Windows 8 marks the biggest evolution in Microsoft’s well-known operating system family since Windows 95. Before its release, I had been hearing almost nothing but bad things about it, mostly about the new start menu. Since 8 was designed to be a “one size fits all” operating system, it had to be usable on all platforms, i.e. PC, tablet and smartphone.
For that reason it needed buttons big enough to easily see and tap with your finger. Microsoft decided to use the same style and layout of their current phone OS, Windows Phone 7, as a basis. Hence, the new start menu design uses rectangular tiles and pictures to designate programs.
Because I was in the market for a new laptop anyway, I decided to give the new Windows a go, and see just what everyone seemed to be complaining about. Honestly, everything seems to be running fine and I haven’t had any major problems so far. In fact I’m writing this column on that very laptop.
Let’s briefly touch on a few of the most noticeable changes. First, when you power on your computer, you’ll notice it boots up quite a bit faster than Windows 7, which itself was an improvement. Mine gets to the log-in screen in about 15 seconds.
As for the log-in screen, there are now several ways to enter your password to log into your account. You can use a standard password, a short numerical PIN, or the newest kind, called a picture password. I haven’t tried that one, but apparently you have to move your mouse cursor over specific parts of the picture in a specific order.
The start menu is the biggest difference, and it’s not something worth losing sleep over. Instead of the bar that pops up in the bottom left corner, it now takes over the whole screen. Rather than the small text list, a large square or rectangular tile with matching icon makes it easy to identify the program you want to open.
There is no longer a start button on the bottom of the desktop. To access the start menu, you simply press the Windows key, a button that appears on every PC keyboard, between Ctrl and Alt. From there you can use your mouse cursor or the keyboard’s arrow keys to choose the program you want. I find the latter method much easier. Or if you’re using a touch screen, your finger replaces the mouse.
In addition to programs, Windows 8 also uses apps, with which you’ll be familiar if you own a smartphone. You can download apps from the App Store. Other apps come preloaded in Windows.
One built-in app is the newest version of Internet Explorer, Microsoft’s trademark web browser. Oddly enough, there’s a program version of Explorer as well, but for some reason the two seem completely independent of each other. If you save a website bookmark in one, it won’t show up in the other, for example. It feels disjointed, but hardly anyone uses Internet Explorer so it might go fairly unnoticed.
Bottom line, Windows 8 is not an amazing, must-have new version of Windows, but it’s also not a horrible mess like Vista either. If you already have a PC with Windows 7, there’s absolutely no need to run out and buy it. But, if you’re shopping for a new computer, or are looking to upgrade from XP, Microsoft’s newest OS is not a bad way to go.
Garth Palmer lives in Roseburg and is an aspiring writer and technology enthusiast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.