If your PC looks like this, Windows 8 may not be for you.
I often find myself on the wrong side of my opinionated friends and colleagues. Years ago, I fought hard defending Tim Burton's films, despite each new release being worse than the last (trust me, I've given up that ghost). I like bad TV shows and sappy music, I avoid fine dining when I can, I prefer console games over PC games (who can be bothered with driver updates?) and I've seen Game of Thrones, but I haven't come close to picking up the books.
This week, I found myself again sitting on the edge of popular opinion, watching a demo of Windows 8 and feeling pretty excited about what I saw, while colleagues looked on with concern and bewilderment. Microsoft has changed a lot between Windows 7 and 8, and is taking a huge punt by predicting the kinds of people who use their software, and on what they think these people want. Many of the big changes are aimed at people familiar with tablets and smartphones: people like me.
If you've been using the Windows 8 Release Candidate, you'll be familiar with the new layout and control metaphors. Essentially, the idea is that instead of having a Start button that shortcuts you to your programs, files and settings, these controls are now a full-screen experience. Like a smartphone or tablet UI, your "apps" sit on the home screen, listed along a never-ending grid of icons that you can scroll through by using a swiping gesture on a touchscreen or the scroll wheel on a mouse. And, yes, they call them apps now.
Controls are the first major design decision that will polarise users. Tablet users will love it immediately, but, as my colleagues reminded me, the huge number of users taking advantage of Microsoft's cheap AU$40 upgrade to Win 8 will be loading the new OS on to grubby beige boxes and clicking around this menu with an old two-button mouse. It is possible to use Windows 8 the "old-fashioned" way — a scroll wheel on your mouse makes this a little easier — but it is far more cumbersome than with a touchscreen.
And it's not just swiping that becomes a hassle; there are now a number of unique commands based on touchscreen use. Main system controls, like Search and the Home button, are discovered by swiping from the right-side bezel onto the screen; multitasking is activated with a similar gesture on the opposite side. A "pinching" gesture is used to zoom in and out of the apps view, giving you an overview of the entire strip of loaded apps, or zooming in to a selection of them. Pinching is also used within apps to quickly move between control levels, like a Back button in some instances.
But whether you love or hate Windows 8 will come down to how you feel about the Metro UI versus the traditional desktop experience, and this is the part that I have to relay to you in whispers, lest my colleagues listen in. I love it. Being someone who uses smartphones for too many hours a week, Metro makes a lot of sense to me. Apps, I get them. Live Tiles and account log-ins, fantastic. Image galleries populated by files from multiple online services, I'm in heaven. The desktop environment is still there for everything else that requires it; activities like file transfers, for example.
One of the options in the main system options (between Search and Home) is a Share button. As with the major smartphone OSes, this option lets you share content from one app across to a choice of others. A great photo on Flickr can be "shared" with a new Facebook post or WordPress blog entry, so long as you have the appropriate app installed. A great news article read in Internet Explorer can be "shared" with friends via an email or on Twitter. These are old concepts for those of us who are connected to smartphones all the time, but it feels new when seeing it on a laptop screen.
Powering this cross-app pollination is a coding metaphor that Microsoft calls "contracts". Basically, this is a part of an app that a developer includes to indicate to the OS that an app has certain properties that the system can take advantage of. An app with a photo-sharing contract will show up in every situation where another application is looking for an image to publish or display. A search contract makes an app searchable from within the universal search option, and so on.
Some will say that Metro waters down the PC experience, and I can see how the new controls will be problematic for mouse users, but I still like that Microsoft is forging ahead. Changing these control metaphors is a first major step towards the computers I want to be using in the future becoming a reality. I don't want Microsoft to make Windows for beige boxes; I want it to build Windows for dual-screen touchscreen ultrabooks today, and Minority Report-style touch windows down the track.
Feel free to disagree, but understand that you won't sway me. Edward Scissorhands is a great movie, and Windows 8 is my next PC OS.