Yesterday, before Microsoft revealed its latest operating system to developers at the BUILD conference, we suggested Windows 8 might wow the world, providing a real competitor to Apple's iPad dominance. And we were right. Or at least that's what early critics are saying, giving the new product rave reviews. "'Hello, Windows 8? This is iPad. You win,'" tweeted win Supersite editor Paul Thurrott. And Boy Genius Report's Zach Epstein titled his take "Sorry Apple, Windows 8 ushers in the post-post-PC era." Microsoft hasn't revealed when consumer products will make it to the masses--and things could change on both the Apple and Microsoft fronts--but the developer's preview has techies giddy. What about this system will make users forgo their Apple monikered tablets for a Windows product?
The start menu redefined. We fell in love with Windows for that little icon in the lower left hand corner that made computing less code-y and more intuitive. Apple presented its answer to Start, with its user-friendly OS and people eventually came. With Windows 8, Microsoft has decided to change things up again. Presenting: Tiles. "When you hit the Start screen, you see apps as tiles laid out in a grid. Goodbye, icons," explains Gizmodo's Mat Honan. You can navigate them with your fingers, a mouse, or the keyboard. They work like icons, but group information in a way that makes sense and is easy to navigate continues Honan. "You scroll sideways across tiles, which you can also organize into groups by themes—and because they are so large it's really easy to navigate around to what you want to do. Within individual apps, you can "pin" actions, creating new tiles."
Beyond tiles, 8 also puts search closer to your finger tips, as Ars Technica's Peter Bright explains.
Keyboard users never have to click the search charm in the Edge UI. They can just start typing, and Windows 8 will search automatically. Though the presentation is very different from Windows 7's, the functionality is the same: hit the Start button, start typing. Windows 8 does it better, in fact, due to the search contracts and in-app search features. If you use search and tiles pinned to the "main" (left-most) Start screen, applications are typically more accessible than they would be in the Start menu--few people pin 20 apps.
Just makes things faster and easier for you.
But really, it's about power. A slicker way to navigate won't be the reason you will want to ditch your Apple product, argues SF Gate's James Temple. "But that's far less interesting, to me at least, than bringing the power of a full-fledged operating system to a tablet." The iPad doesn't work like a full fledged computer. Microsoft's presenting something that's as light and portable as a tablet, but that has the power of a PC. "It has a battery that can last all day, but it can also run Photoshop, Excel and Outlook. It can weigh next to nothing and slip into a slim case, but it can also power two monitors and run proprietary enterprise software," explains Epstein. It has the best of both worlds. It will boot up in 8 seconds, but can also run powerful programs, like Photoshop. It takes the idea of an iPad and expands its capability, exponentially.
It also has some other nice touches. It encorporates the swiping and pinching motions you learned with Apple. It also provides a nice multitasking feature, as LifeHacker's Whitson Gordon points out. "None of this is brand new to touch-based platforms, but what is new is the ability to not only multitask, but run these apps side by side. Say you want to watch a video and keep an eye on your news feed at the same time."
Then again, it's not too new to scare you away. While the new start features, tiles, and swiping depart from conventional Microsoft thinking, beneath the surface it's still the same old Windows. The Start menu may bundle and present applications in a new way, but its the same idea, argues Bright. "Windows 8 provides a very different look and feel, but it doesn't force you to work in a fundamentally different way. And desktop icons, toolbars, and taskbars haven't gone anywhere.
Of course a lot can change--this is just the developers preview. Apple still has time to catch up and create their version of Windows 8. But Microsoft most definitely got there first.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.