With each new version of OS X comes excitement and disappointment. As Mac users, we are jubilant when Apple adds an exciting new feature to the latest, impressive big cat, we occasionally shed a tear of sadness when a feature is removed and we sometimes wonder “What were they thinking?” when they add a new feature.
It’s clear, with the introduction of LaunchPad, that parts of iOS – Apple’s mobile operating system – are starting to find their way into OS X. Similarly, Microsoft, is starting to bring features from its mobile operating system, Windows Phone 7.5 to the next version of Windows.
This month, I’ll take a look at what Windows 8 will look like and what that might mean for upcoming versions of OS X.
Microsoft has released an early build of Windows 8. Dubbed a ‘Developer Preview’, it’s not feature- complete but is designed to give the world a taste of what is to come. I tested it on an Acer W500 slate device, which has a 10.1in touchscreen and a detachable keyboard so it can be used like an iPad or a MacBook.
An array of tiles can represent either applications, collections of data, folders or other things you have installed to your system.
The most striking thing about Windows 8 is that the old desktop and Start button are gone. They’ve been replaced by an array of tiles that can represent either applications, collections of data, folders or other things you have installed to your system.
For example, the tile representing the Address Book doesn’t just open your contact list when you tap it. It’s also active so that information from your contact’s Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn profiles appear. This may sound gimmicky but it’s a completely different take from Apple’s app-centric approach.
Rather than being focused on what app to use, you consider what information you want. This new application framework is called ‘Metro’. The apps are designed to work full-screen and be touchscreen-friendly.
That’s other thing about Windows 8 – Microsoft is betting that the next generations of PC hardware will come with touchscreens. Many of the major computer manufacturers already produce iMac-like all-in-one systems with touchscreens, and this is starting to permeate the notebook market as well.
Interestingly, after using a touchscreen notebook for a few days, it’s taken some time to stop trying to tap the screen on my Mac.
Microsoft is redesigning many of the applications that come with Windows 8 to demonstrate this new user experience. For example, Internet Explorer 10 will look completely different to its predecessors.
The familiar menus and toolbars will disappear from the top of the screen and be replaced with a simpler bar that sites at the bottom of the display. Even the tabs that have become a standard part of all modern browsers will be gone and replaced with larger previews of open pages – similar to Safari on your iPad.
Windows 8 will also be portable. It will be possible to create a bootable USB stick that contains a working copy of Windows 8, your applications and data. You can then plug that into any PC, work, save and shut down. All your changes will be on the USB stick, ready for the next location.
Clearly, Apple’s success in creating the App Store for iOS and OS X has influenced Microsoft. In addition to the Marketplace on Windows Phone, there’s a new Windows Store for buying software. Microsoft will be checking the software to ensure that they are fit for purpose and virus-free.
All Mac users live in a slightly more sheltered world than their Windows-using friends when it comes to security. There’s an array of changes Microsoft has introduced to Windows 8, including running applications in a more protected way so that errant applications don’t compromise the entire system.
The Windows 8 Developer Preview can be downloaded at no cost from microsoft.com and installed into a virtual machine on your Mac if you’re interested in seeing where Apple’s competition is heading.