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Windows 8 Learning Curve: Two Customers Speak

Microsoft users expect Windows 8.1 to lessen the learning curve for the new OS. But it may not be as bad as you fear, two education customers report.
8 Free, Must-Have Windows 8 Apps
8 Free, Must-Have Windows 8 Apps
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Windows 8 isn't easy enough to use -- even Tami Reller, CFO and CMO of Redmond's Windows division, admits it. If there's one thing users expect from Windows 8.1, the free update coming this summer, it's improved user-friendliness.

Yet according to IT decision-makers at Seton Hall University and Texas's Clear Creek Independent School District (CCISD), adjusting to Windows 8 actually is pretty easy and is worth the effort. Win8 tablets not only offer more value than their competitors, they say, but also serve as genuine laptop replacements.

Still, for many users Windows 8 is that unappealing new OS with a new user interface and an inescapable Live Tiles start screen. But based on the experiences of Seton Hall and CCISD's respective staff members and students, the OS's alleged offenses might be less severe than advertised.

[ Learn from those who have hands-on experience. Read Windows 8: 4 Things I've Learned. ]

Seton Hall CIO Stephen Landry said in an interview that students "took to Windows 8 immediately" last year when the school deployed the OS by outfitting about a third of the freshmen and junior classes with Samsung Series 7 Ultrabooks. Indeed, after collecting input from students, Seton Hall leaders decided to expand the Win8 rollout this year, with all first- and third-year students set to receive a Lenovo Helix, a tablet that docks into a keyboard to double as a laptop. Landry said the Helix balances the tablet apps, battery life, light weight and mobility that students love with the productivity tools a demanding college curriculum requires.

Landry also said modest training efforts were central to Win8's success on the campus, noting that students not only receive a brief introduction to the OS when they pick up their devices but also refine their skills by incorporating their tablets in certain classes, such as an online technology survey course that is mandatory for all freshmen.

Whereas students have encountered little difficulty, Landry stated that faculty and administrators have had a more arduous time adjusting. He said this trouble has been particularly true within the latter group, for which Windows 8 training has not been mandated. "But usually if I spend 10 minutes explaining the navigations," Landry said, "most administrators become comfortable with the new interface."

Similarly, he said, professors have grown happy with Windows 8, noting that he'd definitely know if they weren't. "Faculty can be vocal."

In Texas, CCISD CTO Kevin Schwartz has had a similar experience. His district has been exploring Windows 8 for the last year and plans to deploy 30,000 devices equipped with the OS to students and staff.

Schwartz previously managed iPad deployments for schools but has settled on Dell Latitude tablets for CCISD. "There really is a better device now than there was a couple years ago," he said in an interview, noting that Windows 8 offers the tablet perks of Apple's popular product line while it also supports traditional, productivity-oriented applications such as Microsoft Office.

Schwartz stated that the Latitude tablets were presented alongside iOS and Android options in "an extensive bakeoff" during which staff and students "strongly favored Dell." Most of those involved with the device selection process had used iOS but few had experience with Windows 8, Schwartz said. Still, students were comfortable with Live Tiles and Win8's other new features "within 10 minutes."

"It's not a big barrier," Schwartz remarked, noting that staff initially found Win8's UI "a little harder to adapt to" but that early training efforts, which have dedicated 30 minutes of a two-hour presentation to Win8 navigation and management, are paying off.

It's clear from these campus-based stories that once a little training is made available, users becomes much more comfortable with the new operating system and Win8 has value to offer.

Windows Blue rumors have suggested that Microsoft is entertaining a variety of changes, including a boot-to-desktop option, more prominent tutorials and a restored start button -- albeit one that merely links to the Live Tile screen, rather than functioning as it did in Windows 7. Though Seton Hall and CCISD's respective experiences suggest tutorials alone might do the trick, it's probably a good idea for Microsoft to include all of the above.