"Overdue modernization of the PC"3.5 starson by Scott Gardener
Pros: Fast boot-up, simplified set-up process, substantially improved support for tablets and touchscreens over predecessors
Cons: Revamped architecture and push towards "Modern" ("Formerly known as Metro") apps threatens familiar way of life, systems without a touch screen will likely be more tedious to operate
Summary: At first glance, it looks like the biggest jump in Windows functionality since the transition from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95; seeing Win 8 PCs in the store, one sees splash screens blasting news blurbs, and a desktop buried under rubble, devoid of a Start button. But, with a little familiarization, one can soon see that most of the changes can be thought of as the Start Button becoming a separate screen that can come or go with a swipe of the finger.
I have gotten less than a week ago a new computer with Windows 8 Pro pre-installed; my experience is from the standpoint of someone who has been using PCs for two decades, trying 8 on a new computer. I found setup to be much easier than on previous systems, with less questions to answer and less digging around for information. Gone are the days of typing in serial numbers and reading explanations about "product activation." (Though I'm sure it's still there.) Instead, it's more about getting on the WiFi and setting up user accounts, connecting to Google and Facebook. IT felt a lot like setting up an iPad or mobile phone.
Which brings up my next observation. The iPad was a good influence on PCs in some ways. PC boot times have sped considerably, especially with the advent of solid state drives, and Windows 8 systems in general are reported to boot appreciably faster than the same systems running Windows 7. My Core i7 PC with an SSD boots in less than fifteen seconds, and shuts down in less than ten.
This is in part because of "fast startup," which saves memory so it no longer has to count how many fingers it has or load drivers for all its parts with every startup. A restart that fully reboots the system takes a little longer, but not that much; my system can go from selecting restart to being fully usable again in about 35-40 seconds, though admittedly it's again with the help of an SSD.
In other ways, however, the iPad may have been a bad influence on PCs. Apps (since that's what we're calling programs these days) designed specifically for Windows 8's new Modern interface load full screen, which threatens one of the most fundamental aspects of using a PC--having several windows open at once. I like large screens and multi-tasking, having open a browser like Chrome, an mp3 player like Winamp, and two or three folders open at the same time, while I transfer files. I can still do this in Windows 8 through the Desktop, but to find that Microsoft is trying to steer developers away from the Desktop and towards full-screen apps is a threat to my ability to continue doing this.
Another bad influence is the growing dependence on touchscreens or tablet pens. Windows 8 does not require one, but I would not recommend it in a system without one, as the swipes and gestures that help one go from Metro/Trippy Whole Screen Start Button to Desktop to Apps do not translate to mouse gestures. For example, you can swipe the right of the Desktop to get the Charms bar, but mousing over there and clicking doesn't do anything until you go to the lower right corner. It's a long walk with a mouse to get from point A to point B compared to what a finger gesture can do.
And, after all this time, Microsoft still has not figured out a simple on/off switch; it takes several swipes and some digging around to find it buried under Settings/Power on the right slide-bar-thingy. The hardware power button by default goes to a sleep mode--though that's more an issue with the manufacturer, it seems to be common across manufacturers, suggesting it was Microsoft's idea.
It's a good improvement and modernization of PC computing, but only if your system has an uncanny resemblance to an iPad or something running Android. For something without a touchscreen, it's a bit more work, and it's a sign that touchscreens will likely be everywhere soon, the way PCs grew mice early on in the nineties and shed their floppy drives in the last decade. I just hope in the coming years that I'll be able to continue working with file systems, where I've got fifteen years worth of archives stored and sorted, and that I'll still be able to walk and chew gum on the same screen.