Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 operating system is bringing some of the most radical changes to the OS since Windows 95. Our own Chris Ward gave a great preview of what’s to come, and I’d like to focus on some of the baked-in features which have received a complete overhaul. It’s very clear that not only is Microsoft improving the functionality & performance of the OS (what can it do & how fast does it do it), but they are also paying extremely close attention to usability (how easy is it to use). And this feat is made all the more complicated because not only do they need to focus on the classic desktop, which we’ve come to know & love, but they now must also consider the experience of someone using a tablet which is a dramatically different way to navigate around the operating system. This is the first part in a series of discussions around the features of Windows 8, some old, some new.
One of the coolest features in Windows 8 is the ability to run a search from the desktop simply by typing. You don’t have to hit the “Start” button first in order to do this (granted, there isn’t a Start button any more). Searching in this method seems much faster than before, and the results are grouped more logically. The search experience is made even better because the fonts are much bigger, well laid out, and easier to read. This makes sense because if you think about it, when you’re doing a search that’s ALL you’re doing at that time, so why not take up a big chunk of screen real estate so you can more easily see & control what you’re doing. In Windows 7, when you start to type in the search box, results are returned on-the-fly (real-time) like they sometimes do when you search using Google. However, searching in Windows 8 is “smart,” and it learns which applications you use most often by keeping track of what application you chose when searching. Let’s say this is the first time I have ever searched for the term, “Task.” When I run that search, the 1st result is “Task Manager” and the 2nd is “Task Scheduler.” If I choose “Task Scheduler” then the next time I search for “Task” it’s the 1st result this time and “Task Manager” is 2nd. If I run the search 2 more times and choose “Task Scheduler” each time, then I must run the search 4 more times and choose “Task Manager” before it becomes the 1st application in the results once again: 2 + 1 = 3 which is < 4 (I was told there’d be no math). That is a very simple algorithm, and I’m sure Microsoft has much more complicated ones that involve the tide charts & the price of pork bellies. The point is that they have taken the time to improve the usability of their software for a feature that works pretty damn well today. And in a world where there is so much data and many applications on your computer and on the Internet, searching is going to be the quickest & easiest way to find something. It’s quicker to type 1 letter (“T”) & then hit “Enter” in order to fire up Task Manager than it is to move your mouse to the Taskbar, right-mouse click, & choose “Task Manager.” That’s why keyboard shortcuts can be so powerful. You can do almost any command in an operating system or application using a keyboard and the less time your hand has to move between the keyboard & mouse/trackpad the more quickly you can get your job done (so you can play Angry Birds during lunch). There are going to be many, many more keyboard shortcuts with Windows 8 & taking the time to learn them will be a huge productivity boost.
I’ve just scratched the surface of what Windows 8 does to improve upon what is already an outstanding operating system in Windows 7. Please stay tuned as I hold a magnifying glass to new & improved applications like Remote Desktop, Windows Explorer, & Internet Explorer. Next on my list is taking a look at Microsoft’s revamped hypervisor, Hyper-V 3.0, which is sure to shake-up the hypervisor world despite VMware having such a huge chunk of the market. As Lloyd said, “So you’re saying there’s a chance…”