What is Windows 8 going to change?

Published by | Friday, October 26th, 2012

The user interface for Windows 8 blurs the line between tablet, desktop, and smartphone. That’s a good thing.

The Microsoft Build conference starts October 30. For a week developers will be exposed to the latest Windows technologies, analysts will write megabytes of blogs, pundits will tweet reactions both pro and con, and the way we experience computers will change in dramatic and obvious ways.

The new Windows 8 interface

For developers and users alike, the Windows 8 interface is an in-your-face change. No longer based around overlapping windows and desktops, information and applications are now presented as colored tiles. It is possible to slip back into the traditional Windows interface where each running application is visually separated with windows that can be dragged on top of each other, hidden, and closed; but most of the time the new Windows looks, and functions, very much like a well-designed webpage.

Opinions are harsh. Windows traditionalists miss familiar icons such as the Start menu, Control Panel, File Explorer, and Close button, and are finding the years they spent deciphering the nuances of utilities to now be irrelevant and useless. Worse, users stumble into the traditional Windows interface, but have no idea how to return to the new tiled interface, and developers find creating applications now requires new ways of programming, use of new interfaces, and new ways of thinking about interacting with users. What was Microsoft thinking?

DOS to Windows, windows to tiles, desktop to phone
In 2011, computer vendors shipped more smartphones than desktop computers further supporting the idea that handheld devices—such as smartphones and tablets—are pushing desktop and laptop computers into obsolescence. Apple and Android are battling for first place, with Microsoft scrambling for a piece of the action. Dell, the king of laptop manufacturers, has lost almost half of its value in eight months. The future is painfully clear, and it looks like a handheld device, or smaller.

Microsoft correctly reasons that making improvements to an interface that depends on a keyboard and mouse is corporate suicide, but what about our former Windows Vista user futilely searching for the Windows Start button? Is there nothing to be done for them?

Short answer: The pain is only temporary.

Long answer: We’ve done this before. New interfaces, like apps or tiles, are simply normal innovation. They’re disruptive, sometimes annoying, and the first iteration is often clumsy, but the process is normal, expected, and necessary.

lynda.com is working on a collection of classes for developers and users of Windows 8. In the early part of 2013, you can expect to see courses that show how to get started with the Windows 8 developer tools, as well as more in-depth training intended to assist with advanced developer questions.

Nobody on Star Trek uses a mouse
Science fiction explores a possible future, and most science fiction computers don’t use keyboards or mice; they use gestures and voice recognition. Our grandchildren will think our computers are quaint.

Personally, I have enough years under my belt to remember the jump from CPM, to DOS, to Windows 3, and the jump from my beloved Apple IIe to Macintosh OS X. Each was a move away from a known paradigm to something better. Everything changed for the traditionalists invested in the existing technology, and boy, did they complain.

But the number of people using the new tools soon outweighed the traditionalists. New users with curiosity about how the system does work, rather than assumptions about how the system should work took over.

Here’s to a lifetime of learning!


Interested in more?
• The full Windows 8 Preview First Look course on lynda.com
• All operating systems courses on lynda.com

Suggested courses to watch next:
 Windows 8 Metro App First Look

• Windows 7 Essential Training
 Migrating from Windows XP to Windows 7

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4 Responses to “What is Windows 8 going to change?”

  1. Jhawes says:

    I’m curious about Windows 8, but more afraid… not of change so much or the headache of learning it or even of losing all those tricks I’ve learned with previous windows versions. I’m most afraid because Microsoft has been continually making, what appear to me, to be foolish decisions… as far as them being disconnected from their users and fans.

    I like that Windows is different than tablets. Star trek shows don’t use mouses, but then again games are replaced by those holo-decks (however that’s spelled).

    However, on Microsoft’s side, they definitely need to keep the pace and try new things or some very eager competitors, such as Google, will gladly develop a new OS to render there’s a thing of the past… though sadly, that thought doesn’t make me one bit sad or scared.

  2. jude says:

    Change for the sake of change, all done without the benefit of reason! Isn’t it grand?

    Just as we are getting eBooks and eBook readers crammed down our gullets, coincidentally, by eBook publishers and eBook reader manufacturers, so too are we getting a radical new computer interface thrown at us with Windows 8.

    The author mentions,”…the traditional Windows interface where each running application is visually separated with windows that can be dragged on top of each other, hidden, and closed; but most of the time the new Windows looks, and functions, very much like a well-designed webpage.”

    Guess what? Some of us require that very traditional interface to get our daily chores done. We don’t require “a well-designed webpage” or a multi-colored Scrabble board. I have heard of no companies standing in line to embrace the new release of Windows, but I have heard of many who have rejected implementing it before its release. The university for which I work will not be implementing it. Our question is: Can Microsoft ever backtrack to a useable interface for use in the workplace or will it meet its demise by chasing an Apple down the proverbial rabbit hole?

    What Microsoft has done and the author, apparently, embraced, is to take the traditional spoon, fork and knife and tried to meld them into a brave new single tool with which to eat our digital supper. To that I say, “Care to use my napkin?” To mix my metaphors, one size does not always fit all.

    The user is the master over the operating system for the user is the one doing the work and the OS is nothing but one of the tools used to accomplish that work. Please don’t tell me that it’s the operating system that lords over the user or that Microsoft (or Apple) or the author knows what is best for me to do my work. You’re starting to sound too much like the United Nations when you do that. If a tool I’ve used in the past no longer performs its function well, I will simply change to a tool that does.


  3. Joseph Legan says:

    The problem is not the idea of change. The problem is that Windows 8 has a lot of flaws. The attempt to not display a way to exit a screen or just to put it in the background is a mistake. The numerous ways to exit are confusing; do it one way and make it the standard.

    Get rid of the Start screen. Put it all on the desktop. I hate to have to go to the Start to get to the Desktop. Get all that advertising off the start/desktop screen.

    Develop one OS for phones and pads and another for computers. Computers are needed to run a business and handle businesslike personal matters.

    There is a lot more to correct.

    I hope MS reads some of this.


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