Every five years or so Windows has come out with an updated piece of software, nothing out of the ordinary for a computer company, but this year’s update is not just an improvement over the last model. Instead of only making everything look faster and cooler than before, Microsoft decided to take their operating system and redesign the entire thing.
An operating system – or OS – is the main language of the computer, the part that takes the mouse and keyboard inputs and actually turns them into something meaningful on the screen. Other examples are OSX, Apple’s desktop operating system, and Unix, a system reserved for hardcore computer nerds and industrial machines. The major change that Windows 8 brings is in the interface and interaction. Much like the growing trend among smartphones and tablet computers, Windows 8 hopes to bring touch screen use to full computers. Why, you may wonder, is there something wrong with the keyboard and mouse?
Not really, but sales numbers prove that consumer tastes are changing. Apple’s iPad is by far the strongest competitor in the tablet, or touch-based computer, market. How strong? An article from Computerworld reported last summer that Apple sold more iPads in one fiscal quarter than Lenovo, HP or Dell sold computers at all.
There are few other tablets available, like Amazon’s Kindle Fire or Google’s Nexus 7, so Apple has all but entirely owned the tablet market. Microsoft’s Windows 8 system will be the first serious rival to Apple, but instead of going with an all touch screen approach, Windows 8 is attempting to use it alongside the traditional keyboard and mouse setup. Is Microsoft making a huge mistake?
Hoping not to alienate older audiences that still like to click and type with physical buttons, Windows 8 still offers much of the old design and usability Microsoft has always had by effectively using two different styles at the same time. It is the best of both worlds, right? Well, initial impressions were not great.
Will Smith, science and technology writer for Tested, said that the two designs clash against each other and that it would be better for Windows to just go all one way or the other.
Apple tried a similar approach in their Lion update for OSX in 2011, which was not well liked by the tech press either. Jesus Diaz of Gizomodo said that the interface felt like a failure.
Apple learned from their mistakes and tweaked their design in the next update, proving that mixing touch screen and desktop design in computers is not easy.
Another peculiar factor with Windows 8 is that every computer running it is expected to already have a touch screen. Not only the tablet on your coffee table, but the laptop in your backpack and the desktop in your office. I do not really want to tap and swipe at my monitor when I am at my desk, but maybe that is just me.
Whether Windows 8 succeeds or fails will not change the fact though that the lines dividing desktops and tablets and smartphones are fading away. People simply do not buy a new Dell machine every two or three years anymore, though iPads have had increasingly high sales since debuting in 2010.
iPads can check email and Facebook, play games, watch movies and even take pictures. Pretty much everything most people do with computers. Many smartphones are not far behind in features either.
Microsoft is doing what they have to to stay ahead, and Apple has chipped away at their computer sales steadily for the past decade, but that whole market is becoming less and less important. Windows 8 is a strange gamble, and it will probably take some time to gain acceptance, but in the next few years, take the time to explore when you buy a new computer. There are few fields as dynamic as computers, and few fields where a gamble can mean so much for a company’s future.
This article was originally published in The Echo.