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Do You Really Need Windows 8?

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Windows users rejoice — or beware; Windows 8 is on its way. In this article, Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Computer Basics author Michael Miller provides a preview of what’s new in Windows 8, and asks if users really need or want this new version of Microsoft’s ubiquitous operating system.
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It’s been almost three years since the release of Windows 7, which means it’s time for another upgrade to Microsoft’s market-leading operating system. Unlike Windows 7, which was a relatively minor update (some dubbed it “Windows Vista done right”), Windows 8 looks to a major overhaul of both interface and functionality.

Microsoft has just released the Consumer Preview version of Windows 8, so you can install it and check it out on your current PC; the final release will be later this year. The question, though, is what’s new and different about Windows 8 – and do you really need it?

Why is Microsoft Updating Windows – Again?

There’s just no leaving good enough alone.

Microsoft has a history of releasing new versions of its operating system every three years or so. Windows 98 shipped three years after the ground-breaking Windows 95. We’ll ignore the underwhelming Windows Me (which shipped in 2000), and move onto the major update that was Windows XP, which shipped in 2001 – three years after Windows 98. Microsoft skipped a few years before releasing Windows Vista in late 2006, but then followed it exactly three years later with the current release, Windows 7. This fall being three years after the Windows 7 release, it’s naturally time for a new upgrade.

Now, some Windows upgrades, such as Windows 95, XP, and Vista, are major, with significant changes to the interface and features. Other upgrades, such as Windows 98 and Windows 7, are more minor, amounting to not much more than bug fixes and cosmetic changes. The newest upgrade, dubbed Windows 8, is the former – a major upgrade in both interface and functionality.

In many ways, Windows 8 is the most significant OS upgrade since Windows 95. It involves a total rethinking of the way people use their computers, with revolutionary (not evolutionary) changes to the interface and major features. It’s a whole new ball game.

We’ll look at what’s new in Windows 8 in a moment, but before we do it helps to know what Microsoft was trying to achieve with the new operating system. As Steve Sinofsky, president of Microsoft’s Windows group, said at the launch event, “Windows 8 is a generational change in the Windows operating system in the design, functionality, implementation.”

Sinofsky went on to say that Microsoft wanted to make sure that people who were switching between using a smartphone, tablet, and laptop PC would have a consistent user experience. In other words, Microsoft wants to offer a single operating environment for all types of devices. Windows everywhere is the motto.

And the Windows that’s everywhere has a completely new interface – or at least new to the computing desktop. Microsoft believes that the era of the mouse and keyboard is over, and that more and more users will be controlling their devices via touch. That’s certainly the case with smartphones and tablets, but may be a leap of faith when it comes to traditional desktop and notebook computing.

So Windows 8 aims to unite the user experience across all manner of computer-like devices. One interface for everything you use – smartphone, tablet, and computer – with that interface being Windows. Microsoft owns the desktop, after all; why not leverage that into the phone and tablet markets?

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