In order to properly review Windows 8, as Microsoft have said that they consider it to be essentially finished and feature-locked, I thought it would be best to split my review into the four categories of people who would be using it. So here at gHacks and on our sister site Windows8News I will be reviewing the new operating system for IT Pros and businesses (here at gHacks) and Consumers and Enthusiasts at Windows8News, the former of which has already been published and you can read it here.
In the first round it’s a win for consumers, who have traditionally had a rough time with what is essentially a business operating system and that has, until now anyway, always been that. But what about IT Pros? These will be people who will use Windows for both work and play and who will commonly switch between these roles regularly throughout the day during the same computing session. So what, if anything, does Windows 8 offer IT Pros?
Consumers win resoundingly with the new Metro interface, but so far IT Pros have reacted with mixed feelings and some strong emotions. Frankly they either love it or hate it. I have expressed my own strong feelings on occasion upon discovering that some of the major, and very useful, administrative features are so well buried or hidden within the operating system that it becomes frustrating to use. But let’s look at this objectively, how often do I actually need or use them and how easy or difficult are they really to find?
Looking at my own usage of my PC I spend the majority of my time in Internet Explorer on the desktop, with commonly six or so tabs open at a time, I can still do this. I also have Word or Excel files open, sometimes many in a single session and all scattered across a large desktop, I can still do this too. So surely if I can still do everything I used to in the same way then this is a good thing… right?
Well this is where the new Metro interface comes into the frame. Already, and for those who want shot of it, patches are appearing that will get rid of it and restore the original Start Menu (of which I was never a fan). I want to be able to pin all of my commonly used apps to the Windows Taskbar and find the others easily through search. Pinning programs to the Taskbar is now a bit more fiddly than it was before but only a tiny bit, as is search which you cannot do directly from the desktop in the way you can with the new Start Screen. In fairness this means that Windows 8 will take longer for an IT Pro to set-up or configure than Windows 7 does. While this might initially be annoying, it’s a one-time only job.
So what about this new Metro interface? It’s interesting when you think that I began this article by saying that IT Pros switch between work and play roles frequently on their computers. Each individual will have to decice whether they want to work with two different interfaces on a single computer, but it is rather a nice way to keep them apart. At work I can concentrate on work, when I’m not at work I don’t have to look at it. I like this approach and I can see it becoming very popular.
But what if you really don’t want to use the Metro interface for launching programs? Here it could become a very useful information dashboard with live tiles giving you valuable information at the press of a single button on almost every aspect of your online life. This is much in the way desktop widgets have been used in Windows Vista, Windows 7 and OS X. The desktop gadgets still exist in Windows 8 on the desktop but with Metro I can’t see why you’d want to use them.
In many ways the transition for IT Pros to Windows 8 will be a difficult one, not the least of which is that many of the advanced features have been buried in places where, without Start Menu access, they’re difficult to find. IT Pros want to see and know what’s going on with their computer, they want flexibility with it and they want to be able to customise it. Windows 8 is not aimed at these people, it’s not about customisation and this will be the first version of Windows since XP where I can see myself and others installing third-party customisation software to allow us to do just that.
But Windows is flexible, certainly in respect to it being easily hackable. Microsoft haven’t removed even the classic Start Menu, it’s all still in there waiting to be switched back on if you want it. In many ways this is a strength as Windows 8 really can be whatever we need it to be. Whether the extra effort required in getting it to where we need it to be is enough of an incentive to move away from Windows 7 is a choice each IT Pro will have to make for themselves. Some might love new features like the improved multi-monitor support, Storage Spaces or Hyper-V. Others may never want to use these and may be perfectly happy living without them. That makes this review too close to call. It could go either way with some people loving it and others hating it.