Foolish First Impressions of Microsoft's Windows 8 Release Preview

It's been a few months, but Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) delivered its final pre-release preview of its next major operating system, Windows 8, back in May. I finally got around to installing it on my computer to take it for a quick test-drive and better assess its prospects on whether it can reinvigorate the PC market.

I'm running it on an Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iMac using virtualization software, and I use Microsoft's online services only to a limited extent, so perhaps my experience isn't full-fledged. Nevertheless, here are some Foolish first impressions.

You say you want a revolution
Microsoft has big plans for Windows 8, starting with the incorporation of its tile-interface (which isn't called "Metro" anymore, thanks to a trademark spat). It focuses heavily on minimalist design and sports a marked emphasis on typography -- interestingly, two things that Apple is known for.

Source: Windows 8 Release Preview.

Source: Windows 8 Release Preview.

I've generally always been a fan of it within the context of a touchscreen mobile device, but using it on a desktop is a little silly, frankly. It's not unusable by any means, but it just feels out of place. This is partly why Windows 8 is potentially such a big deal -- because Microsoft is trying to redefine the desktop user interface paradigm that's been in place for decades.

That's a tall order to fill when you fathom how many billions of computer users have grown up with traditional desktops and are arguably hardwired for the status quo. Don't worry, though, because the good old familiar desktop is still there, too.

Source: Windows 8 Release Preview.

Source: Windows 8 Release Preview.

With the click of a tile, the user is whisked away, right back to the comforting arms of the desktop we all know and love, minus the Start menu. This is another example of how Microsoft will be pulling a fast one on its users, removing a core functionality that's been around since Windows 95.

Microsoft says it's conducted studies through its Customer Experience Improvement Program and found that users now prefer to access favorite software applications by pinning them to the taskbar (not unlike the Mac OS X dock) and don't use the Start menu as much anymore. From here on out, applications will primarily be opened via the taskbar or Start screen.

Is there an app for that?
Another Apple cue comes from the Windows Store, which is similar to the Mac App Store, 30% cut and all. Choosing to operate a curated repository of apps is also another big change for Microsoft.

Windows Store (top) vs. Mac App Store (bottom). Sources: Windows 8 Release Preview, Mac OS X.

Windows Store (top) vs. Mac App Store (bottom). Sources: Windows 8 Release Preview, Mac OS X.

Many of the preinstalled apps tie directly into Microsoft's various services, from email to Bing maps, among others. There's even a handy stocks app to pull up a quote of Mr. Softy's shares.

Source: Windows 8 Release Preview.

Source: Windows 8 Release Preview.

There are already a respectable number of apps available, a testament to Microsoft's aggressive coordination with developers to sign on and peddle their digital wares.

Wintel and friends need this
Overall, it's a novel experience on a desktop, but ultimately one that's also not very compelling for this Fool. This is something I've been saying from day one: "I think Windows 8 will be a winner in the tablet market, though I do have some reservations on how the OS will fare in the traditional desktop and laptop segments, since the UI is so heavily geared toward touch."

The problem there is that Microsoft's PC partners, such as Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) , are counting on having Windows 8 reinvigorate the sluggish PC market. If Windows 8 bombs in traditional PC form factors, and even if it sees tablet success, the net result will be negative for Intel, as well as PC vendors Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) , both of which already need all the help they can get.

All three of these companies are also relying in Windows 8 for entry into the tablet market that remains dominated by the iPad. Growing tablet sales for them would be nice, yet probably negligible compared with declines in PC unit shipments, so in the end, tablet strength may not be enough to compensate for PC weakness.

As it stands, I don't see much reason for the average Windows user to make the plunge with Windows 8, especially since the very capable Windows 7 was launched less than three years ago. Early adopters can get promotional pricing that can be as little as $15 if you just bought a Windows 7 PC. Eventually, the full retail price will jump to $200 after January -- and that's where I think Microsoft may hit a wall. The OS will naturally ship preinstalled with new PCs going forward, but again we've already acknowledged that the PC market ain't what it used to be.

The Motley Fool has just launched brand-new premium ticker reports at non-premium prices that lay out everything investors need to know about a specific company. Wintel is riding heavily on Windows 8, so make sure to grab the report on Microsoft and the report on Intel today. Sign up today and get regular updates at no additional cost!

Fool contributor Evan Niu owns shares of Apple, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Check out his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Microsoft, Apple, and Intel, creating a bull call spread position in Apple, and creating a synthetic covered call position in Microsoft. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (5) | Recommend This Article (7)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On August 28, 2012, at 9:31 PM, FoolSolo wrote:

    Another misguided decision and yet another nail in Ballmer's coffin. Please, someone get this guy an early retirement package before he drives the company into the ground.

  • Report this Comment On August 29, 2012, at 8:05 AM, Stocklone wrote:

    Windows 8 will cost $40 for everyone to upgrade as far back as XP regardless of when they bought their PC up until January 2013. You are barely scratching the surface of an old version of 8 and then saying there isn't a reason to upgrade. Maybe you can download a free 90 trial of the RTM and do a follow up piece? You could spend time talking about the advantages of 8 vs 7 instead of talking about Apple this time.

  • Report this Comment On August 29, 2012, at 9:29 AM, deemery wrote:

    > You could spend time talking about the advantages of 8 vs 7 instead of talking about Apple this time.

    But Windows 8 really does have to face up to the competition from Apple, so a 3-way comparison would make sense. And there are lots and lots of computers (both corporate and personal) still running XP. $200 to upgrade to Windows 8, when you can get a new computer for maybe $500, strikes me as bad marketing.

  • Report this Comment On August 30, 2012, at 3:28 PM, jvgfool wrote:

    From all the bench test that I've read, Windows 8 will be even faster than Windows 7 when it comes to performance.

  • Report this Comment On September 02, 2012, at 12:43 PM, ripper45345 wrote:

    Haha funny article. Just like with windows 7 apple fans are trying to achieve moral victory over Microsoft - "everything is in apple already" how often did I heard that ? Boy ... Apple is basically the same hardware as pc's, has cheap os - which is linux and this is pretty much all about apple, rest is just marketing and loudtalks and Jobs fanbase thank you goodnight! Ps hate to tell you that Evan but Apple empire being now at the peak is in its slow decline after Jobs departure. They were big creating fresh iphone ill give them that (thou it wasnt original at all- there were already windows ce smartphones with icons like in iphone, apple just popularized it), but now they try to copy the iphone again and again and its just getting more and more of ... the same. But ive got to thank apple for battling android. Despite that android isnt a bad system, its just not suited for smartphones. But android copies from apple and Microsoft both and thats why i hope that google empire of cheap stuff will soon die too. Optimistic, but still Microsoft products are far best on the market. Apple - just for photoshops and that stuff, stand alone linux for servers or programmers. Windows - for everything !

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