Windows 8: set for the new screen wars?

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For a majority of computer users in the world [near 100% in India for sure], the words ‘PC’ and ‘Internet’ are equated with Microsoft’s products – its operating systems and Internet Explorer respectively. The biggest strength of the PC is its universal acceptance.  The fact is, Windows OS means a lot to the computing world. Also, Microsoft & Windows have done a lot to bring computing more accessible to the general public.

Over the last few years, the halo around Windows was beginning to fade as Apple set the pace & benchmark in OS development with rapid releases of OS X. Windows XP remained unchanged for a while. Vista came and ran into problems. Windows 7 gained acceptance since launch but the basic UI of Windows has not changed over the years. It could be its strength and weakness. A major reason for its acceptance is the familiarity of the UI. I have seen people dabble with OS X and get completely flummoxed as it is unfamiliar territory. Quite like die-hard Nokia users who struggle when they switch to Android or iOS. Meanwhile, another development took place right under Microsoft’s nose: the rapid rise of the smart phone and tablets. Both these have established players now in the form of Android & iOS who have begun to set the benchmark for UI, app design, functionality, gestures and so on. So Microsoft is at a stage where it has to regain the halo in desktops and also gain foothold in the mobile devices market. And they are betting on Windows 8 to do that.

The Windows 8 Consumer Preview has received positive reviews largely. I took it for a spin in my laptop and the die-hard Apple user in me was pleasantly surprised. The installation was smooth and the initial look & feel brought out a smile. The familiar ‘Start’ button has been done away with and is replaced with the slick Metro-style interface. The interface is more suited for touch-screen enabled PCs or tablets but looks good nevertheless in the traditional PC. The attempt seems to be cater to the multi-tasking computer user of today – allowing for shifts from one app to the another, yet keeping it all in one seamless space.

While the apps from international news sites look gorgeous [USA Today, MSNBC], the Indian ones [NDTV, Sify, TOI] don’t match up to those in terms of looks. It is good to see services like Burrp available through apps [they got the location right at first go – no glitches there]. What adds to the drool factor is the chrome-less full-screen real estate of all the apps – including music, photos, camera, games and news.

Understandably, there are a few glitches since its only a consumer preview. In my system, the ‘Store’ tile has gone missing from the Metro screen. Clicking on the ‘more PC settings’ does not show more settings some times. The messages and Twitter feed screens are not easy on the eye and look empty – they are also not designed for reading huge streams and lists on Twitter. Bit overrall I think Microsoft has succeeded in getting a positive reaction – that too from an Apple fan.

Will Microsoft succeed in the twin objectives of [a] retaining its leadership in desktop OS [b] gain share in the mobile space? I believe that in the PC space there are 3 kinds [a] Habituals [b] Experimenters and [c] Tech savvy. I think the first lot will seek familiarity first & foremost. Aside from the Metro interface, the regular Windows Explorer and IE are available in the new edition. The experimenters and tech savvy have already been exposed to Firefox, Chrome [and its app store] and perhaps the latest smart phones. To them it will be a welcome change.

In the mobile space, Nokia’s push for the Windows platform through Lumia has potential for success, especially in Asia where Nokia’s handsets are popular. I feel it will offer a great choice to the budget Android users and the fence-sitters among the iOS users.

Your views on Windows 8 and its potential? Do comment in.

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