I, for one, look forward to new Operating Systems like a child looks forward to an amusement park visit, but I approach Windows 8 with a bit of trepidation. Why? In Microsoft’s effort to create an operating system that is both touch and keyboard/mouse enabled I don’t believe enough effort was placed on the user experience for those stuck with the old faithful keyboard/mouse combination. What do I base this belief on? Not much! My experiences with Windows 8 have been limited to basic interactions with the OS running in a virtual machine on my laptop. For better, or worse, I will be installing Windows 8 and using it with an open mind once it is available to me. I’m sure my fears are over exaggerated and I’ll let you know in a few weeks. There are new features that I’m absolutely excited about such as File History, Storage Spaces, and Refresh/Reset. In the mean time here’s what you need to know right now. Keep an open mind! This could be the best operating system to ever leave Redmond and a pivotal moment in personal computing.
What Windows 8 versions should we expect?
In the past buying a version of Windows was wrought with questions of which version had what features. As an example Windows 7 had 6 major versions (Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate) though each version contained all the features of the next lesser version this was not always the case (i.e., Vista). In the past most settled for the version installed on a new PC and those buying the OS outright had to ask themselves questions. In most instances a lot of questions! Obviously those buying the upgrade or full versions outright probably knew what they were looking for, but the utter confusion caused by Microsoft’s decisions were completely unnecessary. Fortunately Microsoft has read the writing on the wall. Windows 8 will be released as three versions, and for all intents and purposes only two of those count (Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro) as the Windows RT (Why no “8”?) version is specific to devices running ARM processors such as tablets and other low power devices.
|Feature name||Windows 8||Windows 8 Pro||Windows RT|
|Upgrades from Windows 7 Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium||
|Upgrades from Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate||x|
|Start screen, Semantic Zoom, Live Tiles||x||x||x|
|Apps (Mail, Calendar, People, Messaging, Photos, SkyDrive, Reader, Music, Video)||x||x||x|
|Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote)||x|
|Internet Explorer 10||x||x||x|
|Installation of x86/64 and desktop software||x||x|
|Updated Windows Explorer||x||x||x|
|Enhanced Task Manager||x||x||x|
|Switch languages on the fly (Language Packs)||x||x||x|
|Better multiple monitor support||x||x||x|
|Windows Media Player||x||x|
|ISO / VHD mount||x||x||x|
|Mobile broadband features||x||x||x|
|Remote Desktop (client)||x||x||x|
|Reset and refresh your PC||x||x||x|
|Touch and Thumb keyboard||x||x||x|
|BitLocker and BitLocker To Go||x|
|Boot from VHD||x|
|Encrypting File System||x|
|Remote Desktop (host)||x|
The choice looks simple on the surface: Windows 8 for the average consumer and Windows 8 Pro for techies and business, but there are three things you need to be aware of…
- Microsoft has removed Windows Media Center from both versions of Windows 8. Pardon me while I go off on a rant – Media Center has been one of the best kept secrets of Windows. An elegant media solution for handling everything from recording TV to playing music from multiple sources. It also has the ability to playback on multiple TVs using “extenders”, such as the xbox360, which connect over your network and allow the use of Media Center on each device – a simple method to share all of your media everywhere in your home. Microsoft failed to promote the use of Media Center to the average user which has kept adoption rates low. Most people don’t even know it’s there in Vista and Win 7. For the thousands of more technically minded users who do use Media Center (and are exceptionally happy doing so) Microsoft has failed to produce, or support other manufacturers in the production of, reasonably priced extenders. Microsoft is missing a great opportunity to bring the operating system, especially Windows 8, into the home entertainment market and this is especially true as streaming services like Hulu and Netflix grow at an alarming rate. – end of rant.
- Windows Media Center is available as a separate download, but only to Windows 8 Pro users.
- There is no native DVD playback in Windows 8. Those who wish to play DVDs from their computer will need the Media Center download or a third party DVD player. Stand by for Rant #2 – While DVD and BluRay appear to be slowly going by the wayside as streaming services gain ground there are still millions of people with significant DVD and/or BluRay collections. Microsoft made this decision to save a few dollars in licensing fees per Windows 8 copy, but again they are missing the boat. While streaming is growing there is still a large amount of the worldwide population without access to these services or the bandwidth to make them worthwhile. With the proper marketing of Media Center and the native ability to play DVD/BluRay Microsoft could have made Windows the entertainment center in millions of homes. Very shortsighted, Microsoft! – end of rant.
Based on the three reasons above I highly recommend you buy Windows 8 Pro if you have any interest in DVD/BluRay playback and some of the “Pro only” feature such as encryption, Remote Desktop host, and the ability to boot from a Virtual Hard Drive are all icing on the cake. Media Center will be a free “add on” feature to Pro.
When can you get your paws on Windows 8?
General availability is set for October 26th. This is the date new PC’s will ship with Windows 8 (expect Windows 7 to be a choice also). Also on the 26th you’ll be able to purchase an upgrade to Win 8.
- Available to Microsoft Software Assurance members
- Available to Microsoft Partner Network members
- Available to Microsoft Action Pack Providers
- Available to Volume License customers without Software Assurance
October 26th – General Availability
- Available on new PC’s
- Upgrade available to existing XP, Vista, and Windows 7 customers
How much will Windows 8 cost?
At launch Windows 8 Pro upgrades will be available for $69.99 on DVD from your local retailer and $39.99 via download from Microsoft’s Windows.com site.This will be a limited time promotion ending January 31, 2013, but it is a pleasant surprise to see Microsoft drastically lowering upgrade pricing – though I suspect this is in response to Apple’s upgrade pricing structure. Those who go the download route will be able to purchase a physical DVD from Microsoft for an additional $15.
I haven’t seen any mention of upgrade availability or pricing of the plain Jane Windows 8. I suspect we will see that option, but it is apparent that Microsoft is pushing the Pro version.
What about those who build their own PC’s? They will need to purchase a full Windows 8 or Pro version called System Builder. There has been no pricing mentioned for System Builder purchases, though I hope the final pricing follows the upgrade pricing. I would love to see Win 8 Pro System Builder for $99, or less, and Win 8 for around $79. Hey, I can hope can’t I?
I haven’t heard any news about the well know “in place upgrade” method where you use upgrade media to install an operating system and then use the same media to “upgrade” the installation, effectively bypassing the need to purchase a full version (in this case System Builder) when building a new PC.
Hopefully I’ll have more information by the end of next week. I’ll have my copy August 15th, so we should be able to sort through some of the unknown and start providing real actual information instead of speculation.
While most have 2 months until Windows 8 is available to them now is the time to start thinking and planning. If you decide to give Windows 8 a go I highly recommend you choose the Pro edition. The promo pricing and free download of Media Center almost make that decision a no brainer at the moment.
As I said earlier, I am excited, but there is also some anxiety. I love that new operating system smell, the fun of figuring out how everything works, and the little surprises that pop up along the way. As always, I’ll keep you updated as the journey progresses.