Not since Microsoft launched the revolutionary operating system Windows 95 have consumers been as excited about a new version of Windows as they are today. This week, the house that Gates built released a buzzy preview edition of Windows 8, featuring a tablet-style interface called Metro. Here, six initial impressions of the totally "reimagined" Windows OS:
1. You'll want to use your hands
"When you try it for the first time, it feels a bit like stepping out onto ice," says Mat Honan at Gizmodo. While most desk-bound users will still use a mouse to interact with Windows 8, if you're lucky enough to own a (still rare) touchscreen desktop, you'll find using gestures and finger swipes to navigate quickly becomes a "transcendent" experience. "Microsoft is betting a lot on touch... the fast approaching future of user interface," but it's hedging its bets, by letting you use touch or a mouse. Metro boasts big colorful icons and apps that glide on and off the screen, and touchscreen-users can zoom in and out by pinching your fingers. "Getting your feet beneath you is tricky" if you're used to the old Windows. "But as your learn your way around the interface, instead of slipping, you begin to glide."
2. Purists might not like it
For better or worse, many people are averse to change, say Jason Cross and Nate Ralph at PC World. Look at all the outrage directed at Facebook whenever it makes even the smallest of tweaks. And we have to admit: It's "unsettling to see the basic tenets of the Windows user experience shifted so dramatically." It will certainly take "time to unlearn all [we] learned since Windows 95."
3. It still boasts blasts from the past
For certain applications — like the Microsoft Office suite — Windows 8 is still reminiscent of the original OS, says John Biggs at TechCrunch. When you click on a Word document, "gone are the tiles and gently pulsing images," and in comes the same word-processing software you've been using for years. It's actually a functional compromise for Windows users who would rather wade in slowly. "You'll get more done, but damned if you don't miss the cool, calm design and attention to detail."
4. You won't pull your hair out
One of the chronic complaints about older Windows versions is the frustratingly frequent need for restarts and mandatory reboots. "Windows 8 touts faster boot times and fewer restarts," says Kevin Casey at InformationWeek, "meaning fewer PC-related interruptions during the work day." Users will spend remarkably less time thumb-twiddling — and that's a big plus for workplaces.
5. Windows 8 has a new minimalist logo
Older Windows versions came with 4-colored logos that resembled undulating flags. (See a visual history here.) The Windows 8 logo, a plain blue-framed window, reflects the OS' new simplicity. "Things we got rid of are things that people in the tech industry think it needs to have — gradient color and gee-whiz sparkle," logo designer Paula Scher tells Fast Co. Design. Other design professionals have criticized Scher's logo for being a dull, clunky, over-obvious attempt to ape Apple's minimalism.
6. It's weirdly revolutionary
"Windows 8 is a massive change and an obvious next step," says Biggs. Not only does it leave competitors "in the relative dust," but it's ushering in a future where computing is conducted via touchscreens. It can still be a bit weird and buggy at times, says Honan, but Microsoft is continually refining the technology. On the plus side: "Weird can be brilliant. Weird can be daring. Windows 8 is all of those things."