Saturday, February 16, 2013

Windows 8 - Start screen
I, personally, have been a fan of Apple's design philosophy, their hardware and some of their software since the early 2000s. However, living in India, I did not have much opportunities to interact with Apple products and services. All that changed when I purchased an iPod Shuffle for my wife, and followed that with the purchase of a 11-inch MacBook Air in February 2011. Since then, I have staunchly believed that Apple hardware is so well-built and efficient, that anyone who has that much money should spend it on an Apple Notebook PC instead of a Windows-based Notebook PC. I even wrote at that time that Apple Notebooks were value-for-money, considering that Notebooks made by other computer manufacturers were not as well-made or as efficient. What about the OS, though? Well, most everyday actions were easy to adapt to. I consider myself a power user, but most of my computer-related tasks are simple. There are rare occasions when I use Adobe Photoshop, or perform a little video editing with Adobe's Premier Elements or Windows Movie Maker. For these rare occasions, I've never used the MacBook Air. For general computing, however, I desired a Mac. I wanted to switch our home Desktop PC to a Mac (probably a Mac Mini - it's small and efficient), and buy a MacBook for myself. To leave the entire Windows computing world behind and step into a world filled only with brushed aluminium and rounded rectangles is a daunting proposition, not to mention the fact that this would cost over a lakh of rupees. I've felt the money would be well spent.

However, I now believe firmly that Windows 8 has changed that. I'm no longer completely sold on the Apple ecosystem. I still love their hardware. The glass trackpad on any MacBook is such a pure joy to use, for example. Microsoft's Windows 8 has captured me, though, with it's perfect rectangles and squares, it's Charms bar, and the sweeping animations that make even my aging Desktop PC look so modern (pun intended). Read on to find out why.

Online Sync
Windows 8 - Settings, Users
When Windows 8 is installed on a PC, it asks you to login with your Microsoft account, if you have one. Most people may be comfortable in skipping that step and using a local-only 'traditional' account, but I use a Microsoft account. The advantage? It synchronises my personalized settings across devices. Since I also use a Windows 8-based Notebook PC, this comes in handy. If I change the Wallpaper or the auto-hide behaviour of the Task Bar on my Desktop PC, it makes the appropriate changes to my Notebook PC (provided I log in to the Notebook PC and allow it to synchronise with my settings online). This is just the beginning of things. The 6 email accounts that I had configured on my Desktop PC just showed up on my Notebook PC. The pain of sitting and configuring things again and again in every computer I use is no longer there. This really feels magical. What then of the people who don't use multiple computers? Well, even before I upgraded my Notebook PC to Windows 8, the online-ness of Windows 8 gave me heavy doses of excitement. It can be a tad intrusive to have a friend say "Hi" with a message that pops up in the top-right corner of the screen when the whole family is watching a film, but I guess that's something I'd rather live with it - considering the benefits. I really don't need to visit the website Facebook, with all my content synchronising with the People and Messages app. I don't need to open up my various Gmail accounts, either. The fact that everything is just synchronised seamlessly in the background, and I have everything at my fingertips is a huge boon that makes every other currently available computer Operating System seem quite archaic.

Modern UI
Speaking of archaic, the User Interface style that Microsoft was calling Metro is currently termed the Modern UI. Frankly, there couldn't be a better word for it. Everything seems so clean and efficient with sharp lines and clean, white spaces. Apple's latest OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion) makes textures and 3D elements look really nice, but I love simplicity. More importantly, I love efficiency in simplicity and Windows 8 is rich with it. The font, the colours and the design elements all combine to form a very fluidic, natural-seeming interface. The Modern UI has no space or ability to display a dialog box; all notifications show up as unobtrusive pop-up banners in the top-right corner of the screen. IE informs you that a download has completed. Facebook messages show up this way. When an app finishes installing from the Windows Store, an unobtrusive pop-up banner lets you know so.

Cost Factor
The computers in my house have been running non-pirated software for several years now. Yet, the fact that Microsoft was providing Windows 8 at an introductory price of just Rs. 1999/- meant that plenty of folks in our country could actually be convinced to buy the Operating System instead of downloading it from a pirated source. People who have put off buying original, licensed software (and who staunchly refused to use Linux) were now able to get a side-door entry into the world of fully original, licensed software. With a free upgrade of the Media Center Pack, to boot. Agreed, this offer was available only till 31st January, 2013 but it was an offer well worth participating in.

Missing Features
Windows 8 - Settings, Devices
Are there missing features that would make my experience with Windows 8 more well-rounded and well, complete? Of course! Primarily, I would like Microsoft to completely do away with the Desktop interface. I know that in its current avatar, Windows 8 requires us to keep going back to the Desktop interface - to use legacy programs, to use stable versions of third-party web browsers, and so on. What I expectantly wait for, is the day when all the apps I use are available in the Modern interface and I no longer require the Desktop interface. The second most-pressing need in Windows 8 is the native integration of Google Talk with the built-in Windows 8 Messaging app. It just makes sense because the Mail, Calendar and People apps have made me require a web browser so much less - I don't really need a web browser for Gmail, Facebook or checking my Google Calendar now (On a related note, I entirely dislike having to install a Desktop-based legacy app such as Google Talk to handle my Google Talk needs. It's either the built-in Messaging app, or from within Gmail in a web browser for me). So it would only make sense to reduce my dependence on a web browser by integrating Google Talk within the Messaging app. There are plenty more features that one could wish for, but the third requirement that I can see missing is that most of the standard Windows configuration settings aren't available within the Modern interface. Sure, some basic personalization and configuration options are available. Yet, deeper fine-tuning of network connections' properties, printers configuration, etc. require the user to use the legacy Desktop interface - which just isn't fine. If Microsoft seriously expects third-party App developers to bank only on the Modern interface to build their apps, perhaps Microsoft itself should take the Modern interface seriously - and bank only on it when building the next update to Windows.


Divine said...

Been using Windows 8 for a while now, but I think the Metro UI is pretty much useless on a laptop or a desktop. But the concept and idea behind Windows 8 is quite good and going forward with a lot of Touch screen devices being made I think it will be more useful!! Maybe!!

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