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TECH:A touching new experience - Windows 8
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Windows 8 is a complete overhaul of the Windows operating system; a visual, philosophical, and systematic ‘rebirth’ of Windows. You will notice striking differences not just on the surface (excuse the pun), but also in functionality and system design. Microsoft has seen the growing success of Apple's iPad, iPhone and iOS ecosystem, and has opted to head in the same direction. The result is a hip new system inspired by the Windows Phone operating system which marks a giant leap for Microsoft in a new direction.
Getting Started
When you turn on your Windows 8 computer, you will notice that the new operating system is blazingly fast. Depending on the speed of your computer, the whole process might only take as little as 20 seconds to boot up. If it is your first time configuring Windows 8, you will be asked to link your Windows log-in with your Microsoft Account. If you do accept, this means that every time you log-in to another computer, your system settings and preferences will follow you to your new device. In addition, you Microsoft account will be linked with SkyDrive. For those of you who don't know what SkyDrive is, it is a similar service to Google Drive or Dropbox. SkyDrive allows you to upload and sync files to a cloud storage and then access the files from a web browser or local device. You can get 7GB of storage for free. Office 2013 will automatically back up any file you edit to SkyDrive, which means that any document you edit on you Windows 8 device will be available to you on the cloud whenever and wherever you are. These settings are also customisable between your different devices, so you can turn the sync features off and on. 
User Interface
Windows 8 has been developed to be part of an ecosystem that will function seamlessly with Windows Phone and Windows RT tablets. The traditional Windows desktop, icons and start menu have given way to the Windows Phone inspired colourful array of tiles. The new Start Screen for Windows 8 is a still just a launch pad for applications, just with a whole new look and feel. If you click on one of the tiles, it will open the application in a new window, although you will not be able to re-size the window or minimise it like in the past. Some of the tiles are dynamic, and will push updates to the Start Screen in real-time. For example, you can see news headlines, Twitter feeds, and Facebook updates as they happen without actually opening the corresponding application. However, not all applications will appear on the Start Screen but you will be able to easily customise your desktop by right-clicking on and then clicking on Pin to Start. In order to find Apps that are not already on your Start Screen you can access them on your touch devices by sweeping your finger to the right. This will reveal the new Charms menu which consists of five icons of the most used functions in Windows 8. This includes Search, Share, Start, Devices and Settings and the Charms menu will also host key data such as network status, battery level, and other important info. The new Charms are all ‘context aware’, meaning that when you open the Charms menu, it will search the application that you have opened or you can trigger it to search across the OS. 
The new mobile inspired Start Screen will definitely take time to get used to but for the most part it is quite visually intuitive and easy to get the hang of. You can also access the traditional Windows desktop view quite easily by launching the desktop tile or launching an older app that is not compatible with Windows 8. The traditional desktop mode is basically Windows 7 with some slight enhancements and changes. The biggest change you will notice is that the Start Menu doesn't appear automatically. You must drag your mouse to the bottom left corner or use a gesture enabled mouse to get the menu to pop up. Some other notable changes to the desktop version is a cleaner and improved version of Windows Explorer (now named File Explorer) and an updated Task Manager that is easier to use and provides even more system performance metrics than before.  
Windows Store
Windows 8 is facilitating a new breed of apps for Windows by switching to this new OS format. Taking a page from Apple's playbook, Microsoft is taking a big gamble that developers will go along and create new good-looking applications for the Windows ecosystem in a centralised Microsoft Store. At the moment there are only around 5,000 apps available on the Windows Store, which means that Microsoft has a long way to go to catch up with the likes of Apple and Google in terms of volume of content available on their Application store. Of course, you can expect all the big names, such as Facebook, Dropbox, Evernote, etc. to build a Windows app as quickly as possible, if they haven't done so already. 
Built-in apps
In addition to the Microsoft Store, there are several applications made by Microsoft that are quite polished. The Mail app is easy to setup and syncs with not just Hotmail, but also Gmail, Outlook.com, Yahoo, and other providers as well. It will also give you the option to import all of your contacts, folders, and labels. There is also a built in Calendar which will allow you to import your calendar from Google, Hotmail, Outlook.com, or Exchange. The People app is a social networking buffet and contacts Rolodex all in one. You can link all your social networking sites like Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, Yelp, etc. together and view them from one centralised place. Each contact will have their own contact card within your ‘People Hub’ and all their shared information will populate from their various social networking sites that you are linked to them with. Windows 8 also comes pre-loaded with two versions of Internet Explorer 10; one for the desktop, and one for touch-friendly devices. Both will support HTML 5 and the touch version will have limited support for Flash; don't worry, YouTube is supported! Messaging is a built-in instant messaging system that links with MS Messenger and Facebook chat (sorry, no Google Talk integration). 
The Xbox Games app provides access to the Xbox Live system, where games that support Windows 8’s implementation are listed and achievements are recorded. Unfortunately however, there are no Windows Phone games in Windows 8. Unlike with Apple, which shares common apps between iPhone and iPads, Microsoft's upcoming Windows Phone 8 operating system is only just beginning to share the core parts of Windows 8. The future for this integration looks bright; you should be able to play games across Xbox, PC, and phone but it's not ready just yet which is a disappointment from a gaming perspective. Despite this, the Xbox Live integration is quite solid in Windows 8. 
Bottom Line
Microsoft is betting the house that the future of computing is in touch enabled devices. They have simultaneously launched their impressive tablet with their touch friendly Windows 8 OS and are getting ready to roll out their new Windows Phone update. The future of Microsoft's success will be tied directly to their new cross-platform touch strategy and if there are enough unique and useful applications available in the Windows Store. With the tablet market eating up more and more of the traditional PC market, it is only a matter of time before tablets outsell PCs. Microsoft is making a leap in the right direction but will the implementation be done effectively? And will Microsoft's late entry to the application market be their Achilles heel? Only time will tell. 

By Justin Toy 
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