August 28 2012
While many of us are getting along just fine with Windows 7, Windows 8 is just around the corner. The latest iteration of Microsoft's OS will launch on October 26, 2012, and it has already stirred up a considerable amount of controversy among gamers. Gabe Newell, co-founder of Valve Software, the makers of Steam, has called Win 8 a "catastrophe" for PC gaming, and several other developers, including Blizzard, Stardock, and Mojang, have echoed his concerns. So the obvious question is, should we be worried?
Windows 8 is definitely taking the world's most ubiquitous platform in a new direction. Specifically, tablets, and therefore, touchscreens. The big picture here is to have a single OS that works on a variety of mobile devices as well as more traditional desktop and notebook PCs. Although Windows 8 won't quite achieve this, it will be tablet friendly and share a kernel with future versions of Windows Phone. It's an inevitable step toward the day when we can run a single Windows app on a multitude of different Windows devices. Another part of this cross-platform strategy includes the ability to run Xbox games in Win 8.
The Modern UI
The most ostensible difference between Win 7 and Win 8 is the "Modern UI," formerly known as "Metro," that essentially replaces the Start menu with something more appropriate for touchscreens. While it's manageable with a mouse and keyboard once you get used to it, the old-school Win 7 desktop and taskbar do everything most PC users want them to do already. Recognizing this, Win 8 includes a "desktop mode" that brings up a traditional Windows interface, although the Start menu has inexplicably been removed. It's evident that the Modern UI is primarily aimed at tablets. On the PC some will like it and others will avoid it entirely.
The Windows Store
The Modern UI also ties into an Apple-like app store, which Microsoft is setting up as the only source for fully compliant Modern UI software. Microsoft will set the standards for what is available in the store and they will get a share of all sales. Legacy software, which means pretty much everything you run with Win 7, will run in desktop mode in Win 8. The Windows Store will be a "walled garden" of apps for the Modern UI and Windows RT tablets.
All of this represents a shift away from the traditionally open nature of the Windows platform, for which anyone can write and distribute a program without needing Microsoft's approval. It's not the end of computing as we know it just yet, as Win 8's desktop mode still gives you the freedom to use software from a variety of sources, including services such as Steam. Nevertheless, the Windows Store could eventually become a real threat to alternative distribution systems, and that has far-reaching implications for the entire industry.
Win 7, Anyone?
Preview versions of the new OS have been circulating for about a month and many people are already sold, but I doubt that the majority of those with high-end PCs running Win 7 are going to be in any hurry to upgrade. Given that Win 8 in desktop mode is essentially Win 7, you'd really, really have to adore Metro (something tells me that name is going to stick) to make the switch. Adoption is more likely to occur slowly through the purchase of new tablets and PCs, so Win 7 isn't going to disappear overnight.
I don't expect Win 8 to have a major impact on PC gamers in the short term. Their games will continue to run as before, with Steam or without it. However, I can understand the concerns of game developers, distributors, and publishers. Microsoft is a big player, and if they decide they want to own Windows gaming the way they own Xbox gaming, it could someday be catastrophic for companies such as Valve. That day, however, is probably still a long way off, and it remains to be seen how much people are going to like the Metro side of Win 8 once the new OS smell wears off and they need to get some work done. Personally, I'm giving Win 8 a pass. Maybe Win 9 will offer something that appeals to me, assuming we haven't all moved over to Linux by then.