Windows 8 has officially been released by Microsoft, ushering in what the company calls “a new era of computing”.

Speaking at the launch in New York, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said: “We have reimagined Windows and the result is a stunning line-up of new PCs. Windows 8 brings together the best of the PC and the tablet.”

According to Microsoft, with over 1 000 PCs and tablets certified to run Windows 8, the new OS has brought “the best line-up of PCs ever”.

MD of World Wide Worx, Arthur Goldstuck, says the launch event was clearly a shot across Apple’s bow. “As we saw earlier this week, Apple is superb at demonstrating the application of its products. The iPad Mini event was also a show of force from Apple across its ecosystem, and Microsoft’s event was also a show of force in terms of the application of the Windows 8 environment.”

Goldstuck says the most significant of aspect of Thursday night’s local launch in Johannesburg was the wall of Windows 8 devices displayed by Microsoft. “It was absolutely dazzling to see the range of products that Windows 8 can be adapted to. It just shows that regardless of the hardware platform you choose, there is a place for Windows 8.

“What was notable was that there wasn’t very much emphasis on the actual features of Windows 8 – since those were already very well publicised – the emphasis was rather on what you can actually do with it to increase productivity in different spheres of your life,” says Goldstuck.

The local launch saw celebrities such as Olympic gold-medallist Chad le Clos, adventurer Kingsley Holgate, poet Lebo Mashile, Everest climber Sibusiso Vilane, and Pulitzer-award winning photographer Greg Marinovich, speak about their experiences using the new platform.

Goldstuck says: “What was missing from the launch was the business and PC-based application. Among all the celebrities and personalities they had, there was no finance or business guru. So the desktop and notebook applications were missing, while the tablet use was emphasised.”

According to Goldstuck, the desktop as a format is, however, becoming less important. “Even notebooks are now being upgraded to touch-screen formats. So the emphasis with Windows 8 is very strongly on tablets, and this does put a question mark over how strongly it will appeal in corporate environments.”

Goldstuck says that, while Microsoft argues desktop users will quickly get used to the new interface, he doesn’t believe it will be that simple. “However, for those corporates that are already moving towards a tablet environment, Windows 8 will be very appealing because of the continual productivity and easy transition it offers.”

Question marks

“The Windows 8 devices themselves are superb, and I think they can compete very strongly with the likes of Apple,” says Goldstuck. “For consumers, Windows 8 is a very compelling proposition. It makes Microsoft look cool for the first time in a very long while.”

Goldstuck says there will be rapid adoption of Windows 8 tablets in the local market, but adds there is still a big question mark over the pricing of the offerings. For example, Goldstuck says while Samsung Ativ has been priced at R7 999 (through the Standard Bank partnership), which is a decent price considering its features, consumers will inevitably compare it to the iPad and view it as being expensive.

According to Goldstuck, South Africans eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Surface tablet may need to be patient. Microsoft’s strategy is to only sell the Surface tablet in Microsoft-branded stores and online in specific areas. While Microsoft is expanding its stores into more regions, SA is not included in the first wave of roll-out. Goldstuck adds, however, that it is possible for Microsoft to change its tune, if there is seen to be significant consumer demand.

Following the launch, more than 40 Windows 8 devices are expected to now be available from all major retail outlets in countries like SA. Consumers and corporates can now also go online or to stores to purchase or upgrade to the new OS (as either Windows 8 Enterprise, Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro).

Upgrades and specs

Officially, Microsoft says if a machine is running Windows 7, it should be able to run Windows 8. At a minimum, machines need to have a 1GHz processor, and at least 2GB of RAM to run either 32-bit or 64-bit. The 32-bit version will need at least 16GB of hard drive space, which moves up to 20GB for the 64-bit version. In addition, PCs will require a graphics card that can handle Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with the WDDM driver.

Swift Consulting CEO and tech blogger Liron Segev says: “The specifications mean that the system should work on most low-end machines. However, there may be issues with the resolution of some laptops, as Windows apps require 1 024 x 768, while the gesture-based apps need 1 366 x 768 and some laptops have a maximum of 1 024 x 600.

There is a Windows 8 compatibility centre, which will inform users which apps are compatible and which are not.

“If consumers recently bought a PC running Intel Atom Cedar Trail, there are problems with chip compatibility and it is advisable to wait for a patch,” says Segev. “People still running XP are likely to upgrade, because their machines are reaching end-of-life.” According to Reuters, the decade-old Windows XP still runs on 41% of the world’s 1.5 billion PCs.

“Realistically, if consumers are running Windows 7, they are likely to take advantage of the R130 upgrade offer, which applies to PCs bought between June and January. However, it is not clear whether everyone who opts for the new version will install it, especially if they are happy,” says Segev.

Big risk

Segev adds that since Windows 8 has a completely different environment to any previous operating system released by Microsoft, the company is taking a big risk in hoping people will embrace it.

According to Goldstuck, Microsoft’s shares were not boosted at all by the Windows 8 launch on Thursday, as investors are unsure if people will take to the new platform. “Investors still need convincing, and the only thing that will convince them is results.”

Segev argues that because the OS will come preinstalled on new machines, it will eventually become the de facto system. “Its cheapness is the key factor to encouraging upgrades and shows that Microsoft is targeting the mass market,” says Segev.

Additional reporting by Nicola Mawson


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