This guest post is contributed by Lauren Bailey.
With Apple and Amazon making headlines daily for their tablets, fans of Microsoft products might feel a little bit out of the loop.
Microsoft’s latest splash in the headlines was their Windows-powered Nokia Lumia smartphone, recently released in the UK to rave reviews from tech and consumer analysts alike. But other than Lumia’s limited release, things have been relatively quiet for the software giant.
Microsoft has been steadily introducing updates and patches to Windows 7 OS—most recent updates address key security issues that strengthen the operating system’s code from hackers—but fans already have their hopes heaped on the upcoming OS, Windows 8.
The OS is set to be released sometime in 2012, but already tech enthusiasts are waxing poetic on the possible new features offered by the Windows 8. But more realistically, people wonder how the OS will work with the latest hardware. Below is a brief overview of the more dramatic changes Windows 8 is expected to bring to compatible hardware.
Early reports indicate that Windows 8’s more groundbreaking features will be reserved for the tablet market, but we’ll save that discussion for later. As for Windows 8’s functionality with the classic desktop/laptop hardware, users can expect major changes compared to experiences on previous Windows operating systems.
Desktop/laptop users will probably notice first that the architects of Windows 8 created a completely revamped user interface called Metro. Metro is meant to be far more intuitive than past Windows UI, and it functions much in the same way of operating systems on Windows-powered smartphones.
On the home screen, for example, desktop users might be disoriented to discover that the standard Start-button desktop has been replaced with an entirely different display. This would be Metro, where all your programs and functions are laid out in a tile format whose contents are easily accessible by a double click. Think of these tiles like souped up folders on a desktop.
Desktop/laptop users will also notice that they can access Microsoft’s “App bar” to download interesting applications to their home screen, similar to downloading apps onto a smartphone. Apps can be run within their respective tiles simultaneously, allowing the user to engage in several functions at once without ever needing to close out of one tab in order to focus on another.
Users will also note the ease with which they can search content on their computers; the user need only type in the home screen in order to bring up the search menu, where you can search through apps, internet files, and plain old regular data files to find what you need.
Users will feel much more at home using Windows 8 on a tablet, though exactly what tablet they will use is a subject open for debate right now. The Metro UI has touch features practically built for the ever expanding tablet market, though users can certainly utilize them on non-tablet touch screens.
The home screen is the same as the one explained above for desktops/laptops, but with a tablet the user will feel more at home sliding, arranging, and engaging with the dynamic tiles. Not merely passive icons as in other tablets and smartphones, the tiles in the Windows 8 UI will reflect constantly changing data, so the user doesn’t need to pull up another screen in order to get new information.
In fact the Metro UI is much more interactive than those on any other touch screen device. For example, the tiles will arrange themselves based on their necessity—rarely used or unnecessary tiles will stick to the background, while the more vital tiles present themselves for your constant interaction.
Windows 8 will also allow active apps on your home screen to share data with one another with little effort required on the user’s part. You can take and edit photos with one app, for example, and then share them with friends via email (or a social network!) without needing to toggle between the two.
Overall, it appears that Microsoft put the bulk of their efforts into designing a revolutionary operating system that works beautifully on a touch screen, and a little less intuitively on a desktop. Windows 8 may still be months and months away from wide release, but the early details have generated enough excitement to keep fans enthused until they can try it on their own.