Copyright 2015, Faulkner Information Services. All Rights Reserved.
Publication Date: 1507
Report Type: PRODUCT
Windows 8 was Microsoft’s eighth major release of its desktop operating
system. Launched in October 2012, it diverges from Microsoft’s previous version
most greatly with its Metro UI, a new, second desktop with access to
touch-friendly versions of Windows’ most used apps as well as user-customizable
widgets. Although the operating system changed relatively little since its
launch state, a subsequent update to version 8.1 addressed several of the early
concerns about the OS.
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Windows 8 is Microsoft’s eighth major desktop operating system (OS) for
consumers, businesses, and IT departments.
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Microsoft Windows XP Product
Windows 8 replaced one of Microsoft’s greatest success stories in recent
years, the extremely well received Windows 7.
Comparatively, the Windows 7 launch had both an easier and a harder path ahead
of it: Easier because it only needed to improve upon Windows Vista, arguably the
company’s most reviled update ever; and harder because it needed to overcome the
damage to consumer confidence that Vista had caused. Thankfully for
Microsoft, Windows 7 gained rapid adoption and quick popularity due to
positive early reviews and hordes of users just wishing for a way to get Vista
off of their computers. In its first month, Windows 7 gained
four percent of market share while Vista needed eight months to achieve that goal.1 To
further drive the point home, Windows 7 currently enjoys a 60.98 percent market share,
while Vista retains just 1.62 percent and its predecessor, Windows XP, still holds an
impressive 11.98 percent thanks to a strong business presence.2 This contrast of
Microsoft’s greatest Windows update failure and its greatest success in the past decade
show just how easily the fate of Windows 8 could have gone either way for the company. Unfortunately
for Microsoft, Windows 8 seems to be performing more like Windows
Vista than either Windows 7 or XP. Despite having been out for
nearly three years at this point, Windows 8/8.1 still only managed to obtain a
16.02 percent market share, not much more
than the relatively ancient Windows XP.
Although the Windows 8.1 update was designed to address many of the initial pain
points that seemed to be driving customers away from the new version, adoption
rates continue to be slow.
Initial User Reaction
Whereas Windows 7 was a sort of reparative release with a primary
goal of addressing user backlash from Vista, Windows 8 had the responsibility of
once again innovating the Windows platform, now that it had recovered from its
stumble. In this vein, Microsoft chose to fully adopt what it saw as the touch-based and tablet-heavy future of computing. The evidence of this
comes in two areas: The inclusion of the new touch-friendly UI and support for
ARM-based lower power-consumption processors allowing the OS to run on tablets
and mobile devices.
Both of these goals were, of course, laudable. Microsoft did not have
anywhere near the mobile presence that its primary competitor, Apple, did. The
company’s attempts at tablet computers had been a mix of mediocre releases and
outright failures, mostly stemming from the practice of simply attaching a touchscreen
to an OS that was only ever designed to function with a mouse and keyboard.
However, the question remained of whether or not Microsoft had found a way to
attract tablet makers and users and evolve Windows into a touch-friendly OS
without alienating its core user-base, a group that still relies almost exclusively on
the traditional mouse/keyboard or touchpad/keyboard peripheral setup.
Obviously, the ultimate judgment of Microsoft’s design philosophy is how well
it was accepted by consumers. It must be said that, more than two years into its
lifespan, it is, at best, a mixed success. Despite some praise for the new UI’s
usability on touchscreen devices and its near ubiquitous inclusion on the
current wave of touch-screen enabled ultrabooks, Windows 8 has generated far
more hate than love among consumers. The most cited reason for this ire has
almost always stemmed from one very simple and somewhat baffling omission from the operating
system: The Start Button. Thankfully, Microsoft partially corrected this
oversight with the launch of Windows 8.1, an update that, among other
enhancements, included the return of the Start Button to its traditional home on
the taskbar. Although this may have soothed some users, the fact that the Start
Button still launches users into the Metro desktop left many with the sense that Microsoft is forcing its new design philosophy on users.
This frustration was only be compounded by the
persistently-dual nature of the traditional desktop
and Metro UI desktop. Although users can access either one with
a single click or keystroke, many users have voiced a desire to simply avoid the
Metro UI entirely and want an option to bring back the "fly
out" start menus seen in Windows 7 and earlier versions.
One of the main issues at work is the fact that this dual-desktop environment
seems to have been designed with the switch between a mouse/keyboard interface
and a touch interface in mind. While that concept may be very useful for users
of hybrid devices, like the aforementioned ultrabooks, it was not designed to
allow users who prefer to use solely one type of interface or the other to exist
entirely within either the traditional desktop or within the Metro UI. It is
this inability to choose one or the other that was the core of
the vast majority of complaints about Windows 8. Even after the Windows 8.1
update, the reality is that the
traditional desktop must be used at some points for full functionality, as must
the Metro UI. Yet, neither one feels quite right unless a touchscreen, pointing
device, and keyboard are all available. Since this was always a relatively rare
state of affairs, the level of user interaction with Windows 8 is likely to
leave many users unsatisfied.
That being said, the Metro UI still had the potential to radically improve
Microsoft’s position in the touch-based PC and tablet markets. While it is of
somewhat limited usability in a traditional keyboard/mouse setup, it showed
early traction on touchscreen-enabled laptops and some hybrid tablet devices
such as Microsoft’s own Surface line. The large, rectangular icons – originally
designed to mirror the Windows Phone interface – were capable of both launching
applications and displaying real-time information on the desktop. These are
joined by a slew of "swipe-in" gestures for navigating, switching apps,
performing Web and local searches, and other functions. The overall experience
is the closest Microsoft, and perhaps any company, has come to bringing the
high-level functionality usually reserved for desktop and notebook systems to a
Given the obvious concerns many consumers have
with Windows 8, it is hard to understand why Microsoft persisted in forbidding
customers from using the updated OS as simply a revamped clone of Windows 7. A perfect
example of this stubborn design philosophy is the fact that, although Microsoft
chose to bring the Start Button back, it was unwilling
to give it its previous functionality and made it simply another way of access
the often-unwanted Metro UI layer. This was almost certainly a mistake, given the
fact that a Windows 7-style Start Button is
exactly what the most vocal opponents of Windows 8 had been clamoring for.
is, however, possible that Microsoft was also concerned about another, seemingly
contradictory, complaint levied against the OS: that, in its traditional desktop
mode, it does not provide any material benefits over Windows 7. While it may be
hard for the OS maker to argue against this complaint, it is doubtful that
continuing to rely on the Metro UI to provide that feeling of
"new-ness" would ever have resulted in success either.
This lack of ability from the Metro UI to drive widespread customer adoption
is primarily the result of the UI’s reliance on the presence of touch
sensitivity. Since few upgraders will have access to a touchscreen on
their devices, its ability to
attract customers is almost solely reliant on manufacturers broadly
adopting touchscreens in their devices. Although ultrabook and laptop makers
seem willing enough to adopt the new technology, the still-important
desktop PC market has been left largely disabled by a relative lack of
touch-friendly, consumer-targeted monitors. Put simply, until touchscreens
become nearly as ubiquitous as keyboard/mouse or keyboard/touchpad combos, Windows 8 will
continue to have almost no benefits over Windows 7
for a considerable portion of the market.
Windows 8 shipped with many new and updated features, including a revamped
crash recovery process, ribbon-based navigation, cloud-based file syncing,
an updated PC settings section, and compatibility with ARM-based systems. These
have since been joined by a smaller but still important collection of new
features brought to the operating system by the Windows 8.1 update.
Figure 1 offers a screenshot of the Metro UI desktop.
Figure 1. Windows
8 – Metro UI desktop
Metro UI – The Metro UI is a second desktop that consists of
large, rectangular icons and widgets called Tiles. Users can customize these
tiles to launch their own program, display information such as weather reports
or incoming emails, and open specific files or folders. The interface closely
mirrors the Windows Phone mobile OS and, as such, is designed around
touch-friendly navigation. Its features include:
- Semantic Zoom – A new magnification option that lets users zoom in
on a single segment of their Metro UI homescreen to organize tiles or view
widgets, or to zoom out to see their entire Tile collection.
- Swipe-in Gestures – The Metro UI includes a number of commands that
can be completed by swiping in the from the edge of a touchscreen device or
using a mouse cursor to pull in from the edge of a monitor. These result in
a "drawer" appearing on screen with functionality such as app
switching, launching commonly used applications, and accessing the
"Charms" portion of the UI.
- Charms – The "Charms" drawer is available by swiping
in from the right side of the screen and presents users with one-touch
access to local searches, PC settings, sharing options, and access to the
traditional Windows desktop.
- Resizable Tiles (Windows 8.1) – When users press and hold on a
given tile, Windows will now give them the option to resize the app or
LiveTile to one-half or one-quarter is usual size. This is accompanied by
new methods of organizing tiles, which includes by date of installation, by
most used, and the already available alphabetically.
Figure 2 shows the Metro UI desktop zoomed in with the "Charms"
Figure 2. Windows
8 – Semantic Zoom and Charms
PC Settings – The PC Settings window
(called Control Panel in previous Windows iterations) has been simplified. The
most commonly changed settings are now available immediately, with more arcane
settings situated in several layers of sub-menus. This is the area where users
can customize their PC, manage programs, and install drivers.
Figure 3 shows the revamped PC settings windows.
Figure 3. Windows
8 – PC Settings
New Crash Recovery Screen – The
fabled "Blue Screen of Death" is no longer a part of Windows with the
launch of its 8th iteration. It has been replaced by a "sad face" image with a
single line of text displaying the type of error that cause the crash and
suggesting that the user search for support on that error once the PC has
Figure 4 shows the revamped Crash Recovery Windows.
Figure 4. Windows
8 – Crash Recovery Screen
PC Reset – If a Windows 8
user has a problem severe enough that it would have traditionally required a reinstallation
of the operating system, they can now, instead, choose to reset their PC. The
new option essentially brings the computer back to its factory default settings,
wiping all of the user’s data and programs. The advantage here is that no
installation disk is required and the process can be completed much more
quickly than a full reinstall.
Figure 5 shows the Reset your PC option.
Figure 5. Windows
8 – Reset your PC
Picture Passwords – Microsoft
has added a new form of password in Windows 8 that allows users to interact with
an image rather than typing in a string of secret characters. The new security
feature works by letting the user choose an image. The user is then prompted to
essentially draw on the image, with Windows 8 recognizing clicks, lines, and
circles. To subsequently access the PC, the user will be prompted to replicate
the trio of patterns they drew in order to gain access.
Figure 6 shows introduction page for the new Picture Password security
Figure 6. Windows
8 – Picture Password Setup
Cloud Sync and OneDrive- Windows 8 relies
heavily on the cloud, even more so since its 8.1 update . The OS has several cloud-based features, the most
prominent of which is the ability to sync a user’s settings between Windows
8-based PCs by letting the user enter a Windows Live ID. Once an account is
setup, all Windows 8 PCs on which that user logs in will automatically apply his
or her settings and customizations. This same system is used to connect users to
Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage service, which has been more deeply
integrated with all aspects of the OS in Windows 8.1. Users can now access
Microsoft’s cloud-based storage service from within any portion of the Explorer
interface, and can upload files which will appear within seconds on any other
Windows 8.1 PC on which they are logged in. The cloud-based connectivity also supports the ability to
synch with third-party accounts such as Gmail, Twitter, and Facebook.
Figure 7 shows the Windows 8 Cloud Sync options
Figure 7. Windows
8 – Cloud Sync Settings
New Task Manager – Windows 8
includes an updated task manager. When users of the new OS enter the familiar
ctrl+alt+delete command and choose the task manager option they will be presented
with a new, more detailed list of running programs and process as well as a
new, easier to read system performance monitor. The monitor displays operational
statistics such as CPU usage, memory usage, disk usage, Ethernet activity, and
Figure 8 shows two tabs from the
Windows 8 Task Manager.
Figure 8. Windows
8 – Task Manager Performance Monitor
Explorer Ribbon Interface – Despite
the interface component’s somewhat controversial introduction to the Microsoft Office
suite, the company has chosen to integrate its Ribbon interface into the
standard Explorer window within Windows 8. Like its Office counterpart, the dynamic
ribbon changes based on the type of folder, the task being performed, the
folder’s contents, and other factors. Commonly displayed functions and menus include
copy, past, delete, sharing options, quick access to common folders for
moving files, properties and library management tools.
Figure 9 shows several variations of the dynamic
Figure 9. Windows
8 – 3 Explorer Ribbons
Xbox Companion App – Although
Windows 7 included a feature that let users stream their media to an Xbox 360
console or another connected device, the functionality was relatively limited.
Windows 8 changes that with the introduction of a more comprehensive remote
connection in the Xbox Companion App. This new offering allows Xbox 360 owners
to load a game disk, control media playback on the Xbox, and transfer media
between the two devices. Microsoft has also hinted that it may be possible in
the future to stream games from the Xbox 360 to the user’s PC, allowing the user
to play from anywhere.
Xbox Music and Video App (Windows
8.1) – In addition to the remote interaction provided by the Xbox Live Companion
App, Microsoft has included a pair of standalone media consumption apps for Xbox
Live Subscribers in its 8.1 update. This duo of applications, Xbox Music and
Xbox Video, give customers cloud-based access to any music and video purchases
they have made from Microsoft’s Xbox Live media stores. These files can be
played back on any Windows 8.1 PC, tablet, Windows Phone 8 smartphone, or, of
course, any Xbox 360 or Xbox One console.
Figure 10 shows a screenshot from the Xbox Live
Figure 10. Windows
8 – Xbox Live Music
Internet Explorer 11 (Windows
8.1) – Internet Explorer 10 was designed to be the easiest and most touch-friendly version of
Microsoft’s seminal Web browser. This has since been replaced by the second
iteration of Microsoft touch-enabled Web browser, Internet Explorer 11. The version of Internet Explorer
now built into
Windows 8 has something of a split personality. The application on the
standard desktop includes the traditional, albeit updated, IE experience for use with a pointing
device and keyboard. Meanwhile, the less recognizable update to it launches
from a default icon on the
Metro UI desktop. When users tap the Metro version of the app they will be
greeted by a radically changed Internet Explorer that more closely mirrors the
Web browser on Windows Phone handsets than any previous version of the desktop
software. Features include touch-specific controls and menus, pinch-to-zoom
functionality, and kinetic-style scrolling through swiping motions.
New features specific to the
Internet Explorer update include the option to open an unlimited number of tabs;
Live Tile bookmarks with image previews of the page they lead to; and the
ability to open multiple Web pages or Web apps, side-by-side, within a single
window (seen below).
Figure 11 shows a screenshot of the Metro UI
version of Internet Explorer 11 included with Windows 8.
Figure 11. Windows
8 – Internet Explorer 11, Touch Version
Not everything has seen major alterations in Windows 8. In fact, much of the
standard desktop experience closely resembles that of Windows 7. Areas where
little or nothing has changed since Windows’ previous iteration include:
- Jump Lists – Retaining the Windows 7-style taskbar, Windows 8
also includes the Jump Lists introduced in its predecessor, allowing users
to quickly open new instances of an application, open commonly access
files, and perform app-specific tasks.
- Shake – Like several of the window management features, users can
still isolate a single window, while minimizing all others, by grabbing
the window and shaking it.
- Snap – Another retained window management feature lets
users drag a window to the right or left side of their screen, resulting
in the automatic resizing and alignment of the window to take up exactly
half the screen. Users can also drag the window to the top of their screen
to maximize it.
- Transparent Windows/Show Desktop – Windows 7 introduced a
persistent button on the bottom left corner of the screen that allowed users
to turn all windows transparent by hovering over it, or minimize all open
windows by clicking it. Windows 8 retains this feature when being used in
the standard desktop mode.
- Other Similarities – Although most of the operating system has
been updated to at least some degree, many of the more mundane areas of
operation – viewing files and images, deleting files, launching programs
from the taskbar, and other tasks – remain nearly identical.
Home and Device Networking
This is another area where relatively little has changed from the previous
iteration, with the possible exception (depending on one’s definition of
network) of cloud connectivity through Windows Live and Microsoft OneDrive.
- HomeGroup – Windows 8 lets home users create a "homegroup"
of at least two Windows 7 or Windows 8 PCs. Users can access the HomeGroup Network and Sharing Center to
share files and printers with other homegroup members.
- Share Photos, Music, and Videos – Using a homegroup or
while streaming media from Windows Media Player, users can access music,
pictures, and videos on other Windows 7 or Windows 8 computers or on other
compatible devices in the home.
- Devices and Printers Portal – From a single portal, users will be
able to connect, manage, and use any printers, phones, or other devices.
- Share Photos, Music, and Videos – Using a homegroup or
- Windows Live – Microsoft’s unified online identity management
system also takes over as the identity management system of Windows 8.
Users signing in with their Windows Live ID will be able to save their
settings and customizations to the cloud, where they can be pulled down
and populated on any Windows 8 PC that user signs into
- OneDrive – Microsoft built access to its OneDrive cloud-based storage solution into Windows 8. The service has since been integrated into Microsoft cloud-based software releases such as
Office 365 and other products.
Security and Control
Windows 8 includes numerous security updates when compared to Windows 7,
although Microsoft has publicly stated that it wished to keep these changes
mostly behind the scenes. This philosophy, according to the company, will better
protect users while also resulting in fewer distractions by reducing the
number of security alerts and warnings the user receives. Some specific
security changes include:
- Built-in SmartScreen Technology – Microsoft’s SmartScreen
security feature was first introduced as part of Internet Explorer 8. The safety
measure scans users activity for potentially malicious downloads and
warns users against visiting Web sites that exist on a constantly updated database
of sources for various forms of spyware and other malware. This feature is
now built directly into the operating system, meaning even users of
third-party browsers – such as Firefox or Chrome – will receive the same
protection as those using Internet Explorer.
- Windows Defender – Another legacy feature from Windows 7, Windows
Defender has been updated and enhanced to serve as a failsafe form of
malware and virus protection on systems not running dedicated anti-virus
software. While Microsoft notes that this will not provide the same level
of protection as a stand-alone security program, it will prevent the user
from being affected by the most common and easily avoided forms of
- Exploitation Protection – The latest version of Windows has been hardened against code
exploitation with the introduction of ASLR
(address space layout randomization) and memory randomization.3
- UEFI Secure Boot – Windows 8 will be the first iteration of
Microsoft’s operating system to support this technology. The new security
measure works by allowing the system’s firmware to run a cryptographic
check on the computer’s integrity before it boots into the operating
system. The timing of this diagnostic prevents malware that would
potentially launch on startup from ever actually being able to access the
operating system. If a threat is found, startup can be suspended, and the
threat eliminated without risking unauthorized access to user data.3
Strengths and Weaknesses
Windows 8 began its life in a strong position. Microsoft was no longer
dragging around the albatross of Vista’s failure and could expect user’s to
be neutral at worst, and more likely optimistic about its next operating
system, based on their experiences with its immediate predecessor.
The new iteration also did bring several attractive new features to the table,
not the least of which is a new level of cloud-connectivity. From
interoperability with Microsoft’s Xbox consoles to deeply integrated Microsoft OneDrive
support and the complete integration of Windows Live as the operating
system’s user management component, the cloud permeated nearly every aspect of
Windows 8. Cloud computing and cloud-based services have taken over a
large portion of the enterprise market and are in the process of doing the same in the
consumer sector. Therefore, it was extremely wise that Microsoft chose to
equip its renewed offering with the tools to grow in this new, cloud-dependent
Despite the massive importance of all of the aforementioned features and
components, there is one item that remains a wild card, that still may be Windows 8’s
most controversial design decision: The Metro UI. On paper, the Metro UI had massive potential. It could
have been the first time a desktop-level operating
system was available on tablets and other touch-based devices with a user
interface that was designed from the ground up to be touch-friendly. And, thanks
to its ability to run on low-power consumption ARM-based tablets, it could have also served to move Microsoft
into a consumer electronics space that has been dominated by Apple.
However, even three years after the OS’ initial launch, serious doubts
remain about whether or not users will ever be
able to truly embrace Microsoft’s design aesthetic. The UI is extremely
heavily influenced by Microsoft’s Windows Phone UI, a mobile operating system
that, it must be said, had not garnered much widespread adoption. While some of
the technological elite were quick to laud the Metro UI, the
average user was largely frustrated by its inclusion and saw little
reason to adopt the operating
system. With that thought in mind, it was a most terrifying concept that this user
interface was not only integral to the latest version of Windows 8, but had, in
fact, replaced an incessantly used component like the Start menu. Indeed, even before the operating system was officially released, users
of the Release Candidate for Windows 8 were already looking for articles on
how to bring the Start Button back and ways to avoid Metro by always remaining in the traditional desktop portion
of Windows 8 4,5
Although Microsoft did eventually re-introduce the Start Button, it had been
diminished to nothing more than a way to quickly access the Metro desktop.
This unwillingness to go that last mile and bring back the traditional Start
menu showed not only a worrisome level of inflexibility on Microsoft’s part,
but also an intent to follow its own design philosophy, whether users like
it or not. Remaining purposely deaf to user complaints and concerns can cost
any company dearly, no matter how large. As many of Microsoft’s opponents
have discovered in recent years, taking a successful idea and running with
it is all well and good, but not if consumers are yelling at them slow down and
just listen to them.
With the imminent launch of Windows 10, (the successor to Windows 8,
despite the numbering gap) Windows 8’s time to shine may have already
passed. Although the operating system did manage to shine in a few areas of
the market, primarily within the tablet computing space, it never gained the
traction or the affection from users that its predecessor, Windows 7,
enjoyed nearly from the start. The return of a fly-out style start menu in
Windows 10 seems to show that Microsoft has finally admitted that it made a
horrible mistake in trying to force users into its Metro UI interface, and
has now seen the error of its ways. With this in mind, the outlook for
Windows 8 and 8.1 is fairly grim. Thanks to Microsoft’s own decision to make
Windows 10 a free and direct upgrade from Windows 7, as well as Windows 8,
there seems little to no reason why users would bother with upgrading to
Windows 8 at all from this point forward. The numerous and varied systems
that continue to come installed with Windows 8 will likely prove to be the
last bastion of the operating system’s sales. Once these already-produced
systems have dwindled out of their relative inventories, Windows 8 will
likely begin a slow decline to the kind of market share held by Windows
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The Windows 8 platform is built to support advanced consumer and
business software. Table 1 outlines Windows 8’s applications for various user segments.
Windows 8 supports consumer software and
Businesses will appreciate the expanded security features of
Windows 8 continues to support the Windows Azure cloud platform, and