REVIEW: Microsoft's Windows 8 is colorful and intuitive for those who've used smartphones or tablets before. But it does offer some new quirks for longtime users.
Its risky for any company to tinker with a
well-established, ubiquitous brand. In the 1980s, for example, Coca-Cola tried
rejiggering its classic formula with New Coke, a potentially bold strategy that
met with customer derision and market failure.
Thats probably the most famous example of a company that
nearly destroyed its flagship brand while attempting to do something radical
with it, but certainly not the only one. It also serves as something of a
cautionary tale for Microsoft, which just released the Consumer Preview (or
beta) of Windows 8.
Windows 8 represents a seismic shift from previous versions
of the operating system. In a bid to capture the tablet market, Microsofts
engineers designed a start screen of colorful (and potentially touchable) tiles
linked to applications. This screen relies on the same Metro design aesthetic
already present in Microsoft products such as Windows Phone and the Xbox
dashboard, and includes some mobile-centric features such as an app store. For
power users who need access to Windows Explorer, or those who simply feel more
comfortable with the traditional Windows experience, the desktop is
accessible via a single click or tap.
Microsoft is clearly attempting to unify its various
products into a single ecosystem visually defined by Metro. In turn, this
reorients the company to better compete against both Apples iOS and Google
Android, which leverage the cloud to offer synced data and applications across
multiple devices. But that sort of adjustment always carries significant
risksdeviate in a way customers dont appreciate, and they stop buying your
For those who own Microsofts Windows Phone (a relatively
small percentage of smartphone users as a whole), the Windows 8 start screens
tiles should be instantly familiar. For those who do not, the new interface
might come as something of a shock. Fortunately, the format is also intuitive.
On a Dell laptop with a Core i3 processor (originally loaded with Windows 7),
the interface flows smooth and crisp, with no hitches or lags.
That being said, some interface features are not immediately
apparent or intuitive. For example, a finger or mouse-hover to the lower-right
portion of the interface brings up several widgets, including Settings,
Devices, Start, Share, and Search. Clicking or tapping in that same
area allows the user to see all their tiles in a miniaturized, comprehensive
view. Both of these functions take some time to discover.
Those familiar with smartphone or tablet interfaces will
have no problem downloading and using apps. Microsoft has indeed worked to make
Windows 8 feel like a true mobile OS. Once downloaded, apps appear as a new
tile among the collection. Apps are full screen, and designers have worked to
make the early ones handsome. SkyDrive gives workers the ability to port their
documents around in the cloud, which is especially helpful for those running
Windows 8 on a mobile device.