Sunday, November 11, 2012

Microsoft Windows 8 and Surface tablet now available

Both Google and Apple have made major tablet announcements recently but the one (actually two) many people have been waiting breathlessly for came from Microsoft in October. The Surface tablet is notable for several reasons. The "Modern UI" interface - formerly called "Metro" is a touch screen using "live tiles". These are colorful rectangular boxes of all sizes that are used to launch apps and display real time information - Facebook updates, weather, news, etc.
Windows 8 Touchscreen

The second but related announcement was the release of Windows 8 to the public. The core of this updated OS is basically Windows 7 minus the start button. When running Windows 8 you need to click a new button that will takes you to the Modern UI screen with the colorful tiles to switch programs, etc.

The previews of both products have not been kind. There were complaints that the tiled touch screen interface was sluggish although I did not notice that during a demo at the Microsoft store recently. I also tried Windows 8 on two of the 13 inch ultrabooks in the store. It did not take long to get used to touching the screen instead of using the mouse to make selections although I'm sure this will be confusing for some as they make the switch. And of course anyone installing Windows 8 on an older machine will not be able to use the touch screen.

The touch screen tile interface is not new. Microsoft has a long history of tablet development and this interface has been available - but not widely used - as Microsoft Phone 7 for nearly three years. The big question is whether companies will gravitate to a somewhat confusing interface - live tiles on one hand and Windows 7 on the other - or will they just stay where they are for the present and concentrate on Android/Apple app deployment.

The geeks among us will be anxious to try out Windows 8 and help us judge its likely future. Because Microsoft is four years behind Google and Apple in mobile technology, it will be interesting to see if this new combination is enough to light a fire under the company and its users.

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