Next General Meeting:
Meeting Preview—Jay Ferron - Windows 8.1
Date: Tuesday, February 4th, 7 p.m.
Location: Danbury Hospital Auditorium Directions
By Bruce Preston
In the beginning there was DOS and it was 'good enough', if you were willing to deal with the nuances of the command line interface. There were various releases – 1.1 bumped diskette capacity from 320KB to 360KB, 2.0 introduced hard disks and folders, and 3 through 6 added stability, more memory support, and performance enhancements, but never delivered the multitasking support that was always rumored to be 'just over the horizon'.
Then there was Windows, a graphical user interface (GUI) that was placed over DOS. It took Microsoft a few releases to get it right, culminating in Windows for Workgroups 3.11, also known as WfW. This introduced networking - peer to peer, primarily for file and printer sharing, and if you worked at it, Internet access. Windows and applications were 16-bit and you had some multitasking capabilities.
The joint venture by Microsoft and IBM called OS/2 was ultimately a dead end. Microsoft decided to pull out of OS/2 and go with Windows NT – the first 32-bit Windows that was an operating system rather than an application supported by DOS. Since then we've seen a progression of Windows releases targeted for the consumer as opposed to purely enterprise business: 95, 98, 98SE, ME, XP, MCE (Media Center), CE for "pocket devices", Vista, 7, 8, and now 8.1. Some of these have had both Home and Pro/Business versions, and releases that supported tablet computers (notebooks that had a stylus-aware screen, not to be confused with the pure touch-sensitive 'tablet' devices of today). There was also a parallel development of Windows NT (3.1, 3.5, 4, 2000) and many Windows Server releases that aren't aimed at end users, either business or home. In Windows XP the enterprise and consumer products merged back into a single version with only feature variations between business and consumer.
With Windows 8, Microsoft decided to converge the user interface of all of the end-user operating systems, be they desktops, notebooks, true tablet devices, or smart phones, into what appears to be a single environment. To do this they have essentially reduced things to two releases, based upon which processor platform is being used. For Intel based devices (traditional desktops, notebooks) you have Windows 8 (and now 8.1), and for ARM processors, as found in smart phones and simpler tablets, you have Windows RT. The RT version supports "apps" downloadable from the Windows Store, plus an implementation of Microsoft Office that works with the ARM instruction set. For those who want a tablet device that also supports legacy Windows applications (x86 code), there is the Microsoft Surface Pro and similar devices from other manufacturers, with an Intel chip instead of the low-power ARM processor of the Surface RT.
The major change in Windows 8 was the introduction of the "start screen', which was clearly implemented to accommodate the needs of mobile devices which utilize a touch screen. Initially known as the "Metro" interface, at release time the name was changed to be simply the "Modern" interface. Since mobile devices frequently have only a touch screen interface available (OK, the Surface has a keyboard but MS still wants you to use the touch screen as much as possible), the standard GUI with mouse and keyboard of previous Windows was essentially abandoned or hidden. For desktops and notebooks this was a somewhat jarring experience – the START button and easy to use shortcuts first introduced in Windows 95 had disappeared. Instead you had a "start screen" full of 'tiles', each of which represented an 'app'. Various screen gestures and hot spots near the corners or edges of the screen could be used to access features and capabilities, including the legacy 'applications' previously available from the start menu or the old 'desktop' screen. While Windows 8 was reasonably well received by the mobile user community, corporate users found that there was no compelling reason to upgrade existing machines, as there was no benefit if you didn't have a touch screen. Further, knowledge workers running word processing, spreadsheets, etc. really had no reason to make use of a touch screen. Many corporations decided to order machines with Windows 7 rather than 8 and many consumer users followed suit.
Microsoft responded somewhat ambiguously - "We listen to the user community" - but declined to reveal their plans until the announcement of Windows 8.1, a free upgrade to Windows 8.
Many DACS members will remember Jay Ferron as very active in APCUG and to have previously appeared here doing introductions of many Microsoft product releases. At our next General Meeting, Jay will guide us through the Windows 8.1 environment's operation and requirements, so that you may decide if you want to upgrade your current platform or perhaps even make the leap to a totally new machine and environment.
Long-time member Bruce Preston formerly ran West Mountain Systems, a database consulting firm. He is now enjoying retirement but still dabbles with a household full of computers and applications.
DACS meetings are usually held at the Danbury Hospital auditorium. (Click here for directions and parking information.)
Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for registration and casual networking. The meeting starts at 7:00 p.m. with a question and answer period (Ask DACS), followed by announcements and a short break. The featured evening presentation begins at 8:00. The meeting is scheduled to adjourn at 9:30 p.m.
DACS General Meetings are free and open to the public. Members and prior attendees are encouraged to extend invitations to anyone interested in this topic.
Danbury Area Computer Society (DACS) is a registered nonprofit and has been serving the region since 1990.