Tomorrow is the big launch day for Microsoft’s brand new iteration of their flagship OS, Windows 8. Perhaps you’re asking yourself, “Should I upgrade?” Perhaps you haven’t even asked yourself the question, and you’re going to upgrade because newer is better.
If you fall into the second category, I’d urge you to slow down for a second. I’m not going to tell you to not upgrade, because it might actually be a great move for you. But it also might not be. It largely depends on what kind of hardware you’re using.
If you’re using a computer that doesn’t have a touchscreen (or at the very least, a nice multitouch trackpad), I’d recommend that you don’t upgrade. How come? If you fall into this category, much of what is new in Windows 8 will be frustrating to use and won’t be as magical as their advertisements make it seem. The hip new design paradigm for Windows 8 is called ‘Metro’, and one thing you should know about it is that everything is designed horizontally. This is a rather dramatic shift for a world that has gotten very used to vertically scrolling applications. And for trackpads and mouse wheels that were designed to scroll vertically, a horizontally designed world feels, well, awkward.
Microsoft figured this would be the case, and for many of the new Metro apps vertical scrolling translates into horizontal scrolling. Nevertheless when I see a horizontally designed application I try to flick my fingers sideways on my trackpad which doesn’t work (unfortunately it looks like my drivers only work within the desktop on Windows 8).
If you’re running a tablet or ultrabook, or at least a very new laptop that has a robust multitouch trackpad, I’m sure Windows 8 might be fun to use for you. I can’t really comment on this too much since I haven’t experienced it on such hardware, but it’s certainly what it was designed for, and I’m sure it would feel far less awkward.
My Subjective Conclusion
I’ve got to be honest: using a touchscreen interface with a mouse and keyboard just feels downright weird. I’ve mostly stayed away from all the new Metro stuff and stayed in the territory of the desktop. Since the “desktop” is simply an app in a sea of apps rather than the umbrella, it feels like a little bit of an afterthought, kind of like Windows 7 on crutches. It makes me wonder if Microsoft did any significant user testing with people using traditional computers. While many others have brought it up in other reviews, I’m going to join my voice with the crowd and say that Microsoft made some seemingly insane decisions by removing the start button from the desktop and by hiding “shut down” in settings. (IN SETTINGS! Seriously?)
The new OS is well designed visually, but in terms of usability for my test case it’s more than a letdown. Unfortunately there’s still one or two applications that don’t exist for Linux that I use heavily, or I would feel more free to just jump the Windows ship.