For some companies, the coming of Windows 8 is a non-event. They’re still running Windows XP, regardless of the lack of support, security issues and the never-ending stability problems. But for many companies, security is important and so is performance. And not every company plans to keep using its ancient XP machines forever because they’re afraid to change. So for those of you who know that eventually you’ll need to support Windows 8, and plan to learn about it. Here’s what to expect.
There are two versions of Windows 8 currently available. The one that most people are familiar with is what Microsoft calls the RTM versions, and it’s roughly equivalent to what Windows 8 Professional will be when it ships. The other is the Enterprise version, which obviously is intended for deployment in large organizations and has additional features to support enterprise users.
You’ll need to download the appropriate ISO file and install it on the machine you’re using for evaluation. If you’re using a machine that’s already running Windows 7, this is a fairly painless process, although it may not be particularly fast. The download and creation of the installation DVD took me about 20 minutes. Your time may vary depending on how fast your Internet connection is and how fast your computer is.
If you’re planning to upgrade your existing Windows 7 installation, run the setup application from within Windows. You can also perform a clean install by booting Windows 8 directly from the DVD. If you choose to do the upgrade, the Windows 8 installer will also reinstall your existing applications. It appears that Windows 7 applications will run properly under Windows 8.
You need to pay attention to the configuration of the machine that you plan to use for your Windows 8 evaluation. While Microsoft’s minimum configuration is pretty simple, you’ll want a reasonably fast hard disk and enough memory to be useful. Fortunately, if your computer doesn’t make the grade, the Windows 8 installer will let you know.
I performed an installation of Windows 8 on two different computers to get an idea of the difference in the evaluation experience. One is a 5-year-old HP dv6000 laptop which originally ran Vista and was upgraded to Windows 7. This machine has the typical Windows productivity applications installed, including Microsoft Office 2010.
The other is a machine that was purchased new for this test. It came with Windows 7 installed, but had never been used for anything before the upgrade to Windows 8. Chances are that your evaluation will take place on a computer at your company that has already seen use and that you can afford to take out of service for your testing.
The implementation process on a new machine is painless. Everything goes on and works. It’s free of drama. The only significant difference with the older machine was that Windows 8 warned that it wouldn’t be able to install the version of Norton Internet Security installed on the machine.
Windows 8 Touch Interface Is Major New Feature
After that, the process was painless, but very slow. The machine had a slow hard disk, a slow DVD drive and not a lot of memory. But eventually it all worked.
When Windows 8 starts, it comes up in what used to be called the Metro interface. You’ll see a collection of active tiles for various features and apps provided as part of the package, as well as tiles that launch the applications that were already on the machine when you installed Windows 8. One of the tiles is named “Desktop.” Click on that, and you get the standard Windows desktop that looks much like what you had with Windows 7. The most notable difference is that there’s no start button.
This brings us to the key difference between Windows 8 and previous versions. Because it’s designed to work with a touch-based interface, many functions are simply based on position. If you position the mouse pointer over a corner of the screen, something happens. The lower right corner, for example, brings up a menu that is the analog of the Start menu. One of the icons on this Start menu is for Search, another for Settings, etc.
Click on Search and the search field appears along with a screen showing all of your applications and the other icons that appear on your computer. If you want a specific application, such as Microsoft Paint, just start typing it in the search field and it’ll appear. The Settings icon includes access to the Control Panel, which looks just like it did with Windows 7.
In the lower left corner of the desktop a tiny view of the tiled interface appears. Click on that and you’re taken there. In the upper left you’ll get a bar with thumbnail images of all running applications, any of which you can bring to the front by clicking on it.
There’s a scroll bar at the bottom of the screen that lets you move the screen image so you can see the whole thing, but it’s a lot easier to perform these functions if you have a touchpad that supports multi-touch, such as the Logitech Wireless Touchpad which I used for this review. While it doesn’t fully support multi-touch with Windows 8 yet, it does allow you to swipe screens from side to side and it works very well as a pointing device.
While there’s a lot more to Windows 8 than this, what I found is the evaluation process is relatively benign. You’ll have to learn the details of navigation, but it’s not exactly rocket science. Beyond that, I found that the old computer ran faster and so far every Windows 7 compatible application I’ve tried has worked as expected.
In fact, the biggest surprise so far is that there have been relatively few surprises. Learning to navigate took an hour or two, but that was about it. For current Windows 7 users, the transition isn’t a big deal, as long as you take the time to learn how it works.