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Almost exactly three years after Windows 7 hit the streets, here comes Windows 8. But the world has changed radically in three years, with the iPad putting a serious dent in PC sales and smartphones meeting more collaboration needs.
Windows 8 is Microsoft's attempt to merge the best of PCs and tablets into one platform, so many of the biggest changes from Windows 7 are on the outside: a dramatically new user interface, touch screen support, a faster browser, and cloud storage links. Most of these features are designed for consumers, but in a hyperconnected, mobile world, they fit many business needs as well.
On the inside, Windows 8's most fundamental change is Windows RT, which supports ARM processors and thus gives Microsoft a viable low-cost tablet platform. Tablets also can run on x86 versions of Windows, as Microsoft's upcoming Surface Pro tablet will.
Windows 8 won't tempt many companies that just wrapped up Windows 7 upgrades.Just 53% of companies plan to upgrade at some point, according to our InformationWeek Windows 8 Survey of 859 business technology pros at organizations with 500 or more employees.
Win 8 will appeal most to those looking for a better mobile experience while staying in the Windows world. Windows holds just a 16% share of respondents' tablet and smartphone fleets. Respondents expect the share of Windows mobile devices to hit 24% by 2014. Whether they get on board depends largely on what they think of Win 8's new interface and mobile features, and how they assess those.
The Controversial Tile Interface
Windows 8 optimizes the Windows 7 kernel, graphics, and driver stack, with little new under the covers. The most striking change in Windows 8 is the new Metro interface.
The change hits you right in the face with a tiled home screen replacing the familiar Windows desktop and task bar. But unlike Mac OS X's Launchpad, the Metro tiles are home base, not an optional means of browsing for applications. Much like on Windows Phone and on the iPad and Android tablets, applications are run via selecting tiles, not hitting the Start Menu.
If the Metro UI were a political candidate, its favorability rating would net out 24 points on the plus side: 37% like it or love it vs. 13% who dislike or hate it. But there's a big swing vote in play: 21% are indifferent and 29% don't know enough yet to express an opinion.
The naysayers feel strongly. "The major change in the user interface is one of the primary reasons we do not want to use Windows 8," says one survey respondent. "The retraining costs for users and support would exceed any benefit." One turnoff is that Windows 8 makes Metro the default home screen, with no option to automatically drop back to the Aero desktop and its familiar Start Menu and Task Bar. Sixty-two percent say the inability to disable the interface will slow or preclude deployment.