For those that were not yet computing in 1995 or have never looked up from an Apple device, Windows 95 was a radical change in desktop user interfaces.
It introduced many of the features we see in Windows 7 today and looked very little like its predecessor, Windows 3.11.
If you could stack all the releases of Windows since 1995 side by side, you would see incremental improvements in the user interface (UI), but each would still be very recognizable as Windows.
Windows 8 changes all that by radically changing the Windows UI.
Everything is in a better – or at least different – place.
Microsoft has spent substantial resources on redesigning the user experience and has the documentation to prove why it made each change. If you are someone who has to retrain hundreds or thousands of users, you may have to take a leap of faith to believe you will be in a better place when you have finished the Windows 8 journey. But worry not. Look around to see the prevalence of Windows XP in the enterprise. For most organizations it will be years before there's a wholesale upgrade to Windows 8.
Why All These Tiles?
The primary reason behind Microsoft's reinvention of the user interface is to accommodate mobile devices like the Microsoft Surface. Microsoft had little choice; Windows 7 is unusable on tablets and phones. If Windows 8 worked just like Windows 7, Microsoft would be relegated to the dust bin of computing history. Apple would have run away with the mobile computing title thanks to the iPad's success. Microsoft needed an interface that could work across all three screens – desktop, tablet and phone –to stay relevant. The Windows 8-style interface is Microsoft's best chance at staying relevant to both consumers and businesses that demand software to work seamlessly across every screen they use. Windows and its applications need to work well with a mouse and a touchscreen interface.
Why Should I Care?
The better question is why have businesses been settling for a sub-optimal experience after spending hundreds of thousands on hardware? Hey, that new iPad looks great… until you view your web app using its built-in browsers. "It's not perfect, but it gets the job done." Sound familiar? How about this one: "You should see this on the desktop." Why should, "It's not perfect" be an acceptable result following a six- or seven-figure investment?
(Read More: Fresh Windows, but Where's the Start Button?)
That's the value of Windows 8's cloud integration. "Cloud" isn't everyone's favorite term because it's come to mean so many different things that it's almost lost its meaning. So let's clarify. When we talk about cloud computing and Windows 8, we're talking about integration with Microsoft SkyDrive to provide seamless access to data across all devices. You can save a presentation at your home office desktop, read and edit the document on your tablet in a taxi, and then open it on your laptop when you get to work. Thanks to cloud integration, all three devices use the same application settings and have access to the same data. Need to jump to a conference room computer? No problem. How about discuss the presentation over dinner with co-workers? Your Windows 8 phone has it covered. Windows 8 applications act the same way regardless of device. This integration is a compelling reason to climb the Windows 8 learning curve.
Microsoft has placed a big bet on Windows 8. It broke a lot of user interface paradigms in order to remain competitive and to provide new experiences across all of the devices we use today. These changes are informed by consumer behavior and detailed analysis of existing computer usage patterns. Truly, Microsoft will succeed or fail based on both consumer and corporate response to Windows 8.
Greg Frankenfield is the co-founder and CEO of Magenic, a custom software solutions firm that is Gold Certified by Microsoft to develop applications based on their technologies.
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