Windows 8: Is It Any Cop?

Surprise! The company that is responsible for the operating system what runs on most of our computers is planning a new version. Again. Following on from the success of Windows 7 comes, for once logically, Windows 8. Major changes are afoot in the world of Windows, and some of those changes might even be relevant to us. Microsoft is currently holding its Build conference, intended for developers to get clued up about what’s going on with their latest OS version – if you’ve got a spare couple of hours, why not fill them with Microsoft employees talking about Windows 8 by watching the Keynote presentation here? Or don’t, because it’s a bit dry. So here’s my summary of the more game-relevant bits…

  • Touch first, Metro UI. This is the big new thing. Previous iterations of Windows have had support for touch screen controls (I think at least as far back as XP), but with Windows 8, there is a whole new UI designed around touch interface. You will still be able to use keyboard and mouse for everything, and you can also easily switch back to the classic Windows interface if you prefer. “Metro” is the name they give to swish menus with panning and zooming, following on from ‘Aero’, which powers Vista/7’s 3D and translucent bits.
  • Fundamental performance gains: On a 3 year old netbook, for example, the current build of Windows 8 uses 281MB of RAM, whereas Windows 7 would use 404mb. Extra RAM being available for games could be quite nice to have, especially on older systems.
  • All Windows 7 apps will work on Windows 8. In fact, they said “Everything that runs on Windows 7 will run on Windows 8”, so that’s that. Hopefully it means no nasty compatibility issues with games and other software alike
  • Xbox Live Integration. This is the one where it’s hard to tell exactly what to expect. What they clearly do not mean is being able to put Xbox discs in your PC, despite hysterical claims along those lines from other parts of the internet. Xbox’s global mouthpiece, Major Nelson, shares some vagaries about the plan for Xbox on Windows 8 over on his blog here, but it seems to me like, aside from now including their marketplace for games inside the OS, along with their services for music, movies and TV , the key focuses are going to be on sharing achievements and social guff between the various Microsoft and Windows platforms, and “touch first” Metro-style games, which potentially could be cross developed for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 7 (and Nvidia seem to think WP7 apps will run natively on Windows 8).
  • Built in app store. From what they’ve shown, it looks like they are going to have a marketplace for “apps” which will be relatively open for developers. There will be a certification process, but they intend to make it “as transparent as possible”. It supports paid and free apps, and developers can optionally include demos. It’s not clear what, if any, barriers they might erect against developers wanting to publish on their marketplace, and what restrictions they might have around Xbox integration.
  • The developer preview of Windows 8 is now available, so if you want to play with an early version of it, go ahead.
  • What do we think? Is anyone already making plans to camp outside PC World come release day? Obviously the real big push here is to make Windows work as a hybrid Tablet/Desktop OS, building on the fairly solid base of Win7 as a Desktop OS. Having a tablet that you can hook up to a PC and mouse and turn into a proper PC sounds nice, and I can see how the new Metro interface would be highly attractive to non-expert users – but I can’t really imagine the majority of desktop users abandoning their keyboards and mice in exchange for a touchscreen any time soon.

    Still, if this OS helps touchscreen monitors for desktop become a bit more widespread, I can think of plenty of PC games where touchscreen controls, in addition to keyboard and mouse, could be a nice addition.

    Is Microsoft still relevant to PC gaming? Do we think any of these Windows 8 features will help shape the future of PC gaming? Is anyone out there still using XP? And could a successful Windows App Store potentially spell bad times for Steam et al?


    1. wisnoskij says:

      “Fundamental performance gains: On a 3 year old netbook, for example, the current build of Windows 8 uses 281MB of RAM, whereas Windows 7 would use 404mb. Extra RAM being available for games could be quite nice to have, especially on older systems.”

      This is not at all a cut and dry W8 is better case. You want a OS to use as much RAM as possible when it is available because it allows it to run faster.
      The best case scenario for a perfect OS that runs everything as fast and effectually as possible is for the RAM to always be 100% used.
      If it is not being used then it is just being wasted, and wasting RAM is wasting one of the most important resources of your computer.

      • Gadriel says:

        Always using little RAM and being able to use little RAM are very different things. An OS that makes efficient use of RAM let’s it operate capably while other applications are using large amounts of memory. If your OS slowed down to shit or stopped responding altogether because you’re using 4GB of RAM with applications because it’s designed to use all of it to run well then it’s not very useful at all.

        Not to mention using more RAM does not equal more speed. It just means being able to remember more things.

    2. Njordsk says:

      No need of touchscreen, live or appstore THANK YOU.

      I’ll stay on win7 unless it gets absolutly required for an amazing game.

      At least they had the taste NOT to make DX12.

    3. Zogtee says:

      It sounds nice, I suppose.

      W7 is pretty transparent to me in the sense that I don’t really think about it or obsess about what OS I’m running. It’s there, it works, and lets me get on with whatever I’m doing. That’s all I want from an OS, really. The touchscreen features doesn’t interest me and it seems little else is new in W8, so I probably wont switch over any time soon.

      “Is Microsoft still relevant to PC gaming?”

      No, but Windows is. I sort of wish that PC’s had a gaming OS that was separate from Microsoft, Linux, and Apple. Valve should work on that. If there was a Steam OS, I’d be all over it. Let the hating commence. :D

      • Azhrarn says:

        actually, that’s not a bad idea as such.
        Especially if through that GPUs could be accessed directly providing a lot more power because you loose all the overhead.
        It would be a pain to program, but so much more powerful (see Carmack’s interview on the matter here on RPS I believe).

        A dedicated gaming OS would need to take care not to promote a specific hardware manufacturer to much (I’m looking at nVidia especially, they’re nasty in that respect), but beyond that I could see it having many benefits.

      • Joe Duck says:

        So you want DirectX without Windows.
        We all do.

      • Gadriel says:

        Not going to happen unless MS releases its hold on DirectX.

      • 7Seas says:

        lmao…. such a thing exists guys… it’s called the xbox 360. check it out sometime! ;)

    4. somini says:

      If I want the Windows7 Mark2 without the Metro crap can I pay 20€ or something?
      Or it will be free through Windows Update?(Aha, not in a million years)

    5. Nero says:

      Still on XP and since my pc is a bit older I have zero reason to upgrade to anything yet. I would also never use the Metro thing on my desktop but I guess it’s good for touchscreens. Good thing the standard one should be there.

      Gotta say though, non of these new features really appeal to me so I won’t be rushing out to upgrade any time soon.

    6. povu says:

      Unless Windows 8 features DirectX 9000.1 I don’t see any reason to upgrade from Windows 7 at this point.

    7. Trelow says:

      I’ll upgrade the same time as I upgrade any OS, whenever games I want to play make me.

    8. mbp says:

      Given Microsoft’s Hit Miss Hit Miss pattern with Operating systems the omens don’t look great for Windows 8. I think we can safely say Windows 7 is a hit at this stage so Microsoft are due a lemon next.

    9. Hoaxfish says:

      I had a dream I was using a Win8 tablet last night…

      I think there’s something wrong with me

    10. Advanced Assault Hippo says:

      As long as they don’t start being dickish about DirectX development – ie, certain features (relating to game performance) working better on Win8 simply because it would be a reason to upgrade and give MS more money, not because they couldn’t feasibly put them in Win7 – then this news is fairly insignificant.

      I’ll probably be on Win7 for another 3 or 4 years at least.

    11. sneetch says:

      I’d quite like a nice win8 tablet but I can’t see myself upgrading to win8 from win7. Microsoft will have to backport any gaming stuff to win7 for me to use it (unless it really is amazing)

    12. skinlo says:

      I’ll probably stay on Windows 7 for the moment, I have 6gb of RAM so saving 200mb is not an issue for me, and everything else I don’t need/use.

      Good for people who want tablets, I’ve never felt the need to get one ever, and probably won’t for a long time.

    13. NegativeZero says:

      Downloaded and had a quick play with it in a virtual machine and it’s okay but very obviously not ready for beta (which this isn’t). Also my VM didn’t really support it that well and that may have colored my experience a bit, but some things I noticed:

      – Created a new user account. It automatically wants you to use a MS Live account now, not a local one.
      – Can’t set your new user to have administrator privileges etc in the metro control panel, have to go into the old-fashioned one to get at the important bits
      – You’re SOL if you don’t like green, because the metro UI is green and there’s no option to change it to something less pukey.
      – No start menu. Accessing things like say the proper control panel from the proper desktop now requires bringing up their annoying bouncy tiles crap and then clicking another one to get to where you want. And god those tiles are garish.
      – Everything they’re showing off with integration with facebook, skydrive, xbox live etc etc all assumes you’ve linked your (one) live account to those services. Personally I have two live accounts, one with some of my stuff (eg MSDN subscription) and one with the rest (eg Xbox Live) and I’d rather not have for example my Xbox Live and my Facebook linked together, but if I don’t half their functionality gets thrown out the window. But WP7 has the same issue so that should have been expected.
      – Where’s the shut down / suspend / hibernate etc options? Seriously, there’s no obvious way to shut down your system. Kind of a fundamental thing to forget.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Where’s the shut down / suspend / hibernate etc options? Seriously, there’s no obvious way to shut down your system. Kind of a fundamental thing to forget.

        It’s—wait for it—Start (that’s pushing in the corner Start, not clicking on the Start button, which just gives you useless tiles), Settings (Settings!), Power. No, that’s not how you adjust power settings like when the computer sleeps—it’s where “Shut down” lives now.

        And you can still do it from the login screen, if you can log out in the first place.

    14. Rii says:

      I expect I’ll pick up a Win 8 tablet at some point, the real question being whether it’ll be ARM or x86-based.

      On the desktop I’ll probably stick with 7 unless I can swing a free legit edition of 8 as I did 7.

    15. Stevostin says:

      ” Is anyone out there still using XP?”

      I do. What do I miss ?

    16. Binary77 says:

      What i’m slightly concerned about, is the possibility of xbox live intergration becoming mandatory to gaming on Windows. I doubt it’d happen, but i’ve always wondered why Microsoft haven’t tried to squeeze money out of us for the privilege of online gaming, when xbox users have to pay for a subscription.

    17. Wulf says:

      Having some of the nerdiest technerds you could imagine as friends, I’ve been pretty much kept abreast of the situation with operating systems. In fact, upon seeing Windows 7 run on one friend’s machine, I promptly tried the beta. It was stable, it was faster than XP, it was efficient, it had a bunch of wonderful new features that I actually make use of (task switching to the desktop, even), and it’s served me well.

      I have seen 8. None of us are using 8. Make of that what you will. (And the claims of performance and compatibility might be a tiny bit exaggerated.)

      I’ll be staying with 7 for the foreseeable future, and that’s as a more progressive gamer.

      • Unaco says:

        “I have seen 8. None of us are using 8. Make of that what you will.”

        Could that be because the only publicly available versions are leaked Milestone builds? Or the Developer preview that was released ~12 hours ago, and is far, far, far from a finished state? I can understand why you’re not using 8… because a useable, mostly functional version is not available. But that doesn’t say anything about what the release version of Windows 8 will be like.

    18. verily says:

      I’m kind of hoping that they release it before I graduate/drop out from university so I can get it for free from MSDNAA.

    19. LGM says:

      The “metro UI” is just a skin that sits on top of Windows 7, which is what Windows 8 is. There is NO reason at all they couldn’t have just added the skin to Win 7 though windows update, and on top of that we all know that Windows has had touch screen services built into it since at least Vista.

      IMO, they shouldn’t even be releasing this OS, and instead should have an optional update for Win 7 that makes it tablet ready and adds the new UI. This is a horrible decision by Msoft and it’s going to bite them in the ass. The only way the mainstream PC customers will adopt it is if they make Direct X 12 win8 only.

      `knock knock`

      “Mr. Gates? Mr. Gates?”

      “Yes? I’m busy counting money!”

      “Mr Gates, I’m afraid your company is about to shoot itself in the foot, perhaps you’d like to step back in and save it before your legacy is ruined?”

      “Does that mean I will have less money to count? I better get on it!”

      • neolith says:

        “The only way the mainstream PC customers will adopt it is if they make Direct X 12 win8 only.”

        Because that magic trick worked so well with Vista’s DX10?

    20. Zedo Mann says:

      I tried the Windows 7 Beta and planned to try the Windows 8 beta as well.
      Might as well start early.

    21. Ridnarhtim says:

      “The company that is responsible for the operating system what runs on most of our computers is planning a new version”

      You misspelled “wot.”

    22. jon_hill987 says:

      Touch? XBox Live? App Store?

      I guess I won’t be upgrading to Windows 8 then. None of those things are remotely interesting.

    23. durandal says:

      I can’t help but feel that asking if MS is still relevant to PC gaming is a totally assinine question given that ~95%+ of gaming on the PC happens using the Windows OS.

      Yeah, I suppose it is somewhat still relevant…

    24. Ultra-Humanite says:

      Why don’t they save us the trouble now and just name it Vista 2?

    25. Rikard Peterson says:

      I haven’t upgraded Windows much on my computers over the years. The only case I can recall is upgrading from 3.1 to 98. Maybe it’s been that upgrade that put me off doing that. Win98 was clearly superior to DOS 6 + Windows 3.1, but it was also a bit too much for my ageing computer to handle. So my policy is now to simply keep whatever version I bought with the computer, and of course get the latest version with a new computer. (I don’t get the people who installed XP on new computers long after it was replaced by Vista.) I figure that leads to the best fit between hardware and OS.

      And then there’s the cost. I have upgraded my Mac to Lion – a MacOS upgrade is much less expensive, and less confusing. (There’s only one flavour of MacOS, unlike the Home/Professional/Ultimate things, and a MacOS upgrade cost less than a new game.) If Microsoft would price their upgrades similarly, I’d consider it, but buying an upgrade to Win7 hasn’t even crossed my mind even though most people say that it’s a lot superior to Vista.

    26. Iskariot says:

      I am not at all interested in the touch screen approach for my desktop pc.
      I will not be buying a touch screen monitor anytime soon.
      So… I’m a bit apprehensive about this new OS.

    27. shoptroll says:

      Depending on what features are backported to 7, I may or may not upgrade for this. I had little trouble leapfrogging from XP to 7 and I feel a 3 year OS upgrade cycle is a bit aggressive for my wallet.

      A lot of the under the hood changes so far are enticing (ie. faster boot times), but probably not until it’s time to rebuild my rig. Pretty ambivalent about the “Start screen” but it sounds a bit like a full screen start menu + goodies. Might be interesting to see what apps like Steam do with that, but it seems more applicable for the tablet side than desktop.

      XBox Live announcement isn’t surprising. They’ve been rebranding/repackaging XBox to be the umbrella for all their multimedia products. I wonder if this means they’ll be rebranding the actual console? Anyways, I’d love for this to mean that GFWL won’t be a joke in Win8, but I have a sneaking suspicion it won’t and we’re going back to subscriptions for multiplayer again.

    28. Shooop says:

      7 is just fine right now. 8 could be problematic at launch because it’s pushing into a new frontier of being for both mobile and desktop devices. It could easily be another Vista clusterfuck until a year after launch. Approach with caution.

      But if you’re still using XP, you should consider an upgrade very soon. You’re missing out on anything using Direct X 10 and 11. And the 64-bit support of XP is garbage.

    29. skurmedel says:

      Reply fail

    30. pipman3000 says:

      Can’t wait to turn off all those features I’ll never use :D

    31. MichaelPalin says:

      I guess the long term goal of Microsoft is to transform their monopoly on the desktop into a virtual marketplace so accessible that everyone can jump in and start receiving advertising of plenty of products and buy them in as less clicks as possible. It’s all in the summary, more accessibility (touchscreen) and more things to buy. I’m still not sure if they want to switch all the gaming industry to accessible crap too, but that definitely wont happen yet (PC gaming community and Microsoft have distanced themselves since the release of The Xbox 360 and Vista).

      In any case, a healthy indie market in linux cannot happen fast enough.

    32. JohnnyMaverik says:

      Eh, but windows 7 is on the whole it’s stable and what’s more familiar. I don’t like change -_-

    33. Bootstraps says:

      Why the hell would I buy an OS which has its headline feature aimed at improving the interface for tablet PCs? I don’t own a touch screen or a tablet. There’s nothing wrong with my mouse, it actually works rather well. It’s also a lot cheaper than a touch display. Secondly, why would I want an OS that integrates XBox stuff with my PC? I don’t have an XBox. If I wanted to buy Xbox marketplace stuff… I’d buy an Xbox.

      Here’s a novel idea microsoft: When you’re designing an OS for PCs, think about what most of us might use it for. How many people have touch screen displays on their laptop or desktop? In the real world outside of Microsoft HQ, in which 99.9% of us live, how many people have fancy touch screen displays at work or at home? I use a PC pretty much all day in the office, and I fail to see how “Metro” is going to make stuff like Matlab quicker or CATIA, AutoCAD, Outlook or whatever else better. Our IT department hardly spends enough to keep our current setup ticking over as it is. They’re not exactly going to be rushing out to buy new displays for us, so we can use your new OS to play Age of Empires – Social Network Edition (on your app store).

      The things that work well in Windows 7 – take them and make them work better, then cut the things that don’t get used. Make an OS that’s *actually better* than 7, rather than trying to impress people with a load of worthless baubles. If there’s a real, worthwhile improvements, the OS will sell like hot cakes and make a lot more money than some awful, plodding rehash with an integrated app/games store and an interface that’ll never see the light of day. I can’t believe we’re at the point where we’re going to be asked to pay for the kind of cruft and shovelware we usually nuke Dell PCs to get rid of, the moment we turn them on. Get real MS. You can do better.

    34. Sheza says:

      I can’t believe so many people are still using Windows XP. Now that Windows 7 is out, there’s no excuse, really.

      Anyway – I installed Windows 8 and it’s alright. Okay, shoot me. It is able to achieve what it sets out to do – be a touch interface. What they haven’t quite got right yet is the transitioning from Metro to Desktop. The Desktop can be accessed by a tile on the Metro UI and the actual transition effect is swift. But then the Desktop looks so different, that it feels weird.

      One major gripe I have is the fact that the search/run bar is now fully Metro-ised, so even in Desktop mode you can’r type sway, “msconfig” or anything. And I don’t know any other way to get into msconfig without putting it in the run bar <.<

      So to conclude: It's pretty much what it looks like, a swift user interface for tablets with a transition into Windows 7 + Windows Explorer Changes + Task manager changes.

      • Harlander says:

        I can’t believe so many people are still using Windows XP. Now that Windows 7 is out, there’s no excuse, really.

        Cost of upgrading to Windows 7: £70 and above (from Ebuyer)
        Cost of not upgrading to Windows 7: £0.

        Justification accepted.

      • PFlute says:

        I think “It costs money” and “It doesn’t offer any significant advantages” are both good excuses, actually.

        I have XP on my desktop and 7 on a shared laptop, so I know how shiny Windows 7 is — I just don’t need it yet.

      • stillwater says:

        I agree. Using an OS that is a full decade old is about as smart as using Internet Explorer 6.0 as your browser of choice. It might be ok for grandmas, though even then the fear of change is probably doing them more harm than good.

        The amount of time I’ve saved by no longer having to use the clunky, nagging, has-to-be-reformatted-every-year, convoluted mess that was XP has been worth way more than the hundred bucks or so I paid for Windows 7.

        As for Windows 8, I doubt I’ll bother. I don’t see the benefit of my desktop PC pretending that it’s an ipad. I like the idea of getting buff forearms from swinging them around the screen in front of me all day, but that’s about it.

        Plus, Windows 8 is almost guaranteed to be shaky and buggy – it’s Microsoft we’re talking about after all. Most things they do are crap, and the ones that aren’t require many iterations before they hit their stride. It took them 30 years to make a decent OS for cryin’ out loud.

        Good on them for trying new things, but don’t expect them to figure out a genuinely smooth touch-screen OS until at least Windows 9 or 10.

      • Vinraith says:

        I’ve been running Win 7 for a few months now, it works fine. Before that I was running XP, it was fine too. Honestly, aside from Win 7 trying harder to hide useful options from me I haven’t noticed a hell of a lot of difference. XP was fast, stable, and I don’t know what was wrong with your system that it required “reformatting every year” but I never had that issue with XP. 7 is a hair shinier, and runs a couple of games that XP didn’t. It also makes it somewhat harder to get some older titles running, though I’ve yet to find a game I can’t make work with some fiddling. In all, I tend to view it as a bit of a wash at the moment. My laptop’s still running XP and I’m in no rush to “upgrade” it.

    35. stillwater says:

      “…a successful Windows App Store…”

      Yeah, right.