A weekend with Windows 8 has made me a believer, but is it right for you?

I blindly took the plunge this weekend. OK fine, maybe not so blindly, since I've read a few reviews and watched a few videos on it. However, even after reading and watching all those reviews, I still felt like I didn't understand Windows 8. Why did it continue to say 'Swipe' when the person using it was clearly on a PC? Why were there icons popping up from the side of the screen? What's with that Start menu? Honestly, the only thing that would give me clarity on the matter, was to try it out for myself.

After the lengthy install, there it was; that shiny, new Start menu that has become the source of Windows 8 conversations ever since its conception. A number of pre-installed programs like Xbox Video and SkyDrive were instantly available, and a host of new 'Apps' were just waiting to be installed from the new Windows Marketplace. I wasn't hating it so far.

windows 8

Welcome to the new Start menu

Then I clicked on the Desktop button and I was once again in familiar territory. My Dragon Ball Z wallpaper, all my icons (still scattered in a mess mind you) and the taskbar, housing all my shortcuts that I've pinned there were all unchanged from before the install. This screen calmed me down, and assured me that Windows 8, despite it's new Start interface, is still largely the same thing.

Let's talk a bit about what's new. Aside from that daunting (at first) Start menu, you'll have a few new user interface options. Hovering your mouse over each of the four corners now allows for certain actions. The bottom left corner will bring up the new Start menu, top left will bring up your last tabbed window, and then hovering down with your mouse allows you to switch to any other currently open App as well, much like Alt-tabbing. The top and bottom right bring up 'Charms' which always have the same options, but tend to work differently depending on the program open. This is where the main search is located, devices can be accessed, and various settings can be set.

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The Charms will take a bit getting used to, but they're super useful

It's these changes that will either make people's lives much easier, or will completely alienate others. For me, I got accustomed to the way Windows 8 works in a matter of ten minutes.

The Start menu however makes accessing a lot of favorite programs and apps with ease. You can install Netflix and Hulu to be accessible directly from there among a slew of other apps. What's more, all your favorite shows from Hulu can be directly pinned to your Start menu, giving you instant access to it, without the need to search for them. While the menu isn't all that customizable, you can arrange similar apps and programs together and change their icon size to fit more of them next to each other.

Another new feature is App splitting. You're able to open up an App and then drag it to the left of the screen, allowing you to open something else on the other side. In theory, you can have your desktop running and say watch The Office on Hulu. This can be somewhat similar to the Windows 7 feature of snapping a window to the left and right of your screen, splitting them down the middle. The bad part about the Windows 8 split is that it's about a 20/80 split, meaning whatever is on the 20% side is either going to be really tiny, or just suspended until you switch it back over. It isn't a huge deal since window splitting still works just the same in desktop mode, but it's just odd that you can't split things down the middle.

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Reading Time will organizing the Calendar

What needs to be understood is that the Start menu is somewhat of a separate entity from your computer. The Apps installed from the Start menu can only be accessed from there, similarly opened pages on Internet Explorer don't transfer when opening Internet Explorer in Desktop. It's not a dealbreaker by any means, it's just important to know that there is somewhat of a disconnect between the two.

Windows 8 also tries to unify your entertainment and games with your Xbox Live GamerTag. As soon as you connect it, you'll get access to your entire game list, achievements, Avatar, and whatever else is associated with that account. It's a neat aspect that's sure to appeal more to gamers than anyone else. The fact that games such as Jetpack Joyride, Minesweeper and even the Solitaire suite now have built in Achievements, which all count toward your actual Gamerscore, is pretty awesome.

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Connecting your GamerTag will undoubtedly make your Windows 8 experience that much better

So where is the catch? There is no denying that Windows 8 was absolutely built for tablets and touchscreens. Not only do you get that from the way the interface has been designed, but the fact that Microsoft decided to leave instructions for various Windows apps and programs to say things like 'swipe' and 'tap' is a dead giveaway.  It's understandable that Microsoft wanted to unify both PC's and upcoming Laptop/Tablet hybrids, but I can't help but think sole PC users will feel a disconnect thanks to this. Closing Apps is also done with a very touch-based gesture. Since Apps take up the entire screen, you don't have the familiar X button to close them. Instead, you click and drag from the top of the screen, all the way to the bottom. It's weird to say the least, but again, something that you'll get used to.

There have also been complaints about tasks taking an extra few steps to complete, although there are hidden shortcuts that make it easier. Things like opening Control Panel or even going straight to uninstalling programs can easily be done with a simple right click on the bottom left of the screen. Sure, turning off the computer takes multiple steps, and isn't as easily accessible as before, but for someone like me who just lets his computer go to sleep after an hour, this isn't a big deal.

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Is this new design for you?

The biggest question, which is undoubtedly on every Windows 7 users mind is, "Is Windows 8 right for me?" This question depends on both how hardcore of a Windows user you are, and how hardcore of a gamer you are. Gamers will undoubtedly feel at home with all the new features, and the fact that Xbox 360 users can further unify their Windows 8 account with their GamerTag is a big draw too. Casual windows users like mom or grandma should honestly stay away from Windows 8, as they'll get confused fairly quickly, and most likely won't ever get used to the changes Microsoft has made.

Microsoft has played it smart however, by making the entry price a mere $39.99 for the Windows 8 Pro version if you download it. If anything, it shows how much they want users to jump into their new OS, without paying over a hundred dollars. Without a doubt, Microsoft will continue to refine the Windows 8 experience to satisfy both tablet and PC users, and I can still honestly say that Windows 8 is leagues above Vista.

Charmander
Mike Splechta GameZone's Editor-in-Chief, retro game enthusiast, savior of kittens. Follow me @Michael_GZ
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