Now that the Windows 8 Developer Preview has been available for a while, it is easier to take a step back and evaluate it without the powerful emotions that strike most people the first time they deal with it. Looking at it from a long-distance perspective, there's a lot to like about Windows 8, especially if you are ready to cut the cord from an installed desktop application base and transition to Web applications and Windows 8 native applications. Here are 10 things I think are great about Windows 8.
1: It's designed for tablets and touch
Microsoft is working hard to make Windows 8 work well with tablets and the touch UI paradigm, to the point of alienating traditional desktop users. It remains to be seen how Microsoft will respond to criticism over the Metro UI. But I can tell you that after using a phone with the Metro UI for well over half a year now, I think it is extremely effective for touch, and I would love to have a tablet running Windows 8.
2: Apps "share" data
One of the big changes in the application development model is that native Windows 8 apps (those using the new Metro UI and WinRT API) really do not directly communicate with each other, even through the file system, except via carefully defined interfaces. While this handcuffs developers a bit, it means that when applications do share data, Windows is aware of how they do it and makes it easy. For example, you could have an application that handles images and use it to share the pictures with, say, an application to upload them to Facebook. That unleashes a lot more power for developers because it means that applications from different vendors will work together seamlessly, and the developers do not even have to write anything specific for the application theirs works with.
3: The apps can be integrated into the OS
Just as the applications can "share" with each other, they can do the same thing with Windows itself. Again, this allows some really neat integrations to be done without much work by application makers. You can see things like a new social networking application come out and within weeks, Windows will be able to use your friends who are on it in its contact list, or the pictures can go into your picture gallery. The possibilities are endless.
4: It offers ARM support
While the ARM CPUs may not be for everyone or every purpose, lots of mobile vendors have a deep commitment to that platform and understand it well. The ARM devices will not be able to run legacy Windows applications, but they will run the Windows 8 native apps without a hitch. That's great news for hardware makers, software developers, and users.
5: It beefs up security
The new programming model for Windows 8 native applications is extraordinarily secure. While I am sure that exploits will be found, it will be difficult for the native applications to break free of their chains. Microsoft has really flipped it around. Instead of allowing everything and slowly adding restrictions over the years (and breaking applications in the process, like XP SP2 and Vista did), it's starting from an "allow nothing" stance.
6: App markets will benefit developers and users
Application markets are nothing new. Even Vista had one (although no one seems to remember it). With Windows 8 native applications, Microsoft is making the application market the primary way of getting apps onto the computer, much like Windows Phone 7. That's great news for developers who need to get some more visibility for their applications and who do not want to deal with payments processing and such, especially for low-priced apps. And the application market is great for users, too. As we've seen, app markets encourage lower prices, and Microsoft will surely apply the same strict quality control that it has to the Windows Phone 7 app market.
7: System restore is easier
Microsoft has built new utilities into Windows 8 that makes it much easier than ever to send the system back to "out of the box," while preserving your data. Providing a more appliance-like experience is critical for the typical user, and the help desk will appreciate it too.
8: Cloud sync is everywhere
While not everyone is in love with the cloud as an idea, Windows 8 has great facilities for allowing applications and users to automatically sync data between devices using the cloud. That's great for users who can seamlessly transition between their tablet and desktop PC (and perhaps their phone), as well as for tech support, who can just replace a broken device instead of worrying about data loss.
9: It offers simplified administration and configuration
The Control Panel has been stripped down to the bare essentials, and you can't even think about tasks like registry editing, defragging, etc., from the Metro UI. (You can do these tasks through the legacy desktop, if needed, but that won't work for ARM devices.) Throughout Windows 8, a primary theme has been giving the user a more appliance-like "It just works" experience. Power users might howl about it, but the truth is, the Windows experience is still far more complex than the average user wants to deal with. Windows 8 is a great move in the right direction for those users.
10: System stability is improved
Windows 7 has really set the standard for system reliability. Short of hardware or driver problems, the old blue screen of death is almost never seen anymore. Windows 8 takes this to the next level. The same changes to the application development model also improve system stability. Applications can't run over each other's data easily, and the new WinRT API just does not allow the kinds of shenanigans that have caused unstable systems over the years. If you stick with native Windows 8 applications, reboots (other than for patching) and crashes should be extraordinarily rare.
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Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.