With the release of Windows 8, Microsoft has been far from subtle in its vision for the future of operating systems. Opting to radically change the default desktop to the same style as Windows Phone and the Xbox 360, Microsoft have changed up some of the fundamental aspects of Windows, as well as adopting new features like an App Store.
On the strike of midnight, October 26th, I bought my copy of Windows 8 and got it up and running on a MacBook Air. In this article, I’m going to share some of my initial impressions with the rival operating system, and compare it feature-by-feature to Apple’s latest OS, Mountain Lion.
If you’re planning on installing Windows 8 on your Mac, treat this as an experimental release. Upgrade from a previous version but don’t do a clean install. Try and have a backup mouse and keyboard connected prior to installation. Some drivers are incompatible with Windows 8 at this time and parts of your computer, even including the built-in trackpad and keyboard, might not work until Apple releases support. Be careful and proceed only at your own risk!
The most notable change in Windows 8 is the most visual: the introduction of the UI formerly known as Metro, now dubbed Windows 8-style Modern UI. Replacing the old-style desktop and Start Menu as default, Windows 8 opts for a dashboard of tiles more akin to that of the Xbox 360 and miles away from both OS X and previous iterations of Windows.
On the other hand, Mountain Lion continued the tradition of Apple not changing the fundamental setup of OS X. We, of course, still have our dock, our Applications Folder and the fairly new Launchpad, the full-screen, iOS-style homescreen of apps on Macs. In fact, the basic idea of the Windows 8 Dashboard is very similar to Launchpad, but the latter is certainly more tucked away in OS X.
Most notable to any Mac users trying out Windows 8 is the one-at-a-time focus in apps. Much like we’re used to on iOS, Windows 8 really centers users on a single app at a time, rather than having an extensive amount of windows open at once. This is the big change that will likely turn off most long-time OS X (and Windows) users from giving it a serious go.
I’ve always felt that OS X had the edge in design, having a polish to everything on show, especially text. Windows, in comparison, always felt like some sort of prototype with no real finish to it, where text often looked ridiculously bad.
That’s something remedied in Windows 8. The underlying fundamentals of the Metro design language are to be admired, and the whole OS feels polished for the first time in, well, ever. And of all things, it’s incredibly text centric.
Of course, soon after the announcement of OS X Lion, Apple launched the Mac App Store, its digital distribution platform for Mac apps. It’s been significantly adopted in its near-to-two years of life and is already the most prolific storefront for OS X apps.
In Windows 8, Microsoft brings their own native storefront for apps to the table. In a way that’s very similar to the way iOS handles app downloads, users browse the Windows Store for software, buy and download it and then see it appear on their dashboard as a tile. The store is in its mere infancy at launch, with few apps available, however. This feels much more like buying apps on an iOS device than on a Mac, thanks to the full-screen-only view, and many of the apps feel much more like the lite mobile apps than the apps we’re buying from the Mac App Store.
I think we can all agree that, at least until recently, Apple was the leader in creating a cohesive, all-in-one ecosystem for their devices. Apple provides a solution for email, contacts/calendars, document storage, media and more under one roof. It’s something every other technology company wants to create, but no-one else is quite there yet, though Google and Amazon are sure trying.
Microsoft hasn’t suddenly jumped up to an iTunes-size catalogue of content, but the integration of their ecosystem and services is very apparent in Windows 8. Upon setup, users input their Microsoft account details and all the stock apps will use this. The stock music app works off Microsoft’s Xbox Music service (providing an awesome free, ad-supported music streaming service) while the games app is deeply integrated into Xbox LIVE. Then, Microsoft already has other solid online services in the form of Skydrive, Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail) email and calendars, Office 365, and more.
Windows 8 is a very guided experience, much like iOS; you feel like you’re in a curated, walled garden. Windows 8 is kind of like iOS with a different UI and a different master, since everything in the Metro side somehow utilises Microsoft’s services. I love being in the Apple ecosystem, having everything work together, and Microsoft is doing the same for its Xbox and Windows users. It’s yet to be seen, however, if Microsoft can entice even their own users to be that fully dedicated to their ecosystem.
Time for a Switch?
Windows 8 is the first version of Windows that I could actually seem myself switch to from OS X. Of course I’m not switching; I’m completely happy with my Mac’s default OS and have no motivation to look to alternatives. But, no longer would I automatically condemn Windows to new PC buyers. Windows has had some beauty sleep and started working better together with its friends.
Windows 8 is, honestly, more like iOS than OS X. It approaches desktop computing like a mobile operating system, with a more focused, guided and minimalist user interface that dumbs down a lot of the more technical features of Windows. It also fully indoctrinates Windows users into the Microsoft way of life. This new setup won’t be for everyone and there’ll be customers who’ll be far happier sticking with Windows 7. However, the “steep” learning curve is over-exaggerated and, in general, this is the best operating system Microsoft has pushed out.
Apple doesn’t have to be scared of; it’s Google who should be watching their backs on the tablet front. If anything, they should be proud of how their rivals are finally creating products and building ecosystems that start to match the quality and finesse that only Apple has possessed. Congratulations, Microsoft.
Editor’s note: As in all op-eds, this article expresses the author’s opinion.