Not too long ago some news outlets covered the impending release of an update to Windows 8 that is being called Windows 8.1. After this news broke, I was hit with an onslaught of questions. People telling me that they had heard that no one likes Windows 8, that Windows 8 doesn’t work, and asking will this update fix it all. For the life of me I still cannot figure out what needs fixing. I have tested Windows 8 and even run software on it that does not support Windows 8 — all without any trouble. The best theory that I can come up with is that, as a group, PC users abhor change and the new home screen that Windows 8 presents on start-up and Metro UI is too much for us to deal with all at once.
The new Windows 8 Metro style interface is a smooth, visually appealing, and easy to navigate space for storing tiles that provides quick access to our favorite apps and folders. Live tiles even provide dashboard-like features, allowing us to get a quick, up-to-the-minute overview on what is happening in apps like email, news, and social media without having to open the application. The native Metro style apps are just like the old apps we know and love — they just fill the screen completely, providing a more immersive experience for the app. New Metro UI apps are appearing on the Windows Store all the time, but Metro UI apps aren’t the only kind of apps Windows 8 will run. Windows 8 is more than happy to run all the classic Windows style Apps you ran on Windows 7. You can even place tiles on the home screen to these apps so you can access them easily.
Another question that still comes up is what happened to the desktop, and can I get it back. The desktop is still there. It didn’t go anywhere. It is just hiding behind the Metro UI, and to get there all you have to do is click or touch the desktop icon on the home screen and there it is, just like you would expect. You can even fill it up with icons just like you did before. You could say the classic desktop provides the bridge between the new user experience and the old, providing a framework for running the classic Windows style apps. Some of the tools you are used to, like the Control Panel, are even still found on the classic side of the bridge.
I won’t lie to you. Windows 8 takes some getting used to, especially if you have been managing and maintaining Windows systems for as long as I have. There is a learning curve to finding where some of the tools you used to set things up have moved. For most users though there are but a few new things to learn, like switching apps in the Metro UI, which requires using a fly-out that hides itself on the left side of the screen. On touch devices like tablets, the basic gestures like swiping, pinching, pulling, and so on are fairly natural, and if you have had any interaction with apple or android phones or tablets this will be a breeze.
If you are still running Windows XP your days are numbered. As of April, 2014, Microsoft will no longer support the operating system. That means no more patches or security updates. This will also mean other software like QuickBooks or Adobe will stop supporting their software on that operating system. If you have an application that will not run on anything other than Windows XP, you need to either find a new solution or really push the developer to update their software and start supporting current operating systems. If neither is an option, or there is some reason to extend the migration period for a piece of software, Windows 8 includes what Microsoft calls the client hypervisor. If you have been reading the newsletter you know what a hypervisor is. It is a piece of software that allows you to run a virtual computer inside a window on a “real” computer. A Windows XP virtual computer can be created and run on your Windows 8 machine to allow you to run your old application until you can complete your migration. Just remember that a virtual machine running an unpatched version of Windows is just as big a security risk as running a physical one, so I would not look at this as a permanent solution to running your legacy Windows XP software but a life raft to help you make it to the shore.
You have nothing to fear from Windows 8, it’s just Windows, part of the ever forward moving march of technology. Windows 8 is beautiful but more than that it is functional. Windows 8 is going to be the most secure version of Windows for your business, not because it is better but because it is the version being actively maintained by Microsoft. It is going to get the most attention and quickest response to threats from Microsoft’s development team. I don’t have all the details on Windows 8.1, but it is not bringing back the desktop because it never went anywhere. 8.1 is the first update to Windows 8 in a much faster development cycle. More updates will follow every few months as Microsoft continues to improve and add to the platform as part of their commitment to try and bring its customers the best operating system it can. If you are still staring down the barrel of a migration from Windows XP call me and let’s talk. You need a plan, and starting by evaluating Windows 8 with a partner is a good first step.