Windows 8 is a significant update to Microsoft's Windows operating system. The official release date was October 26, 2012 and most Windows hardware vendors shipped at least some systems with Windows 8 installed in time for the 2012 winter holiday buying season.
Information Systems & Computing (ISC) will support Windows 8 for its clients, including off-campus students, on systems that ship with Windows 8 pre-installed. ISC strongly recommends that all other University users considering an upgrade to Windows 8 adopt a "wait and see" approach, continuing to use earlier supported versions of Windows (Windows 7 and Windows Vista) until the initial bugs and compatability issues in Windows 8 are identified and fixed.
Arguably, Windows 8 marks the biggest change to the user-facing portions of Windows since Windows 95, and perhaps all the way back to the original Windows 1.0. The default interface, designated "Modern" or "Windows 8", is optimized for touch, with large finger-friendly tiles and various swipes to activate and manipulate. Users of Windows Phone 7/8 and other Microsoft consumer devices such as the Xbox will find this interface to be somewhat familiar, though not identical.
Users should understand that there are two interfaces in Windows 8: the new "Modern" user interface and the classic Windows desktop, familiar to users of Windows 7 or Vista. The classic desktop itself is merely another tile within the Start screen, and the Start screen (shown to the left) shares only its name with previous Start menus.
Signs of this major interface transition pervade Windows 8. For example, there are two versions of Windows Internet Explorer 10: one that works within the Modern interface and one that runs within the classic desktop, and they do not share the same range of capabilities. Another example is that basic preferences are manipulated within the Modern interface, while detailed preferences require an exit to the classic Control Panel.
The biggest behind-the-scenes change is the addition of ARM-licensed processor support, which should allow lightweight tablets with excellent battery life. ARM-based systems will not be backward compatible with almost all older Windows applications — they will only run applications written for the Modern interface.
Compatibility at Penn
Many University applications function as expected in Windows 8, including AirPennNet, Online Directory, Exchange, and Zimbra. An extensive University-Centric Windows 8 Compatibility matrix is available.
Microsoft has announced four separate versions of Windows 8:
Windows Media Center is no longer a separate version of Windows, but instead is an extra cost add-on available to Windows 8 Pro users.
Whether Windows 8 becomes the dominant operating system for the majority of the University's Windows users remains to be seen. There is much uncertainty about how Microsoft plans to sell a touch- and tablet-centric operating system to an installed base where tablets are the exception and not the rule. Licensing and distribution remain unclear, though one of the delivery methods will be Microsoft's app store.
There are many new hardware devices being released that are designed for Windows 8. The most notable is Microsoft's Surface, but there are many other devices being released by Dell, Lenovo, and others. The Notebook Purchasing Guide has been updated with Windows 8-specific guidance.
For further information
lynda.com training for Windows 8 is available to many of Penn's Schools and Centers. For more information, please see the University's lynda.com page.
Graphics courtesy of Microsoft
-- John Mulhern III, Lead for Client Technologies, ISC Technology Support Services
Information Systems and Computing
University of Pennsylvania
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