Windows 8 is Coming

Academic, Technology

Windows 8 will allow us transition to an era where we see and use personal computers differently. The way we use PCs today is a usage paradigm that dates back since the early 90s. However, Windows 8, which will be released the fall of 2012, will completely change PCs as we know today. Touch will become a very common factor for using personal computers, along with mouse and keyboard. Using and maintaining PCs will become much easier and safer, data and settings will all be in the “cloud”, and sharing photos and other items of interest on social networks will become ever more integrated.

The most notable change with Windows 8 is the user interface, or UI. The UI is the interface through which the user understands and interacts with the computer. Most people are familiar with the tradition Windows UI that has been around since 1995 and is still in use as of 2012. The traditional UI is composed primarily of Windows, the desktop, the taskbar, and the start menu. This will all be changing with the next version of Windows, marking the first major shift in the user interface in more than 16 years. As Paul Thorrutt explains in his WindowsITPro Magazine, The new user interface will be designed from ground up to be suitable for touch input. That’s because the current Windows user interface was designed for the mouse and keyboard back in 1995 and is unsuitable for use with touch.  Recent innovations in smartphones and tablets like the iPad sport user interfaces designed for touch, and anyone familiar with these devices should know how a touch UI behaves. The new user interface for Windows 8 will let users swipe to slide, pinch to zoom, and use other multi-touch gestures to navigate through their PC. The buttons and controls in Windows 8 are much larger than they are in previous versions of Windows, making it easier to select with a finger. Furthermore, all the apps that will be designed for Windows 8 will also be designed for touch input. Despite sporting a touch UI, Windows 8 will continue to work very well with keyboard, mouse, and pen input.

Once a niche and only known to the technically minded, internet hosting of data is becoming more and more mainstream and is in the course to become a part of daily life for everyday users. Internet hosting is also known as “the cloud” and this term is beginning to catch on with the masses. Cloud hosting is a service that stores users’ data on the internet so he/she can have access to the data regardless of which device the user is on. As discussed on the online radio show, “This Week in Google”, this service is quietly becoming a part of life, as more and more people stream music from the cloud using services like Spotify and Pandora. Movies being streamed from the cloud is also becoming very popular, thanks to services like Netflix and YouTube. More and more people are storing their documents on a cloud services (most of which are offered for free) rather than just on their PC. Photos are also being put to the cloud, notably Facebook. Windows 8 will integrate the “cloud”, unlike previous versions of Windows. Traditionally, one would have to use a web browser to access content stored in the cloud. For example, a user would go to the Facebook website or the YouTube website to view their desired video or pictures. With Windows 8, cloud integration goes beyond the web browser.

With the new version of Windows, users can sign in to their PC using their Microsoft Account and have all their apps and settings synced to the cloud. For example, if Joe has a PC and customizes it to his needs and downloads apps to his PC, he will not have to start from scratch when he gets a new PC. Joe can log in to the new PC with his Microsoft Account, and all his customizations and apps will automatically appear in his new PC. This works because all his settings and apps are stored in the cloud, rather than solely on a particular device. Personal data, music, and movies can also be stored in the cloud using Windows 8 without having to install special software. The new OS allows users to store any files on the cloud, up to seven gigabytes for free. Of course, users can pay for more. The great news about the integration is that users will no longer have to go through obscure ways to save files in the cloud using a web browser. Saving files in the cloud will be just as easy and seamless as saving files in the “My Documents” folder. But it is not just work documents; Windows 8 will have social networking built in, which will allow anyone to easily share photos, information, and other things to the people they care about using networks like Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, and more.

Security is another big advantage that users will enjoy with Windows 8. This was announced on the Windows 8 developer conference, called /Build//, on September of 2011. For the first time, Windows will have a built in anti-virus program for free. In the past, users would have to find and install anti-virus programs to keep their PCs secure. Many of the anti-virus programs cost money and were difficult to install and maintain. With Windows 8, the anti-virus is free, quiet, and auto-updates to protect against new threats. Of course, users can use their own anti-virus solutions if they choose, but it will be an option rather than a requirement. This is a great advantage for consumers, and it is one of those things that should have been there sooner.

Another issue that people had in terms of security is the possibility of installing malicious software unknowingly. For instance, the other day, my mother decided to install Skype so she could talk to family and friends. She searched for Skype and clicked a link from the search results. What she clicked was not the official link but another link that took her to a fake website. My mother, unknowingly, installed a virus from the fake website, thinking it was Skype. These kinds of issues are common, according to Leo Laporte on the “Tech Guy” radio show episode that aired on March 4, 2012. Windows 8 solves this issue by including an App Store, called “Windows Store”. The Windows Store includes apps that users can install with peace in mind. Apps submitted to the store are monitored by Microsoft for safety and quality. Therefore, there are no chances of getting a malicious app if getting them from the Windows Store; plus, it is a much better experience to browse for apps in a store-like experience rather than searching manually in the vast internet.

Windows 8 is, as Microsoft calls it, a imagination of Windows. It is designed for modern times, modern devices, and with security in mind. Just like the iPhone changed the smartphone market, and the iPad changed the tablet market, Windows 8 will change the PC and give us a new way to use and enjoy our PCs. Best of all, it is all coming later this year; so get ready for the ride!

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