17 July 2013

Techincal Blog: Rob Sinden, Software Developer - Should we be apprehensive about Windows 8?

 Windows 8 was released as Microsoft’s new and vastly improved operating system that would work for laptops and desktop computers and also would be able to propel Microsoft towards obtaining a significant share of the worldwide market for tablets and mobiles. However, the uptake on this flagship system has been poor and sales of new laptops has decreased as a result of people being sceptical of Windows 8. In this blog, I will assess whether this scepticism is well-founded or not. 

 One of the main differences between Windows 8 and the previous versions, is the apparent lack of a start button and menu. The start menu has become the most common way of accessing the most frequently used programs and your personal libraries of files and media. This may initially appear to be lacking from Windows 8, but they have merely been replaced with a different way of accessing these programs and files. With regards to the files, all of the libraries can be viewed using Windows File Explorer (see previous blog for tips on how to optimise the use of this).

The programs can be opened by using the new Start Menu. This can be accessed by pressing the Windows key on your keyboard or by moving your mouse to the bottom left hand corner of the screen until the Start peek view appears (see to right) and clicking. The resultant screen can be customised to show your favourite programs in different groups and also to hide unused programs to reduce the clutter on the Start screen. A well organised start menu means that all commonly used apps and programs are easily accessible and ordered (see below). As can be seen, with groups such as “Work”, “Office”, “Personal”, “Sport” and “Media”, it is easy to navigate and find the desired program or app.
Another misconception that many people have is the apparent swing towards the use of “apps” rather than conventional desktop programs for the majority of processes. This idea can be a daunting prospect to many, but apps are merely designed to make separate programs for different and specific processes. For example, how many websites do you visit regularly? For frequent internet users this can number about 10, with examples such as Facebook, Twitter, BBC News and National Rail Enquiries. With Windows 8, each of these has a separate, well-designed and easy to use app. This may seem a step backwards from a web browser that can do all of this, to multiple programs. However, it is very much a step forward, especially for touch usage. Having each app only one finger press away is of massive benefit with regards to time-efficiency and ease of use, as typing a web address on a touchscreen is a much slower process. This also enables laptop and desktop users to access everything with fewer mouse clicks than previous.
However, despite this progression towards app based usage of computers, the concept of a desktop and conventional programs is very much here to stay with Windows 8. By using the “Desktop” link on the start screen users are taken to the recognisable view that has evolved throughout the previous incarnations of the Windows operating system. With a taskbar along the bottom with open programs marked, and with the common system tray to the bottom right displaying volume, power, network and the date and time (see above). Many programs, including Microsoft Office and Paritor Ensemble, have stayed as desktop programs despite the inclination to move towards app based software. This is fundamentally due to the familiarity for the user that is obtained by using the desktop and also that the functionality of both systems lend themselves more to the use of a mouse and keyboard than to touch on a tablet or mobile device.
Therefore in conclusion, the misconceptions and apprehensions surrounding Windows 8 are for me largely unsupported by evidence as the use of Windows 8 does not differ significantly from previous versions. This means that familiarity can be gained quickly and easily so that the benefits of Windows 8 can be seen for all users whether they are using touch devices or maintaining the use of a keyboard and mouse.

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