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Winning With Windows 8

It’s won’t be easy, but retailers can overcome some challenges

January 2013 By John R. Quain
How do you solve a problem like Windows 8?

A major advertising and marketing campaign for a major software release—from the major computer software company in the world, no less—receives little more than a lackluster response from consumers and businesses. So while retailers should approach Windows 8 and its associated hardware with caution, they may still eke out some gains by offering systems that have been specifically designed for the new operating system.

Unlike some previously disastrous introductions, such as Windows Vista and Windows Millennium Edition, there are no glaring flaws in the latest version of Microsoft’s operating system. Users haven’t been plagued by hardware compatibility issues as they have in the past, or faced with major software upgrades to make programs work with the new OS. And cost hasn’t been an obstacle. Microsoft offers an upgrade version of the software for just $40.

The major problem with Windows 8 is the completely revamped interface and confusion caused by the introduction of not one, but two different versions of the software. All of which presents retailers with some new challenges.

Trying to catch up to the touch screen craze, Windows 8 uses a tile interface that reacts to swipes and taps on the screen. While it may not necessitate buying a system with a faster processor or bigger hard drive, it does mean that a touch screen--despite Microsoft’s claims to the contrary--is de rigueur.

The new tile interface also presents buyers with a rather steep learning curve. It can be difficult to find programs and get accustomed to the finger swipes or “gestures.”

For example, there’s no Start button and to invoke standard functions that Microsoft now calls Charms, such as starting a new program or bringing up a search window, the user has to swipe across from the right edge of the screen. Switching between applications also now requires going back to the opening tile screen, finding the program you want and opening it. There are mouse and keyboard shortcut equivalents for these touch-screen moves, but learning those can be just as time consuming.

More confusing still is that Microsoft wasn’t able to release a single version of Windows 8 that works across all machines. In order to make the software work on mobile devices like tablets using ARM processors, the company introduced Window RT.

This version is the one Microsoft has been pushing on its Windows RT Surface tablet (starting at $499). While it looks deceptively similar to the full Windows 8, it is not. It will not run older Windows programs (although it comes with RT versions of Word and PowerPoint). The only programs RT will work with are new ones purchased from Microsoft’s Windows Store, the company’s new app marketplace.


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