Windows 8 launches this week. In a world where all of the consumer attention on shiny new things focuses on the newest smartphone or tablet, Windows 8 is quietly the biggest paradigm shift in personal computing since Windows 95. When Windows 95 was released in 1995 it represented the biggest change in computing to that point. While Windows 3.x was a user interface that worked, it was still a compliment to MS-DOS and for many users, significant time was still spent in DOS, which was a high barrier entry for most. Windows 95 changed that. It was the first PC operating system to bury DOS, though technically it still ran on top of DOS like Windows 3.x did. And it represented a complete change in user interface. Windows 95 introduced the Start Menu and task bar, and was the first PC operating system that truly felt like a multi-tasking, multiple window graphical interface. It was the first time where users were truly able to have multiple things running on their computer at the same time, and manage/see them all. And remember, Windows 95 even came out before the internet was even known to most people. The first shipping version of Windows 95 did not include Internet Explorer or even include the ability to connect to the internet!
But even still, Windows 95 represented the foundation for PC computing for the next 17 years. Even Windows 7 at its core is still very much based on the UI that was introduced with Windows 95. The start menu is still there, as is My Computer (now called 'Computer'). The task bar, though re-vamped, still has much of the same core functionality. Windows 7 may look completely different than Windows 95 in terms of spit and polish, but in reality over the past 17 years Windows has remained largely the same.
That changes this week, in a big way. I'm going to re-iterate what I said in the first paragraph: Windows 8 is quietly the biggest paradigm shift in personal computing since Windows 95. That cannot be understated. Take everything you've ever learned about Windows, and throw it away.
I have been using Windows 8 at home since February. And at work since August. Through this one thing has come through perfectly clear to me: Windows 8 is a mobile operating system, not a traditional desktop operating system. Until now, Windows has always truly been at its best running on a desktop computer with a large screen (or two) and as much processing power that can be thrown at it. That is not the case for Windows 8. I would actually argue that Windows 8 gets worse as you throw bigger and more screens at it. A tablet or a smaller touchscreen laptop really is the ideal solution for Windows 8. My dual 24” monitor setup at my desk at work really shows the weaknesses of Windows 8.
That being said, it isn’t all bad. I think that Windows 8 on a purpose built device, like a touchscreen laptop, will be a good experience for most users. However, there are going to be some serious growing pains getting there. This is the first time when people will truly have to re-learn how to use a computer they have been using for the better part of two decades, and that is going to be a disaster.
We must also remember Windows RT, which is what runs on Microsoft’s surface tablet, and many coming tablets. Windows 8 and Windows RT may look the same, but they are very different. I will talk about that in my next post.