The following is an excerpt from Farhad Manjoo | February 29, 2012 | Slate.com |
Microsoft’s new version of Windows is fantastic, jarring, and risky at the same time. Fantastic because it marks the clearest sign yet that Microsoft is embracing the future, shifting from the device that defined the company—the personal computer—to the new era of mobile machines. Windows 8, which is being released on Wednesday as an unfinished “consumer preview” (download yours here!), is an excellent touchscreen operating system. A few days ago Microsoft loaned me a prototype Samsung tablet running the new OS, and I’ve found the interface to be just as good as—and in some ways even better than—the iPad’s OS. If hardware companies begin making decent tablets to run Windows 8, the new operating system could make for the first worthy rival to Apple’s unstoppable machine.
What’s jarring, though, is Windows 8’s split personality. While it is optimized for touchscreens, the new OS is also meant to run on the billions of laptops and desktops that have long been Microsoft’s bread and butter. The company has tried to make the system work in both places by giving Windows two completely different interfaces that you can use side by side. First, there’s the Windows you grew up with, called the Desktop in Windows 8. In the Desktop, Windows lives up to its name—all your programs run in windows that you can position anywhere on your screen. When you run any program designed for today’s Windows in the new OS, it will show up in the Desktop interface.
But the Desktop isn’t how Windows 8 greets you. When you turn a Windows 8 PC on for the first time, you’ll see a Start page that’s composed of a series of brightly colored program tiles. These tiles are the gateway to Windows’ new interface, known as Metro, which was inspired by Microsoft’s wonderful Windows Phone. I found the Metro interface easy to get the hang of, and for the most part I enjoyed using it. But make no mistake: Metro is the most radical transformation in Windows’ history, an interface so novel that I’ll likely need a few weeks to feel comfortable with it. I bet this will be true for many people, especially those of us who’ll be using it on a big-screen PC rather than a tablet (meaning almost everyone). Hence the risk: Metro may represent a much-needed upgrade to an aging OS, but will Windows’ adherents consider it too much change, too fast?
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