Windows 8: Should You Try the Developer Preview?

Last Updated Sep 19, 2011 12:54 PM EDT

If you follow tech industry news, it was hard to miss the big story last week: Microsoft unveiled the "Developer Preview" version of Windows 8 at its annual BUILD conference. The intertubes have since gone crazy debating the relative merits of the new OS, which is probably about a year away from general availability.

This much is true: Windows 8 is shaping up to be the most dramatically different operating system in Microsoft's history. For a company that conservatively obsesses over even the smallest changes in the OS to ensure backwards compatibility and overall business compliance, Windows 8 looks like something cooked up in outer space with little regard for what previous editions of Windows looked like. So, with the OS publically available for evaluation, should you try it?

Yes, for exactly that reason.

You can read endlessly about the pros and cons of the new OS -- there are no shortage of reviews -- but nothing can help you understand the reality of Windows 8 like experimenting with it yourself.

Windows 8 is going to be an important installment in the history of Windows, and it's important to start to understand what that's going to mean for your business. To wit:

The traditional, decades-old Start menu is gone. It's not just that the start button has changed shape, like it did in the move from Windows XP to Windows Vista. It is completely gone, replaced with a Windows Phone-like scrolling start screen filled with program tiles. That will take some getting used to, and potentially some employee training.

There are now two application environments -- the traditional desktop and the new full screen Metro screen. All of your existing programs, including line of business applications, will still work on the desktop. But the new Metro environment represents a real business opportunity. The simpler development environment to create the Java and HTML5-based apps means you can create new business applications faster, cheaper, and more efficiently. Maybe it's almost time to abandon that barely supported database you created in 2002.

It's built for touch. Have you had your eye on an iPad or some other touch device for a mobile workforce? Windows 8 could be the perfect solution instead. Maybe. You can get a real sense for how well Windows 8 will fill that role by exploring the Developer Preview, particularly if you install it on an existing touch-enabled laptop or slate (like the ASUS Eee Slate EP121).

You can get the Windows Develop Preview at the Windows Dev Center website. Have you installed it? What do you think? Sound off in the comments.

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