With the Windows 8 release approaching quickly (it will be released this Friday!!),and every blog and their brothers giving it mixed reviews, we had to get our hands on the operating system to form our own opinions to see what the scoop really is. And, overall, the software greatly impresses, with awesome stylization options, intuitive desktop design and desktop apps. But, what else is new and is it enough for the evil Microsoft Corp to earn your hard earned money?
The short answer is, yes. While Microsoft attempted to introduce desktop apps with the release of Windows 7, the execution of the idea always felt lackluster. But, with Windows 8, Microsoft has finally hit the nail on the head. Ever since the release of Android phones and Google Play marketplace, I’ve wanted a computer to give me the same experience– functional apps that streamed information to your desktop, smoother application performance and better interface. This is exactly what Windows 8 does.
There are numerous Windows 8 apps available before the actual release date and a plethora of third party apps already out there and more in the making. One of the apps available from the get-go is an email app, which syncs with not just your hotmail/Live account, but your Gmail and Yahoo accounts as well. New emails are sent directly to your desktop. The interface is better than any third party software we’ve seen. That is pretty rare folks, when a third party is not able to compete with the way that Windows handles a program. Another impressive app is the Weather app. This app is beautifully designed, functional and is not a memory hog, which is what separates it from every other desktop weather apps. Web browsing is also available as an app (yes–you can use your preferred browser and are not forced to use Internet Explorer). I actually found myself reverting back to the start screen and using the browser that way, instead of switching to the desktop mode and browsing the way that I’m used to. Browsing felt faster when launched from the start screen. There is also a Bing Travel app, which impressively previews numerous travel locations and flight information/availability provided by Kayak.com right from your desktop (frequent travelers, rejoice!).
Standard and functional, but not overly impressive, apps are also included with Windows 8. Finance is an app that provides stock information direct to your desktop, but that’s nothing new or groundbreaking. The camera app provides instant access to webcam use; we’ve also seen this before. A Map app is fun to say, but not so fun to use–again, we’ve seen it. This is where third party apps enter, Stage Left.
There are already numerous third party apps available for your Windows 8 experience (well over 500 now). Wikipedia, CNN, Slacker, Winzip and the mobile gaming favorite Fruit Ninja all have their own apps as of right now. Microsoft also claims there are already more than 120 major app developers working with the development software to create more apps. I’m not going to lie; seeing mobile games like Fruit Ninja coming to my big screen is exciting.
While apps are the focus of Windows 8, the customizable experience Windows 8 provides is very impressive. If you’re like me, the first thing you want to do with a new OS is customize it. One of the first things I noticed while customizing my desktop (not the start screen) was that when setting a new desktop wallpaper Windows automatically picks a color from the picture’s pallet and implements it as the toolbar’s color. No need to mess with color sliders to get that specific color you want–although you are able to if you do not like the color that Windows chooses for you. However, I did not see the ability to change the start screen’s wallpaper, although I’m sure if I tinker around with it some more that I’d have to find it (right??). Although the provided options are gorgeous and there are many color options, I would still like to be able to add my own wallpaper to the start screen.
It will take a moment for users of Windows 7/Vista/XP to get used to the new Windows 8 interface because it is unlike the previous Windows versions. However, once you do some tinkering and exploring, you’ll get the hang of it. The interface greatly reminds me of the Android operating system, with the ability to have more than one start screen (or an expanded start screen, however you’d like to look at it). More working space equals more productivity.
Also notable is the disappearance of the taskbar and start button that users have gotten so accustomed to in Windows. This was, at first, mildly annoying because your reviewer was unsure how to navigate his way around the control panel and even had trouble finding the power button to restart my system. However, once I dragged my mouse to the top right corner of the screen, a box slid into view from the right side of my screen which included both a settings option and power button (victory!). This box is called the “charm bar”…what an odd name for a technical feature.
Another excellent interface overhaul is the ever-favorite alt+ctrl+delete feature. While the general idea is still the same, Windows 8 gives much more useful information in direct view than Windows 7 did, including how much memory and network usage each program is using.
Although it may seem like Windows 8 can be confusing and probably intimidating to some, many of the things that Windows 7 did right are still there. There is still an abundance of power options to preserve battery life or enhance performance. The Windows 7 control panel is still there as well (just look at it as training wheels until you’re ready to go two-wheeling on your own), allowing you to tweak settings in a familiar way.
In the same way Windows 7 made performance improvements on current hardware, Windows 8 does the same. Initial installation of the Windows 8 software took only 27 minutes, while Windows 7 took nearly 45 minutes on the same machine. Shutting down in Windows 8 only took my machine 9 seconds, as opposed to the 19 seconds it takes my Windows 7. Startup times are shorter and Internet browsing is speedier.
We saved the best part of Windows 8 for last. Want to know what it is? Updating to Windows 8 from your current Windows version will only cost you $39.99! This is an amazing price point for what appears to be a great leap forward for the Windows operating system. We strongly advise users to download a copy from the Microsoft site on October 26th.