identify as a geek. It’s built to provide support for a wider variety of devices and, by doing so, makes it easier for those devices to interact.
Currently, Apple is the only company offering a similar ecosystem of products, but its devices are too expensive for many to buy. Microsoft is bringing the same concept to everyone with a simple, inviting interface that works on everything from tablets to desktops.
There are also new features of note for home users. Windows 8 ships with stock anti-virus protection based off Microsoft Security Essentials. It also includes built-in cloud storage and synchronisation support.
Users can pool hard drive storage instead of chopping it into different drives. New file history features will make backing up and restoring data easier than ever before.
Windows 8 also improves search. Many tech enthusiasts store a lot of files, which makes navigating folders and files cumbersome, so search is important. Windows 8 tweaks this feature for speed and accuracy and gives it space in the Modern UI interface. Other additions include filters and in-app search support.
That said, previous Windows users will at first be turned off by the new interface. Like any upgrade, it’s all a matter of learning the new way of doing your old tasks.
If you’re averse to change, there’s really no reason to upgrade just yet, but if you do, you’ll find a robust operating system once you learn your way around.
Upgrading will be similar to learning a new operating system, and it may take a few months to feel comfortable with what has changed.
If you’re buying a PC as your new year’s gift, it’s going to come with Windows 8 installed, but what about upgrading? If you like the newest, shiniest things, you might want to look into the upgrade.
Sam Wambugu is a monitoring and evaluation specialist. Email: samwambugugmail.com