Ask Mr. Science: Windows 8

Posted on Friday, October 26, 2012

Windows 8 Start ScreenQ: Hey, Mr. Science! What’s Windows 8?

A: Well, Bobby, Windows 8 is the newest version of the popular Windows operating system for personal computers. It was just released for people to buy today.

Q: So what? Don’t lots of computer programs come out every day? What’s so special about this one?

A: That’s right, Bobby, they do. But Windows is a very special computer program, because so many people use it every day. It’s installed on the vast majority of the world’s home and office computers. More than one billion people around the world use it!

Q: Gee willikers, Mr. Science! That’s a lot of people!

A: It sure is, Bobby. And that’s why the release of a new version of Windows is important. Hundreds of millions of people are wondering if they’ll end up using it or not.

Q: So if Windows 8 is a new version of Windows, what’s new about it, Mr. Science?

A: Lots of things, Bobby. First, Windows 8 brings an entirely new look to Windows. That new look used to be called “Metro,” but Microsoft forgot to check if anyone else was using that term before they rolled it out, and they almost got sued by someone who actually was using it in their own business. So they had to stop calling it that.

Q: Golly! So if they don’t call it “Metro” anymore, what do they call it?

A: “Modern UI Style,” Bobby. Or “Windows 8 Style.”

Q: Gee, Mr. Science, those names are boring! I like “Metro” a lot better.

A: So does everyone else, Bobby. Which is why everyone in the world who doesn’t work at Microsoft still calls it that.

Q: OK, so it looks different than other versions of Windows. But does it WORK any different?

A: Yes, Bobby, it definitely does. Windows 8 is the first version of Windows to be designed for touch-friendly devices like phones and tablets, so it works a lot differently than previous versions did. For instance, when you start a Windows 8 application, it automatically fills up the whole screen, where previous versions would start the application in a window.

Q: So Windows 8 doesn’t put applications into windows anymore?

A: That’s right, Bobby.

Q: So why do they still call it “Windows”?

A: Nobody knows, Bobby. Nobody knows.

Q: But what if I really liked running my programs inside a window? Or if I have some programs that need to run in a window to work right?

A: Don’t worry, Bobby. Windows 8 provides you with an alternate mode, called “desktop mode,” that works just like your old versions of Windows did. You can switch back and forth between the new Metro interface and the old desktop mode interface at any time.

Q: So I can run new-style Windows 8 programs and old-style Windows programs right next to each other?

A: Not quite, Bobby. Windows 8 mode and desktop mode are separate from each other. So you can run your new Windows 8 programs, and your old Windows programs, but not together.

Q: Gosh, Mr. Science, that doesn’t sound very nice. But at least I still have some way to run my old programs!

A: That’s right, Bobby. Well, unless you’re using Windows RT.

Q: Windows RT? I thought we were talking about Windows 8!

A: We are talking about Windows 8, Bobby.

Q: Then what’s “Windows RT”?

A: Windows RT is a version of Windows 8 for mobile devices.

Q: Wait a minute, Mr. Science. You said before that Windows 8 was designed for phones and tablets and stuff!

A: I did, Bobby.

Q: Then why do we need a separate version of Windows 8 called “Windows RT” for phones and tablets and stuff, if Windows 8 was designed for them?

A: Well, Bobby, it’s like this. Windows 8 is designed for mobile devices. Except for some mobile devices, which use Windows RT instead.

Q: Gee, Mr. Science, that’s really confusing.

A: You’re telling me.

Q: So what’s the difference between regular Windows 8 and Windows RT?

A: Windows RT is just like Windows 8, Bobby, only without the desktop mode and the ability to run your old Windows programs. It only runs the new Metro-style programs.

Q: It doesn’t run my old Windows programs? So why do they still call it “Windows?”

A: Nobody knows, Bobby. Nobody knows.

Q: So if I go to buy a new computer, how will I know if it comes with Windows 8 or Windows RT?

A: It’s very simple, Bobby. You just look closely at the long list of technical specifications that’s printed in eight point type, and look there to see if it mentions “Windows 8″ or “Windows RT.”

Q: Gosh, Mr. Science, I never look at those lists! They’re full of big words I don’t understand.

A: Well, Bobby, that certainly makes you a rare bird! Everyone I know reads the specification sheets before buying a computer. In fact, we linger over them thoughtfully, and frequently get into heated arguments over the merits of various types of video chipsets.

Q: You sure hang out with weird people, Mr. Science.

A: Don’t judge me, Bobby.

Q: OK, Mr. Science.

A: And now it’s time for a pop quiz! Tell the audience what you’ve learned today about Windows 8, Bobby.

Q: Windows 8 is some software for computers and phones and stuff. It looks just like regular Windows, except for all the places it doesn’t. It works just like regular Windows, except for all the places it doesn’t. And it runs all your old Windows software, except on some computers, where it doesn’t.

A: Very good, Bobby. Very good.

Q: Thanks, Mr. Science!!!

This entry (and everything else on this blog) was written by Jason A. Lefkowitz. Did you like it? Subscribe to this blog's feed to get new stuff the moment it's posted. Want to read more like this? Hit the archives for more than ten years' worth of essays, or jump right to The Best of Just Well Mixed. Angry and wanting to know who to punch? Here's more information about me, including how to get in touch by email and various social networks.

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Sandy Smith says:

They should call the new interface Gangnam Style.

Also, I wonder what the suicide rate is among Microsoft UX professionals?

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