Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Windows 8 - Is it right for you?

So with the recent launch of Windows 8 there has been a lot of talk about it and whether the upgrade will be worth it. I have been using the Windows 8 Consumer Preview for about eight months now so I thought I would put together some of my thoughts on it and show you some of the things I have learned.

With this new era of BYOD (bring your own device), Microsoft is attempting to embrace some of the philosophy's of Apple in their synergy of devices. Windows 8 is the corner stone of that new directive. You can now "sync" your laptop, Microsoft phone, and Microsoft tablet (interestingly enough named Surface). All of your important information such as contacts, pictures documents etc. can be shared between devices. The thinking is that in your work environment you will be able to purchase your own devices like phones and tablets, which more and more users are doing, and your Enterprise support team can set them all up to work together seamlessly.

The pro's and con's to this is multi-factored. You get the device you want, and get to keep it when you leave the company. Your company gets to lower their operating costs by not having to purchase devices and service agreements for you. One caveat to this is most company's have security policies in place to wipe devices when you leave the company to prevent sensitive company data from leaking to the outside. In most cases they do not even need your permission to do this and don't need direct access to the device either. It can be wiped remotely. So you could lose all your contacts, email's, pictures, etc in the process. Word to the wise would be to backup your device regularly.

So lets get into what Windows 8 has that's different from its predecessors.

Metro and Tiles:
As I am sure you have heard by now, Microsoft has done away with the Start Menu completely in favor of Tiles.This is part of the tablet/touch screen movement to make it easier to navigate. The tiles, called the Metro interface are fully customizable to suit your needs.
You can access Metro by hitting the Windows Key. This is also the first screen you see when the computer boots up.

The Windows Store opened in conjunction to the launch of Windows 8 so there are new apps available for download. I had some beta exposure to it as my company develops apps for some of our clients. It is a far cry from the Mac App Store but I think with time they will catch up as more people begin to use Windows 8. There are some apps worth checking out however. I will be doing follow up segments on a few of them.

Ease of Use:
Now there has been a lot of discussion about how useful / functional this type of interface is as opposed to the Start menu. I will agree there was a week or so of getting used to the navigation. I would say that for the intermediate and advanced computer users this will speed up productivity. For the casual user it may cause more confusion. Grandma will have difficulty finding her pictures unless she sets up a tile for it, which is not too difficult.

After about two weeks I found that I was easily shifting between apps and opening up new programs using the search feature in Metro. For instance if I want to open up Word I just hit the Windows key and type word.
Top results are auto populated and since Microsoft Word is the first selection (highlighted) I can just hit Enter to open the program.

The downside would be if you are searching for a program that you do not know the name of. You would have to open up Metro search by hitting the Windows and the Q button at the same time to search all of the installed applications or apps. You have to pan the slider at the bottom over to see more of them.
This has happened to me a few times as I deal with a lot of apps and will occasionally forget what I am looking for. When you get a lot of programs installed this search can take a while.

Task Manager:
One significant improvement to Win7 and XP is the Task Manager. For those of us who have administered desktops at one time or another you know how little information was given in Task Manager. They have significantly beefed up the type of collections that are done in the newer version.
As part of the new Metro interface Microsoft has integrated SkyDrive with the operating system. You can now sync your files automatically to the cloud through the tile interface. It is easy to setup (assuming you already have a SkyDrive account. If not you can create one for free here). You get 25GB of space provided by Microsoft at no charge which for the average user is more than sufficient.

This, in my opinion is one of the biggest advantages of Windows 8 over previous versions. Hyper-V is natively installed (in add remove programs) as part of Windows 8 install. For those of you who are not familiar with Hyper-V it is a computer virtualization program that allows you to run virtual guests on your computer. In other words you can create multiple virtual computers and run them simultaneously with the default operating system. This is very beneficial for me as I often have to provide client demo's of products and I can create virtual PC's to install that software on. Granted this is not the type of feature that is helpful for Grandma but still worth mentioning.

For most Windows users it will cost $39.99 for the Windows 8 upgrade that runs through January 31st 2013. It will then go up to $199.99 after that. So there is some motivation to upgrade sooner rather than later.

My overall impression of Windows 8 is positive. There is a bit of a learning curve for the product as it is quite a departure from previous versions of the operating system. For the casual user who does not have a touch screen computer it could take several weeks to really get comfortable with the product. Advanced users will take less time to adjust but it will still be a few weeks. I did find that it managed system resources better than Windows 7 so my laptop runs better. I have 8GB of memory and I am able to run the OS and three to four virtual guests without much problem (unless one of them is SQL).

I have only outlined a few of the features of Windows 8 so I plan to do some segments highlighting other features as well as tips and tricks to optimize your Windows 8 Experience in the upcoming weeks/months.

Feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions or would like some additional information about Windows 8.

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