Friday, November 2, 2012

Seeing Through New Windows, Windows 8

Windows 8 is here! Most new computers and tablets you’ll purchase (including through LETU's Dell Employee Purchase Program, coming very soon for 2012) will come with Windows 8 by default. You will be able to choose Windows 7 as an option but that is no longer the standard. The question is, then: "should you go with the latest from Microsoft, or should you stick with their tried and true?" 

What’s new with Windows 8: "Apps, Charms, and Start Screen, OH MY!"
It doesn't take more than the first startup to notice your default landing page is totally different - let's Welcome to your new Start Screen. Microsoft has taken the bold step of deep-sixing the literally iconic Start Menu that's been a mainstay over the past two decades since Windows 3.1. The Start Screen is the new full-screen replacement designed as the initial landing page for Windows where you can perform searches, launch familiar programs, and kick off Apps. Wait, Apps?

Windows 8 includes a new Windows Store that lets you install apps, much like the app store on your iPad, iPhone, or Android device. The apps you install from the store have been certified to be safe by Microsoft, so you won’t have to worry about viruses or adware getting onto your computer if you stick to the store. Apps run differently than your traditional desktop programs and are even configured in a different way.

If you've used Windows programs to any extent in the past, you probably found the default place for customizing settings in the program was under the Tools menu, usually in "Settings" or "Options." The new Apps are customized via the "Charms" bar that flies out from the right-hand side of the screen. You access this magical, cereal-peddling leprechaun bar by typing Win+C on a keyboard, moving your mouse to either the top or bottom right-hand corners of the screen, or swiping from the right edge of the screen on a touch-enabled device.

Windows 7 vs. Windows 8 

Aside from the above differences, Windows 8 is very much like Windows 7. The old, familiar Desktop with all of your treasured icons is still there once you minimize the new Start Screen. A few of us in LETU IT have been testing Windows 8 for a few months, and many of us have found it to be faster than Windows 7 once you get past the learning curve. Although we encountered some issues with older printers not working, some intermittent crashes, and a few applications that won't work, we're confident that future patches will shore up the stability and compatibility.

Windows 8 was designed with touch input in mind, though you'll find that your trusty mouse and keyboard still have a place on the desktop. As a result of the focus on touch for the user interface, you’ll notice many of Dell’s new offerings have touch screens. However, there are some caveats with the tablets you should be aware of before you buy.

Not all tablets are built the same  

One thing to watch out for when you’re buying a tablet is that some of the tablets are running Windows RT.  It looks and feels like Windows 8, but it’s different in that only Apps from the Windows Store can be installed and run on the tablet.  Your old Windows 7 or XP apps won’t work.  Dell is currently selling one Windows RT device. Here’s a comparison sheet between that device and a Windows 8 tablet:

The XPS 10 is running Windows RT, is cheaper, thinner, and lighter, and comes bundled with Microsoft Office Home and Student (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote). There's currently no way to use Microsoft Outlook on Windows RT for your mail and calendar, however there are built in Mail and Calendar apps to fulfill some of the functionality. Unfortunately, your old programs like Google Chrome, Firefox, Photoshop, etc. won’t work. It’s more like your iPad than your laptop.  

So is Windows 8 right for me?

If you're buying a new tablet device, you should definitely consider Windows 8; touch-enabled devices are its home. If you're considering a new desktop or laptop and you meet the following criteria, you have a good case for getting Windows 8:
  • The hardware and software you use says, "Compatible for Windows 7 (or 8)"
  • You like being on the cutting edge
  • You don't mind learning new workflows and working through potential early-adopter technology issues 
  • You own other Windows 8 devices (PC, tablet, Windows Phone 8, or even Xbox)

That last one is a biggie since the Windows 8 ecosystem has several advantages. The Windows Store apps are certified malware-free, you can sync Apps between devices, and even App settings between devices can roam/sync. 

Should I upgrade the computer I have now? 

If you’re not planning on getting a new computer and wondering if you should upgrade, here's a rule of thumb: if your computer came with Windows 7, it will handle Windows 8. Otherwise, you're likely better off investing in a new PC.

When is LeTourneau going to upgrade my work computer to Windows 8?

As of right now we have no immediate plans to upgrade to Windows 8, mostly because we’re still working on upgrading to Windows 7. We are going to revisit upgrading to Windows 8 next summer, after it’s had a chance to get widespread use and people are getting used to it.  At that point we’ll see what value it would add to our campus workflows and consider starting an upgrade from there, provided a new Windows version won’t be available within the next 2 years. No matter what happens, rest assured LETU IT will continue to communicate the latest news.

Bonus Material

Microsoft has put together some good videos to get you started with Windows 8. If you can spare the 10 minutes, it will more than make up that time on the learning curve.

Getting to know Windows 8/RT

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