In creating an operating system that caters for both tablets and laptops, Microsoft might be accused of creating a multi-layered platform with a bit of this & a bit of that, apps and ‘proper’ applications, and possibly over-egging the whole thing. The Start screen comprises a multitude of ‘Live Tiles’ displaying streamed data from all your online accounts: photos, calendar, sports news, etc. Together, these tiles appear to float over the more traditional desktop. With plenty of animation — not only on the live tiles, but also when transitioning between apps, the start screen and the desktop — it is tempting to think that Windows 8 will be slow and clunky.
However, Windows 8 seems to be less resource-hungry than Windows 7 (but of course, we were playing with a new laptop, and not really pushing it too hard…) and the animations are graceful and aid interpretation of the user interface rather than create a distraction — many controls are only visible once the mouse hovers off the edge of the screen, so screen real estate is preserved.
With regard to finding one’s feet with this OS, the touch-centric Start screen will be familiar to anyone with a smart phone or tablet: the tiles are easily rearranged or removed, settings are simple to edit, desktop applications and even documents can be pinned to the Start screen, all the information that is important to you is clearly visible (on live tiles) — be it calendar, weather or your eBay — and it is a joy to use even with a mouse.
‘Beneath’ (or behind, or under) the Start screen is the more traditional mouse-centric desktop; this is remarkably similar to Windows 7 and to a large extent XP, and the transformation of the Start Menu to an entire new screen is no loss — all the usual functions (search, cmd, run, etc are available with a nifty right click on the Start control). Despite the Metro makeover, Office 2013 is a natural progression of Office 2010 and will be familiar to users of earlier versions.
Windows 8 will truly come into its own once convertibles come down in price, but nonetheless it seems to achieve the aim of being a good platform for both tablets* and laptops.
All in all, despite the time it takes to fiddle with the Start screen, add all your accounts and generally set things up (which is in any case much simpler than in previous versions), Windows 8 is a pleasure to use. Once you have set it all up and rearranged the tiles a few times, you will be so familiar with the interface you will wonder at your initial confusion!
*although we have not had the pleasure of playing with Win8 on a tablet, the mobile version of the OS is clean, stable and easy to use