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Windows 8 – Is It for You?

This week Microsoft shipped the RTM (Release to Manufacturing) build of Windows 8, the next version of their flagship operating system. This is the build that Microsoft is sending off to have burned onto DVDs and installed into new computers. In about 60 days you’ll be able to walk into your favorite electronics store and buy a box with Windows 8 in it.

Like a good technologist I promptly got my copy from MSDN (the Microsoft Developers Network) and set about installing it on my desktop to give it a good workout. In the interests of full disclosure I should note that I have been running several of the preview builds on my spare laptop for about 6 months, but this was the big dog – the RTM build – and I wanted to give it a proper go.

And I wanted to do it the right way. So I bought a new Intel 180GB SSD SATA hard drive, installed that in my desktop and installed Windows 8 on it as my new primary boot drive. The 1TB conventional hard drive that was my Windows 7 boot drive I relegated to my D: drive to store data on.

So…what did I learn?

It’s Quick

Granted I have 10GB of RAM and the aforementioned SSD drive but Windows 8 is fast. Very fast. The other day I installed some updates and did a reboot. From the time I clicked “Restart” to the time my machine was at the desktop and ready for business again was under 90 seconds. I’ve booted cold a couple of times since the install…I haven’t timed it but generally speaking within moments of pressing the power button my machine is asking me if I want Windows 8 or Windows 7 (yes, it still recognizes my previous OS install on the other hard drive, so I can still boot to it if I want to). Once I select Windows 8 it’s mere seconds before I’m presented with my login screen and just a few more moments after logging in before my desktop appears.

It’s very quick.

In actual use the performance has been similarly excellent. No lags or delays. It genuinely feels snappy and responsive.

Which is a good thing because the user may not be so responsive…

The Metro UI is Not Well-Suited to Desktops

Windows 8’s party piece is the new Metro-style UI (though Microsoft doesn’t want to call it that anymore). This UI presents the user with a collection of tiles, much like we’re getting used to on tablet devices, and runs apps that are specifically designed for that UI.

The tiles are nice. Some of them are “live tiles” which means that the tile itself shows you some information. The Weather tile, for example, not only launches the weather app, but also shows you the current temperature and other conditions where you are. That’s nice.

What’s not so nice is that the apps are large and almost cartoonish. They’re very pretty. Very stylish. Very, very big. That’s great when you’re on a 7” tablet. Not so good on a 22” monitor. The options to resize the running apps are view. Basically either full screen or in a “snap” configuration that lets the app take up about 1/3 of your screen. If you’re used to having your Instant Messenger or Twitter app in a small window in the corner of the screen these apps are going to disappoint you. Clearly they’re intended for touch screen and small displays. Which is really not what most of us use at our desks. I have a sense that we’ll end up having to do a lot of swapping – switching Apps forward and back – rather than what we used to do where we’d have two apps side by side. If you don’t already have dual monitors Windows 8 may be the OS that finally makes you go that way. (and you probably should, even without Windows 8 by the way)

So do you HAVE to use the Metro UI?

Well, not exactly. There is still a version of the old Windows desktop and you CAN install and use the old desktop apps much the way you always have. But the Metro stuff is always there, like a restless puppy, constantly trying to get your attention. There are some things you can do to quiet it a bit, but it never really goes away.

Furthermore if you do open a Metro app (and you will, they are very nice to look at) it’s not at all obvious how you get out of it. There’s no “X” in the top right corner to close the app. Right-clicking the app may produce a bar with options and tools but “Close” or “Exit” is rarely one of them. In fact to close a Metro-style app you need to grab the top border of it with your mouse and drag it all the way to the bottom of the screen. Slick on a 7” tablet (especially in landscape mode) but sort of awkward on a 24” monitor.

So…Should You Get It?

I’m going to suggest that if your primary work machine is a standard desktop computer…you’ll probably be happier with Windows 7 for the time being. If you’re using a notebook computer, especially one with a touch screen, that might be a different story, but on a desktop, while the speed improvements are awfully nice…the Metro stuff is just so awkward right now.

For larger firms there are still a lot of unanswered questions about how manageable this OS is going to be.

I think Windows 8 will be a very exciting OS on tablet and touch devices, but the reality is that most lawyers do their real work at a desk with a PC using a keyboard and mouse.

I’ve only been working with the RTM version of Windows 8 for a few days but so far I just don’t think I can give it a buy recommendation for most attorneys on the desktop.

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