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For those who crave the traditional desktop, it’s also still here, though in Windows 8 it takes the form of a separate app, running behind the Live Tile home screen. Gone is Windows 7’s Aero UI, with a flat, simple appearance taking its place. The 2D nature is more in keeping with the bold start screen, and Microsoft has worked hard to simplify and streamline the desktop – most notable in the task manager, which no longer throws usage stats at you, instead offering a simple list of open programs and apps, and the option to stop them. Further information is kept out of sight in a menu. It can be jarring at first, switching between the modern start menu and the old desktop, but it’s a transition which becomes less so with use, and multiple monitor users will appreciate being able to have the start screen on one display and the desktop on others.
Windows 8 is a bold step for Microsoft, as it has removed the familiarity that has greeted those who’ve purchased each release. The new start menu, a focus on touch-enabled devices, efforts to simplify and speed-up the core of the OS – these are all changes that could dissuade the average person from upgrading, especially the prospect of learning a new control scheme. However, such people would be doing themselves a disservice, as what Microsoft has crafted is arguably something great. The start screen looks incredible, with its dynamically updating live tiles and bold, stark appearance. Touch input just works, which is something that couldn’t be said of Windows of old. And swiping around the OS is a real pleasure that users of non-touch devices should really try to experience. If it doesn’t convince you that a touch-enabled laptop, desktop or tablet is an absolute must I’d be surprised, as, though there is definitely a learning curve, once you’re over it, it’s slick, intuitive and above all else fun.
IT’S NOT THE ONLY version of Windows 8, though. Windows has a sister, and its name is Windows RT. What’s in a name? Quite a lot, actually. Windows RT realizes a long-held goal to enable Windows to run on ARM architecture — the type of processors that power almost every major smartphone and tablet. The efficiency of the ARM architecture in powering mobile devices is key to Microsoft’s aim to spread Windows not just in the desktop and laptop markets, but into low-power tablets as well.
Essentially, Windows 8 and Windows RT are the same. They share the same core, most of the same features, and both will run the new start screen, desktop and Windows 8 apps. The key difference is Windows RT relies solely on the Windows 8 store for its content – the ARM processors cannot run any legacy program designed just for traditional, or x86, Windows computers. Users can’t download and install programs, such as Google Chrome, from the web, and can’t install software from discs. All usable programs will need to be downloaded from Microsoft’s store instead. However, given its focus on tablet hardware, whose users are accustomed to app stores and download-only programs, this fact should be perfectly acceptable.
Indeed, Microsoft decided the best way to display Windows RT would be to design and launch its own hardware to run it. In a first for the company, it has ignored its traditional stance as a software-only partner to OEMs and, last Friday, released the Surface tablet. A slim, 1.5 pound, all-metal device, constructed from a liquid magnesium process called VaporMg by Microsoft, the Surface was designed to show Microsoft’s hardware partners what they expected from Windows tablets. It was to dispel notions of Windows tablets of old, with their styluses, sad battery life, bloated design and poor usability, and to dissuade OEMs from simply rehashing Android tablets as Windows RT devices – something ASUS can be accused of with its upcoming Vivo Tab.