Ok, people are asking about Windows 8.

Let me preface my thoughts with this; I’ve been writing programs since 1981 on my Apple 2+. I had early Macs, I had early PCs. I’ve used them all for 30 years continuously. I’ve consulted for many clients and taught professionals as well as seniors how to use them. Naturally I’ve developed opinions over the years. What I’m relating here is opinion. I’ll try to ignore words that normal people don’t need to know like Skeuomorphism.

There is a new style of computer just beginning to be sold today. Sony makes one (in the Windows 8 ads) and Microsoft makes one (not out yet – the Surface with Win 8). These are touch based computers. Microsoft figured out that iPad is not a Mac and that is iPads’ shortcoming. So Microsoft created Win 8 to power touch-based PCs. It is the future (well, present actually). And early adopters will enjoy the products.

Apple actually has the advantage here, but uses their iron fist to control what software people have access to on their touch devices. One thing people have demonstrated time and again; they prefer an open system. So Microsoft is seizing some opportunity. And they are copying Apple.

Whereas Windows and Mac had been so similar in recent years, deciding was simple preference; now there is a big difference!

Steve Jobs favored pretty user interfaces that are photo-realistic and reflect the world we all see, feel and touch. (see the above word you do not need to know.)

Microsoft recognized that a universal Windows system (phones, tablets, etc.) running on inferior hardware (like a simple phone) couldn’t handle the graphics and be speedy. Also it appears they want to be as far away from Apple as possible (a la Samsung). So their new interface is minimalist in the extreme. You can’t find things because they don’t exist on-screen unless you know their ‘secret location’. The colors are flat. Transparency is gone. Minimalists will love it, until they actually go to use it; It is not designed for productivity with a normal PC. But those who love ‘modern art’ and actually understand what that is will love it. (the idea of it anyways.)

So what is it designed for? Touch systems. It seems it all comes back to the new computing metaphor; iPad and iPhone popularized touch in the computing world. And a touch system does require a different user interface. I’m not certain that Microsoft has figured it out. Apple has done a better job in my opinion, and that is the first time anyone will have ever heard me say that. On the whole Apple’s software engineering is simply not competent compared to Microsoft. They leave products unfinished and never get around to fixing them. (Ever used the Mail app on the iPad/iPhone?)

Don’t get me wrong: Microsoft also went down the poor-quality rabbit hole too with Vista, and before that ME. But MS simply does more for the actual user.

Today however, Microsoft has something unusual: A brilliant piece of code in Windows 8. It is smaller, faster, smarter and runs on all kinds of systems. They really got the Big Brains involved.

Then they destroyed it.

How? Windows has for a long time been flexible; that was what allowed users to be productive. For instance, some users use the Start menu all day. I do. There’s no other way to run the hundred programs I use daily. Other users don’t know why anyone would ever need that because they have all three of their favorite programs pinned to the taskbar.

As far apart as those users were in terms of need, the Windows platform was useful for both with little or no wasted effort.

Naturally, Microsoft has done away with both of those things in Windows 8. Now you have the ‘other’ desktop. Microsoft has usurped the term ‘Modern UI’ which Win 8 is not. It looks more like Windows 3.1. on top of the nice Windows 7. It is therefore somewhat like using a phone to control your PC. And programs are represented by big ugly tiles with a supposedly user-defined ordering scheme. But it takes forever to find anything to run it. Oh, but if you know the name, you can type it. What? Who knows the executable name of Word? Or worse, SnagIt? Or that thingy I use occasionally to make CD images? I don’t even remember what its called until I see it in my Start menu. Now I don’t even have a list. And I have to ‘swipe’ between using programs and running them. In the words of Homer Simpson, “Doh!!!”

So if you use a monitor, a keyboard and a mouse. Stick with Windows 7 until Microsoft figures out what to do.

Meanwhile, Apple has decided to move away from Jobs’ interface. They are going to a blend, presumably. I think they are just being cheap; do it right, Apple, you have the cash! Hire some good programmers away from Microsoft if you need to. The ones in Redmond, not the ones overseas. And pay them decent. And tell them to finish the Mail program or at least allow other developers to make one. And let me use Flash on my iPad. Really, can there be that much bad blood between you and Adobe? Really? Don’t give me that ‘battery life’ line either. You can run a full length movie; you can play my silly greeting cards.

So it’s as simple as this folks:

Use Windows 8 when: You buy a new touch-based Intel computer. Don’t buy the Windows RT (it is NOT going to run you current programs!) I’m waiting until they have an iPad format (light, thin) real Intel computer. Then I’ll get one, maybe, if it has a hi-res display. Until that time it makes no sense. It doesn’t exist in the World today. So no Win 8 for me, except to know if we run on it. And don’t get it if you get confused easily!

Use Windows 7 when: You want a productive tool. Laptops, desktops, it doesn’t matter; it just works. I also still enjoy XP. And I am NOT the only one. Vote with your feet. Stay with what works. By the way: Lenovo Thinkpads are offered with a Windows 7 UPGRADE from Win 8. That means a large sector of the business community is in sync with what I’m stating.

Use a Mac when: You consume information, or produce video. Or if you like the interface. Most ‘right-brained’ thinkers I know seem to prefer the feel of OSX. (Sewing and quilting are usually thought of as right-brained activities, so if you’re reading this, it probably means YOU.) It is quite reasonable, albeit slightly annoying for some of us who use the aforementioned hundred programs daily. My wife has one and she navigates it without complaint (except the Mail program). However her old PC caused endless work for me. “Go ahead with a Mac for your spouse if you are the IT person in the household, and they are not.”

Use a Mac with Parallels and Win 7 when: You want it all. But get a newer Mac to do it. You’ll need memory and horsepower (more cores the better). The combination really is effective on good hardware. But run the Windows in its own Window. It works better that way for me.

Use an iPad when: You don’t need to be productive, but do need to stay in contact. There’s no decent Excel alternative (No, Numbers doesn’t do it). You can do some word processing, but not really anything other than a simple document. But if you read magazines, it’s second to none.

Use an iPad with Retina when: You have eyes as old as mine. I think this is the biggest differentiator. And I pooh-pooed it when it came out. But now, I don’t think I can buy a tablet device without it. So I am stuck with Apple for now. The iPad with Retina rocks. I might even trade in my Nook when they make an iPad Mini with Retina.

Use Android tablets when: You need Flash. Be aware though that there are lots of problems in the Android world. You need to be a technophile and love to play with settings, installing, reinstalling, upgrading, etc. Then you will be very happy.

I hope this helps some of you understand what you may have heard about Windows 8. And maybe it’ll help you decide what to get next, or to stay with what you’ve got.