When Microsoft makes an announcement about a new version of Windows, the rest of the technology industry sits up and takes notice, and the unveiling of Windows 8 was no different.
It’s quite a big change from previous versions of the operating system, being designed to work with both tablet computers and desktop and laptop models.
We’ll take a look at Windows 8 and see what it means for home PC owners.
Windows is still the most widely used operating system (OS) in homes and businesses, but other manufacturers are making inroads into its market share. That’s particularly true given the changing way in which we use computers.
Only a couple of years ago, most users had either a laptop or a desktop computer, but now with more powerful smartphones and tablet computers appearing every month, that’s changing. Soon it won’t be necessary to use a full-size computer for many tasks, and that’s a big threat to Microsoft’s dominance.
It doesn’t currently have an operating system for tablets – some of them use Windows 7 but it’s always been unsatisfactory because it’s designed for big screens, mice and keyboards, not small touch-sensitive displays.
Microsoft does have a smartphone operating system, Windows Phone 7, but it is quite recent and doesn’t have much support yet (though the first phones have been impressive).
Windows 8 is an attempt to take back some of the ground Microsoft has lost to Google and Apple, with their Android and iOS devices. It is designed to be a one-size-fits-all version that will work on all kinds of computer.
Its design takes a lead from Windows Phone, with a ‘Start screen’ that contains a series of panels or tiles (pictured above). As on a Windows Phone, tapping a panel opens up the tool with which it’s associated, such as a web browser, calendar or email program.
Some of the panels show useful information such as a recent social network update, upcoming appointment or how many unread emails you have. There’s also a store from which users can download and buy programs.
Microsoft also announced that the new version will run on processors designed by British company Arm, which are used in most of the tablet computers currently in production.
The Start screen doesn’t replace the old Windows interface – on tapping the Desktop tile, users will be taken back to the familiar Windows Desktop with its icons and Windows.
Small screens will be limited to the old Windows Desktop, and people with large screens will be able to use them both side-by-side by swiping a finger across the screen to choose between the two.
Older computers won’t be left out in the rush to support tablets, according to Microsoft, which said the system requirements will be the same or lower than they are for the current Windows 7. That also means that tablet computers will be able to run the new operating system without slowing down too much or needing big improvements in hardware.
In any case, by the time Windows 8 is likely to become available in a year or so, newer tablet computers using much more powerful processors will be widely sold.
Not every PC maker is happy about the future of Windows. JT Wang, the chairman and chief executive of Acer, told the Bloomberg news agency that the restrictions Microsoft was making on hardware makers was ‘troublesome’, although he didn’t identify the exact problem.
Microsoft was keen to point out that there wouldn’t be separate versions of Windows for each type of computer – a single version will work on laptops, desktops and tablet models.
Corporate vice president Mike Anguilo told the launch press conference in Taiwan: “You don’t need to choose between new and old. All of the same functionality you see on a touch-only system works great on a keyboard and a mouse.”
Windows 8 is a big change for Microsoft. The question is whether it is already too late to capitalise on tablet computers.
By the time Windows 8 appears, the iPad will have consolidated its position as the biggest-selling tablet computer, and Android tablets, which are starting to look very impressive, will have got better and more powerful.
Microsoft is betting that people will decide they want to have the same experience on their tablets and other computers and Windows 8 is designed to make that happen. The next few months will see more announcements and previews, and we’ll keep you posted.
Do you think it’s a good idea to have one operating system for tablet and desktop computers? Does Windows 8 sound like a good idea or a flop? Let us know by emailing email@example.com