Opinion: Windows 8 by Knightwise originally appeared in Full Circle Magazine issue 71.
As I’m punching this out on my old but trusty HP Pavilion DM1, I’m somehow overpowered by a sense of nostalgia, and …irony.
I remember getting into computers years ago, starting out on machines like these, back in the days when they were home-built beige boxes, using a predecessor (or should I say forefather) of the operating system that is running today. The last couple of years I have swayed from that path of using a ‘Redmond Based’ operating system on my primary machines in favor of the one created in Cupertino. The last year or so, I have even moved away from that one, to start using ‘the penguin’ full time.
For those of you baffled by my ramblings, I’m a slider. I move from operating system to operating system, and use the one that works for me. From Android to IOS, from Windows to OSX to Linux … and today .. back to Windows again. The new Windows 8 Metro interface was not something that stalked in quietly in the night. The press had seen this one coming, and had been tooting their horns on how “different” it was from Windows 7. The Redmond company had had rough times. The ‘Vista disaster’ had left its mark, and, even though Windows 7 was a decent project, the flame of innovation was lost in Balmer’s ranks. Windows was going the way of the Blackberry … or was it?
Windows 8 brought a unified ‘metro’ interface that was radically different from anything they had done before. Not only did they launch a version for the PC, there was also a unified interface for the mobile world and their own tablet device. Microsoft, being Microsoft, did make a simple strategy like this very complicated to explain, and pretty soon you had Windows 8 Pro, RT and Phone, and we even thought we would get an Oreo-flavored version of the OS sometime later this year.
But never mind all that.
Windows 8 is here, and this week I decided to dive in deep and install it on one of my laptops. After poking it with a stick in a VM on my Linux machine, I was confident (or should I say ‘Daring’ ) enough to try out a full install. And I must say, I’m quite impressed with Windows 8: because it is radically different from anything Microsoft has done the last couple of years. It is BOLD!
The Metro interface takes some getting used to, and everywhere I hear people spouting tips and tricks on how to get “past” it and crawl back to the Start Menu… but I say to you: embrace it. Give it a try for a couple of days, and give your human brain (that has been accustomed to the Start Button approach for years) a chance to adapt. Because, even beyond the ‘in your face’ start menu, the operating system performs fast enough, and lets you do what you want to do. So, as a passionate Mac and Linux user I dare to say, I like Windows 8.
And now for me to tell you why.
Windows 8 has one specific quality that is very VERY important to an operating system. You hardly
know it’s there. Once you are working in your application full screen (or in a window), you do not
notice the operating system is there. When you NEED it, all you need to hit is the Windows button
to bring up the menu, or poke the sides of your screen with your mouse. And the rest is business as usual. Using cross platform applications like Chrome, Firefox, Thunderbird don’t even give you a
clue that there is in fact a ‘different’ OS running under the hood than the OSX or Linux flavour of your choice.
So what’s the deal then?
Humankind is genetically designed to gang up on a certain individual and make fun of him. Microsoft-bashing is SO OLD that its first instances are now the subject of historical re-enactments at county fairs. It’s easy to bash Microsoft. We always did, so why not now? The problem with this approach (and the scoffing at anything that is ‘different’) is the fact that it is somewhere based on bias. And bias is a self-inflicted restriction of personal freedom. You decide to dislike something (or someone) without getting to know it or him.
A lot of this bias is based on the fear of change. The uproar – when Canonical decided to go for the Unity interface – has still not died down. The rage against Microsoft – because of the Metro interface – will surely echo into eternity. The reason for this? We are afraid of change. We are the generation that is in the transition between the ‘Classic OS’ with the tiled windows (not Windows) and the start buttons. You can find them back in rock-paintings of the very first version of Xerox-OS through many versions of both Windows and Linux. But that ship has sailed.
We are going to have to adapt and learn how to work with our computers differently. The age of the “visible” OS is over, and, with the advent of ‘full screen applications,’ comes the clear message that the OS is but a means… not a goal.
So, put down your pitchforks and step away from the angry mob to take a good look at Windows 8, a product from a very ‘old’ company that has been bold enough to innovate and to change.
To bring something to market that is not perfect (it has its flaws), but DIFFERENT from the compeition.
And, in times of economic crisis, that takes guts. And, before you decide to burn ME at the stake for my heretical suggestions, let me finish up and get out of here.
Computers are about YOU. They are the enablers of your digital power. They are coated with the fine slime of an operating system that should facilitate the smooth interaction between you and your applications. Your applications should be your tool set to interact with your data… and whatever you do with that data should be directly tied to whatever personal goal you have. Nowhere, nowhere in this process should you hinder yourself by making an uninformed choice about why you should not want to use X or Y. Computers are about YOU, not about computers.
So, let me slide back to another computer lying around the house.
Whether that’s my Macbook Air running Ubuntu, my Macbook Pro running Mountain Lion, I might get a call on my LG Nexus 4 (running Android) or pick up my book where I left off on my iPad … I don’t care … and neither should you. Windows 8 might be your thing, or not (you should at least try it). As for me, it has one good quality of a good operating system: it is invisible. In the end, I forget what device runs what OS: in the end, it does not matter anymore.
Knightwise is a blogger, and producer of the Knightwise.com pod-cast. His website offers hacks,
tips and tweaks for cross-platform geeks. Knightwise moves with ease across Linux, OSX, Win.