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It's go time for Microsoft and its completely overhauled operating system, Windows 8. Why should you care? Let our small business technology experts explain.
The launch of Windows 8 marks a turning point in Microsoft's tried and true operating system interface. As the first Microsoft operating system to support touch-screen technology alongside traditional mouse and keyboard commands, Windows 8 looks, feels and acts very differently from its predecessors.
The new Metro-style Start screen, filled with application tiles, comes as a shock to users accustomed to a relatively Spartan desktop environment. Previewers of the new system either love it or hate it, but the overall response has been positive. Still, some questions beg to be answered. Why would Microsoft release a new operating system on the heels of Windows 7? Can Windows 8 tablets compete with the popular and well-established iPad? And, perhaps most importantly, is Windows 8 worth your time?
Despite its rather bumpy start, Windows 8 offers users some very real advantages. The touch screen technology is fast, accurate and intuitive, and it compares well with other touch-based operating systems. More importantly, however, Windows 8 allows users to synchronize and share information across various hardware platforms, including tablets, Windows 8 smartphones, desktops and laptops.
This feature will have a significant influence on whether Windows 8 thrives or dies. While Apple dominates the current tablet market, the majority of PCs and laptops remain Windows based, especially in business settings.
At present, if you own a touch tablet and a desktop computer, chances are your tablet runs on Apple or Android software, while your desktop or laptop runs on Windows. If you want to share, say, a document, between the tablet and the desktop, you need to use word processing apps on the tablet that will convert the file into a format Windows recognizes, and vice versa. These conversions are not guaranteed to be 100 percent accurate, however, and the time spent fixing discrepancies equates to lost productivity. With the Windows 8 launch, information on a portable device can be shared easily with a Windows 8 desktop. The operating system is designed with touch-screen use in mind, but still works well with a traditional mouse and keyboard. No conversions are necessary, and synchronizing multiple devices is quick and easy.
The advantages of a single operating system for all electronic devices are obvious. Someone traveling for business can access the home office directly from her tablet or smartphone, update information on the fly and access files at any time. Sensitive files can remain on the home office servers, accessed only when needed. Bluetooth capabilities make sharing even more convenient.
Individuals may have less compelling reasons to update from Windows 7 immediately, but the new operating system isn't just a business application. Windows 8 Metro apps make it easy to share information - and receive updates – from various social media sites. Metro apps provide easy access to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and similar sites.
In April of 2012, Microsoft announced that Windows 8 would come in multiple versions, including Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, and Windows RT. Which version you choose depends on your personal needs and your device's processor.
Windows 8 will be the operating system's standard edition, is available for PCs, laptops, and tablets that use x86 processors. Windows 8 Pro offers more bells and whistles for the computer enthusiast, including domain management, virtual operating system capabilities, and file encryption. Windows RT is intended for devices running on ARM processors, and offers improved battery life for ultra slim devices.
The Windows 8 Start screen, with its bright, primary colored app tiles, puts people used to the old Desktop interface at bit off-balance initially, but navigating among the tiles quickly becomes second nature. The lack of an introductory tutorial on the Windows 8 Consumer Preview frustrated some people, but hopefully Microsoft will address this oversight by launch day.
Like Apple, Microsoft offers both free and purchasable apps through an online store, with a link to the store prominently displayed on the Start screen. Microsoft vets all apps before adding them to the store, so the risk of malware infections due to rogue apps is slight.
Under the hood, Windows 8 offers some features that improve on Windows 7. Most significantly, Windows 8 includes a built-in antivirus program, making third-party viral protection unnecessary, and saving the user the cost of an annual antivirus program subscription.
With Windows 8, Microsoft hasn't reinvented the wheel. Many of the operating system's best features are similar to competitors' offerings, but nevertheless Microsoft has done an excellent job of improving on those features and incorporating them into the overall operating system.
Rumors suggest Dell and Nokia will offer Windows 8 tablets by the end of 2012. If nothing else, the Windows 8 launch adds a new competitor to the tablet market, providing consumers with more choices and potentially pushing down the price of tablets.