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Windows 8: Microsoft’s New Operating System for Tablets & Laptops

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Logo.jpgThis Friday, we’re due to see one of the biggest shake-ups of computer operating systems in years. Microsoft is due to release the latest version of their Windows 8 operating system for tablets, laptops and PCs.


Featuring a modern new interface which is designed for touchscreen input, Windows 8 is set to herald in new form factors of mobile computing devices which will allow us to consume and create content on the go. Microsoft is also hoping that Windows 8 and their Surface tablet will help them to take on Apple’s iPad 3 and Google’s Nexus 7 in the battle for the future of mobile computing.


In this article, we take an in-depth look at the Windows 8 operating system and explore how Microsoft has redesigned Windows for portable tablet devices. We also look at the distinction between the Windows 8 and Windows RT operating systems and explore the range of devices available on Windows 8.


Windows 8’s Modern UI: Optimised for Touchscreens & Tablet PCs


Windows 8 features a radical new design and user interface – it’s a big departure from previous versions of Windows and one that many of us won’t recognise. Upon launching Windows 8, you’ll be dropped into the new Windows 8 “Start Screen” rather than into the traditional Windows desktop.


The new Windows 8 start screen is formed from a bold and bright grid of dynamic tiles. Like the icons on a traditional Windows desktop, each tile provides one-click access to your favourite applications. However, these tiles go beyond being simple shortcuts: they can also update themselves and can show relevant information such as current weather conditions, upcoming appointments and incoming e-mail messages. This means you can get a quick overview of everything happening on your device with a single glance of the start screen.


Windows 8 has a brand new user interface. It’s tile-based and is similar to the design of the Windows Phone operating system which is used on devices such as the Nokia Lumia 920.


The new user interface (previously known as Metro UI) doesn’t just extend to start screen. In fact, Microsoft has redeveloped a large part of Windows to utilise the new user interface. This means that applications such as the photo gallery, e-mail, weather and web browser have all been given the brand new look.


Microsoft envisions that the majority of new Windows 8 applications will run within “Modern UI”: tablet users will appreciate the fact that the new applications are designed for touchscreens whereas other users will appreciate the tidy, clutter-free and aesthetically pleasing look of the new apps. On the flip side, “Modern UI” applications have also been criticised as being too simplistic by PCs and laptop users.


Windows 8 Mail.jpgWindows 8 Weather.jpg

Applications such as e-mail and weather have been given a facelift and will run within “Modern UI”.


Compared to the iPad and tablets running on Android, one benefit of Windows 8 tablets is that they can run two applications at the same time side-by-side. The split-screen multitasking mode in “Modern UI” is fairly unique amongst tablets: the only other tablet on the market with this feature is the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (which only has it in a limited way: it’s restricted to a few applications).



Windows 8 features a split-screen multitasking mode where you can run two applications side-by-side.


In order to make it easier to find new applications for Windows 8, Microsoft is adding a new app store. This will provide applications that run inside “Modern UI” and will work in a similar way to the app store on Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems. At present, the Windows 8 Application Store contains less than 10,000 apps (Apple and Google have more than 500,000 apps each). However, this is expected to increase when Windows 8 devices hit the market.


If you’re running Windows 8, you’ll still be able to run all of your old legacy applications in the Desktop Mode (more later). Additionally, you’ll still be able to download applications online and install them from CD-ROMs. This will work in much the same way as on older version of Windows. However, if you’re running Windows RT it’s important to note that you can only download applications from the Windows Store.


Windows 8: What Else is New?


The most obvious change in Windows 8 is that Microsoft is attempting to take on the mobile tablet market. This is highlighted by the fact that Microsoft chose to launch Windows 8 at Mobile World Congress earlier this year. Aside from the new touchscreen-optimised “Modern UI”, Windows 8 also features improved battery life on mobile devices, native support for 3G mobile broadband connections, support for SMS text messaging and a new lock screen with notifications.


Other new features in Windows 8 include:


  • Family Safety.jpgIntegration of anti-virus software and parental controls. The “Family Safety” feature of Windows 8 allows you to restrict how long your kids can spend on the PC and what websites and applications they can access. You’ll also be able to receive regular reports of their PC usage.

  • Support for Near Field Communication (NFC) technology.

  • Integration with the Microsoft SkyDrive cloud storage service. You can also synchronise your Windows settings across multiple devices through your Microsoft account.

  • New method of securing your Windows account using a “picture password”.
  • The latest version of the Internet Explorer 10 web browser.

  • Improved support for using multiple monitors.

  • Support for ARM processors (devices with ARM processors will run the Windows RT operating system).

Desktop Mode: Legacy Applications, Microsoft Office & More


Desktop Mode.jpgAs well as featuring the “Modern UI” mode, Windows 8 also provides the option to return to the “Desktop Mode” from earlier versions of Windows. Providing you’re running the x86 version of Windows 8 (in other words, you’re not running Windows RT), all of your legacy applications from older versions of Windows will run within the desktop mode. This includes Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, AutoCAD and iTunes.


If you’re running Windows RT (for ARM processors), you won’t be able to run older Windows applications within “Desktop Mode”. This is because Windows applications have traditionally been built for Intel processors rather than for ARM processors. However, Windows RT comes bundled with the ARM version of Office 2013 which runs within the desktop mode. This is likely to be a strong selling point for Windows tablets.


Windows 8 & Windows RT: What’s the Difference?


It is important to note that Microsoft is actually releasing two different versions of Windows: Windows 8 and Windows RT. Although both versions of Windows look the same and work in the same way, there are some subtle differences.


The most important distinction is that Windows 8 is designed for Intel processors (x86) and Windows RT is designed for ARM processors. Intel processors are used on the majority of PCs and laptops whereas ARM processors are used on virtually every smartphone and tablet out there. As Windows 8 blurs the boundary between tablet and laptop, Microsoft has decided to create a version of their operating system for both Intel and ARM processors.


Comparing the two versions of Windows, Windows 8 is generally the more capable operating system. Because Windows 8 runs on the same type of processors as older versions of Windows, it’ll run all of the legacy applications that you had from older versions of Windows. It’ll also allow you to download applications from outside the Windows Store.


Windows RT has the one benefit that it comes bundled with the full version of Microsoft Office 2013.


Windows 8: Hardware Availability


Microsoft Surface.jpgWith Windows 8 being released this Friday, there are due to be a large number of new devices hitting the market. Microsoft’s Surface tablet will be one of the first: it’s a 10.6-inch tablet with a choice of covers which can transform it into a laptop with a full QWERTY keyboard. The Windows RT version of Surface will be available on Friday from £399 (there is an additional cost for the touch cover).


Other Windows 8 hardware includes the Dell XPS 12 – a touch-enabled laptop where the screen can be flipped around to transform your laptop into a tablet. Other manufacturers producing devices with Windows 8 include Acer, Asus, HP, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba.


Windows 8: Comparison to iPad & Android Tablets


The Windows 8 operating system is Microsoft’s big attempt to take on the tablet PC market. To date, tablet computing has been dominated by the iPad and Android-based tablets such as the Nexus 7. As the newest entrant to the tablet market, the biggest problem that Windows 8 will have is a lack of applications. However, Windows 8 provides several unique benefits over the iPad and Android tablets:


  • Windows 8 is generally a more powerful operating system than both iOS and Android. This is because it was originally designed for PCs rather than smartphones.

  • Windows 8 features support for multiple logins and multiple users of a tablet. Tablets are often shared between multiple people: family members for instance. Today’s tablets lack separate logins for each user. This can makes it difficult to synchronise your e-mail and calendar in a secure way and can makes it difficult to use parental controls.

  • Windows 8 allows two applications to run side-by-side simultaneously. This is not possible on other tablets, except from the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1.

  • Windows 8 can run Microsoft Office. For many people,Microsoft Office is the most commonly used application on their computer. With Windows 8, it is possible to run Microsoft Office on your tablet. Windows RT users will get Office 2013 pre-loaded at no extra charge.

  • Windows 8 can run legacy applications (x86 only). You’ll be able to run the full version of applications such as Photoshop, AutoCAD and iTunes on your tablet. This feature isn’t available to Windows RT users.

Your Thoughts…


Microsoft’s latest operating system is due to hit the market on Friday. Featuring a brand new user interface which is optimised for touchscreen displays, Windows 8 is Microsoft’s attempt to take on Apple and Google in the tablet PC market.


Have you tried Windows 8? If so, how did you find Microsoft’s latest operating system? Do you think the new design of Windows 8 will be enough for Microsoft to take on Apple and Google? Did Microsoft do the right thing in designing Windows 8 for tablets or did they alienate their core group of users on PCs and laptops? We’d love to hear your thoughts… please drop us a comment below and let us know what you think!


Ken Lo writes about mobile technology and the mobile industry at Ken's Tech Tips.

great worth mentioning smartglass also releases Friday Smiley Very Happy

still using XP.


Not looking forward to it if I am honest. It doesn't look great and looks exteremely plain. I'm happy with Win 7 right now. 


some one give me windows 7. just need the sticker with the number on it.


Trying the Win8 desktop theme now and it's a massive step back. MS claim they decluttered the accumulated crud in window 'decoration' to make it more productive/efficient. Unfortunately when they'd finished removing all the optional shiny bits they didn't stop, they've removed many of the visual cues that helped users navigate complex windows and left a near monochromatic, often blank wasteland. It's giving me eye ache and slowing me down.


Just had a fight with the charms menu, trying to resize a window touching the screen edge. Took 5 attempts to drag it without the menu hijacking the cursor... let's just say this OS was not designed with any respect for desktop users.


Also starting to see reports of Win7 apps that don't work in Win8 desktop. Really not looking forward to finding out how many of my XP apps won't work. Already know my mail+news reader is toast.


...and I still don't understand why live tiles make any sense on a desktop PC. I don't sit staring at the desktop, there's always an app loaded. But live tiles get hidden as soon as you launch an app!


One word of warning: on RT tablets the built in Office has student licencing - you cannot do any work with it, just personal use. No-one knows how complete it is yet because MS won't let anyone test it but it's a fair guess it will be far from a 'complete' edition. The RT hardware just doesn't allow that.


The one +ve thing not mentioned in the review is launch pricing. If for any reason you want to upgrade to Win8 Pro it's a £25 download (+ a quid for the blank DVD) till Jan 2013. Takes away some of the pain I'm about to suffer finally upgrading from XP Smiley Sad

handy giff-staffer

Who'd have thought that Microsoft would be the ones going for radical new changes and Apple would be sticking to tried and true designs? 


Not sure if I will be installing yet but looks ok!


All we need now is the ability to teather so we can check our emails on the move Smiley Happy


Jeesus, it has all the good looks of a pavement pizza, doesn't it? (also the claims of its capabilities, relative to the competition, are outright lies). Merging the tablet and desktop operating systems is an idiotic idea. Apple didn't do it, and that strategy has proven a sensible one.


Christ Microsoft, do what the competition are doing, if you want to compete - it's not rocket surgery (works so well for Android, Apple keep sueing people over it). Don't just go off and do the diametric opposite, in the hopes that some imaginary brownshirt vanguard of Microsoft loyalists will start some sort of new "trend".


I think this is just another attempt by Microsoft to appear different - like those 70's sports cars that had doors that hinged from the top. "But it's futuristic!" they cry. No it isn't. It's just bloody inconvenient and will look so damn cheesy, nine months down the line.


Before you write off the next version of Windows - this is an interesting article:


which puts things in perspective. The message is we can only really judge the success of Windows 8 in hindsight after 2 or 3 years...


FWIW I have been evaluating WIndows 8 on a desktop system for a few weeks - it feels like "two operating systems grafted together" at times, but it appears to work OK with the apps I have tried, boots faster and apparently is more secure than Windows 7 so there's a couple of pluses, and there are various enhancements dotted around e.g. Task Manager is much better.


I think the most significant new aspect is that MS are trying to be like Apple and Google ie getting more control over Application distribution and getting a slice of the revenue.