By Khurram Aziz | Nov 06, 2012 09:54 AM EST
It’s safe to say that Windows 8 is the most significant upgrade to the operating system since Windows 3.1 jumped to Windows 95.
Pitched as the bridge between your smarpthone, tablet computer and desktop PC, the latest incarnation of Microsoft’s flagship operating system is designed to save it from obsolescence in the second decade of the 21st century.
Windows 7 users can expect a significant overhaul if they choose to upgrade between platforms, and as such they need to ask themselves whether it’s worth it.
There is no simple answer to this question.
The Desktop and Start Menu users are so familiar with are no longer the focal point of the new operating system. With Windows 8, Microsoft is aiming for consumers who have a growing familiarity with tablets and smartphones and as such the home screen now has app icons instead of program icons.
Like the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store, you can download both free and paid apps from Microsoft. Unlike most Windows programs, these apps are designed to be used on touch devices.
The arrangement of these apps is flat across a sideways scrolling layout which can be swiped with your finger or panned with a turn of your mouse wheel. This simplification of design makes it much easier to navigate.
The apps on the home screen are laid out with the now-famous ‘Live Tiles’ – which update their content in real time much like the widgets on Android devices.
However, for those Start Menu purists, who prefer Windows' old hierarchical display, this is still available in a simplified version by right-clicking in the lower left of the screen.
The traditional, though modified, Desktop is also still there. Simply by clicking the Desktop (version) icon on your PC, you can access the familiar Windows start screen and programs that can be started with double-click of a mouse.
In many ways this gives you two operating systems in one, and therein lies the major flaw.
The stripped-down Desktop and Start Menu doesn’t give Windows 7 users everything they’ve become accustomed to, such as the ability to 'pin' items they use the most. To make matters worse, apps which you can access on the new Windows 8 home screen and programs you use on the Desktop version don’t quite work together seamlessly as expected.
For one, Windows 8 contains two versions of Internet Explorer, which means those not familiar with using touchscreen apps will have to go through a learning curve to adapt to the new ecosystem. In the end, it is likely users will stick to what is more familiar, which means moving between the tiles and the Desktop version could become pointless for many.
But there’s much more on offer for those thinking about upgrading than simply a change in the user interface.
The biggest improvements to Windows 8 are under the hood. The new graphics system which uses DirectX makes the operating system more responsive as you move windows or scroll through the home screen. Internet Explorer 10 and Microsoft Office 2013 also feel faster and the graphics subsystem is designed to provide a framework for 3D acceleration on tablets and on Windows 8 Phones.
Having a common ecosystem that will run on PCs, tablets, and even phones, brings a huge benefit to the increasing number of users who own multiple devices and want seamless integration between them all.
The average user has files and data that they've created using various programs over the years and the deciding factor for them would be whether that data is going to be easily accessible using the new operating system. That is still an unknown. So for many, it will be worth waiting for the first significant upgrade to Windows 8 before jumping ship.
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