Windows 8: What’s up?

Promising to be dramatically different, Windows 8 should hit the market later this year. The most obvious and debated change is the Metro UI. For those who need a bit of background, Metro (pictured right) is a new way of interacting with Windows applications. Rather than having a desktop, start menu, and static icons, Metro groups and presents smart icons. These icons display information that may be relevant to your day and offer you a touch-friendly way launching the app. Don’t worry quite yet, the tiles also work with a mouse so it’s usable even without a touch screen.

At first glance the interface seems boxy and somewhat clumsy, but in reality it’s a rather nice experience. The inclusion of smart tiles gives you a quick glance of information you need to know, and easy drill down access to the information you want to know. Still, even with the best of intentions change is hard and long-term Windows veterans will get frustrated trying to find things for some time. Those who use a Windows Phone, Xbox, or Zune marketplace will find the experience more in line with other Microsoft properties. To sum up the interface in a few words, it’s a touch-based consumer friendly version of Windows.

The Windows interface hasn’t changed much since Windows 95 and Microsoft needs to do something to give it an edge in the mobile market. Supplying a similar if not identical user experience across all platforms gives Microsoft a unique value proposition and reduces enterprise training time. While many would argue how horrible this change is, take a look back to the transition from 3.11 to Windows 95 and change is good. If this works Microsoft has managed to come from behind and achieve what Apple is shooting for, one interface for all devices.

But Microsoft hasn’t stopped with the Interface when so much more can be improved. They’ve added a slew of new features and performance enhancements. Performance enhancements include an optimized Windows Explorer, faster boot times, and an enhanced search. Feature enhancements include Windows To Go, Windows Live syncing, and the Microsoft Store.

While the Microsoft Store is an attempt to play catch up, Windows To Go and Windows Live Sync are real power features for Windows. Windows To Go allows you to copy your OS and settings to a USB thumb drive. You can then plug this drive into any Windows 8 machine, boot it up and work as if it were your own. From a consumer standpoint this is a real winner, for my CPA friends this would make busy season a lot less stressful! Windows Live Sync is similar as it allows you to sync your Windows settings and preferences to the cloud, then access those settings from another Windows 8 computer by simply logging in with your Windows Live ID. Unlike Windows To Go, Windows Live Sync only keeps and adjusts the basic Windows settings, it doesn’t have all of your data available.

Best of all for consumers, Microsoft has simplified the options. Windows 8 only comes in four flavors, but there are only two people care about. The two primary versions are Windows 8, and Windows 8 Pro. The differences are fairly straight forward: Windows 8 Pro includes Bit Locker (drive encryption) and the ability to boot from a virtual hard disk. For those who want to know the other two versions they are Windows Enterprise and Windows RT. Windows Enterprise is Windows Pro with an enterprise licensing scheme, and Windows RT is built for machines with ARM processors, or in “real terms” tablets.

Understanding that change is hard, and competition is high. Microsoft has done the right thing and priced the Windows 8 upgrade at $39.99. That’s significantly less than any other Windows upgrade. To sweeten the deal it can upgrade from Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7 and offers you the ability to format the drive and do a clean install with the upgrade. If you’re forced to by a new PC between now and the Windows 8 release this fall, Microsoft will give you a coupon to receive the upgrade for $14.99.

So what do you think, is the price right for an upgrade?

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