Windows 8: Are Microsoft Going Through An Identity Crisis?

Microsoft have unveiled Windows 8 to the world. In trying to experiment with a tried and tested formula though, they've actually just ended up in no man's land.
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Microsoft have unveiled Windows 8 to the world. In trying to experiment with a tried and tested formula though, they've actually just ended up in no man's land.

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Windows 8 is, at first glance, barely recognisable as an extension of the world’s most popular operating system. Those that have been berating Microsoft’s lack of innovation over recent years seem to have got their wish, and they will no doubt be delighted about it, but those who have become accustomed to the Windows experience might just feel like someone has walked into their house and pissed all over their most comfortable pair of slippers.

That the new design is sleek is hard to refute, and if you’ve had the chance to get to grips with a Windows 7 based mobile then you’ll be in familiar territory. Microsoft have gone for a minimalistic approach to the user interface based around ‘live tiles’ that provide a front for the programmes at the heart of your everyday computing experience, meaning that accessing your email or favourite social media site has never been easier.

That’s the theory, at least. In practice, what we see is a little different. Numerous reports and reviews have surfaced claiming that the new system takes a lot of getting used to. For example, every application you view takes up the whole of the screen, making multi-tasking impossible. The fact that it will take time to adjust to Windows 8 is to be expected, I suppose, but that a system clearly designed to be intuitive is causing so much difficulty is worrying to say the least.

That a system clearly designed to be intuitive is causing so much difficulty is worrying to say the least

‘Not a problem’, Microsoft say. By simply pressing the ‘Desktop’ tile you’ll be able to revert back to everything that is familiar – in fact, you’ll probably feel like you’re using Windows 7 again, with the trademark tiles replaced with traditional minimizing and maximising windows. You’ll be forced to constantly switch back and forth between the old and new, which may be jarring, but I suppose Microsoft are aiming for the best-of-both-worlds, combining the usability of the old system with a shiny, simple overlay that lets you access the most important applications with ease. Whilst this is all well and good, it doesn’t feel like the huge leap forward that the company was gunning for. It seems like you’ll have to click that Desktop tile in order to get anything meaningful done, making the new home screen, which Microsoft have put so much effort into, rather redundant.

That’s not to say that underneath the sparkling exterior is simply a Windows 7 clone, and Microsoft have been careful to make improvements in a number of key areas. Tweaks under the hood mean that Windows 8 will zip along quicker than any of Microsoft’s previous offerings, and everything from internet browsing to shutting down your system has been given a much welcomed supercharge. Elsewhere, expect massively improved cloud integration, which leaves you feeling connected to the internet at all times, backed up by a heftily improved security system that should iron out many frustrations users have had with previous iterations of the Windows series. It’s hard to turn your nose up at these changes, but they feel more like small steps than giant leaps in the right direction.

It’s hard to turn your nose up at these changes, but they feel more like small steps than giant leaps in the right direction

The stylish interface craves to be used on a touch-screen device, and everything about the OS, from the pinch-to-zoom function to the ability to swipe effortlessly between applications suggests that Microsoft are clearly steering their ship in the direction of tablets and mobile phones. If this is the case, then they’d better be prepared for rough seas. They’re foraying into territory dominated by Google’s ever popular Android OS and Apple’s iOS, the system that has made iPads and iPhones the must have devices of this decade so far. Sure, if Windows 8 is met well by users then Microsoft might be able to grab a larger share of the market than the tiny one they stake a claim to currently, but whether that justifies the creation of a brand spanking new operating system is doubtful. Touch screen desktops and laptops are starting to work their way into the market, and if they come flooding in during the next few months and years then Microsoft could be in business (this, I suspect, is their master plan), but until that time they might have to ride out a bit of a storm – one that I feel could’ve been easily avoided.

Everything about Windows 8 whiffs, in my opinion, of an identity crisis in Microsoft’s offices. In going for a minimalistic OS that attempts to focus on creating a pleasant, relaxing experience they’re taking on Apple in their own back yard. One of the main reasons that people refuse to buy Apple products is that they tie your hands in so many ways. They’re easy to use, but they simply don’t give you the freedom that you can get on a traditional Windows system. Windows 8 doesn't necessarily take away any of this freedom, but it certainly makes it more difficult to access, and for this reason I feel that it will pass most people by.

Windows 8 doesn't necessarily take away any of this freedom, but it certainly makes it more difficult to access, and for this reason I feel that it will pass most people by

For people already running Windows systems, there’s simply not enough incentive to upgrade to Windows 8. Why would you? If you like your OS silky smooth then you probably already own a Mac. And if you want a device that properly makes use of everything that Microsoft’s latest contribution to the tech world has to offer then you’ll either end up remortgaging your house for a touch screen laptop or buy into Microsoft’s handheld products – all of which come with their own problems and lag far behind anything that Apple or Google can provide you with.

Windows 8 will probably be an eventual success, but it won’t be the overnight triumph that Microsoft seems to hope it will be. Until we see the inevitable deluge of affordable touch screen laptops and PCs Windows 8 won’t really have somewhere it can call home, and even when that deluge comes the system might be on its last legs. Microsoft have taken a huge risk with their new OS, and will no doubt be lining the pulpits overnight praying that fans give it a good reception when it releases tomorrow.

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