Early look at Windows 8 baffles consumers

NEW YORK (AP) — The release of Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system is a week away, and consumers are in for a shock. Windows, used in one form or another for a generation, is getting a completely different look that will force users to learn new ways to get things done.

Microsoft is making a radical break with the past to stay relevant in a world where smartphones and tablets have eroded the three-decade dominance of the personal computer. Windows 8 is supposed to tie together Microsoft’s PC, tablet and phone software with one look. But judging by the reactions of some people who have tried the PC version, it’s a move that risks confusing and alienating customers.

Tony Roos, an American missionary in Paris, installed a free preview version of Windows 8 on his aging laptop to see if Microsoft’s new operating system would make the PC faster and more responsive. It didn’t, he said, and he quickly learned that working with the new software requires tossing out a lot of what he knows about Windows.

“It was very difficult to get used to,” he said. “I have an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old, and they never got used to it. They were like, ‘We’re just going to use Mom’s computer.’”

Windows 8 is the biggest revision of Microsoft Corp.’s operating system since it introduced Windows 95 amid great fanfare 17 years ago.

Microsoft is releasing Windows 8 on Oct. 26, and it doesn’t plan to cushion the impact. Computer companies will make Windows 8 standard on practically all PCs that are sold to consumers.

Instead of the familiar Start menu and icons, Windows 8 displays applications as a colorful array of tiles, which can feature updated information from the applications. For instance, the “Photos” tile shows an image from the user’s collection, and the “People” tile shows images from the user’s social-media contacts.

The tiles are big and easy to hit with a finger — convenient for a touch screen. Applications fill the whole screen by default — convenient for a tablet screen, which is usually smaller than a PC’s. The little buttons that surround Windows 7 applications, for functions like controlling the speaker volume, are hidden, giving a clean, uncluttered view. When you need those little buttons, you can bring them out, but users have to figure out on their own how to do it.

“In the quest for simplicity, they sacrificed obviousness,” said Sebastiaan de With, an interface designer and the chief creative officer at app developer DoubleTwist in San Francisco.

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