Every CAD, GIS and office software program I know of runs on Windows. Other operating systems are major players, but when it comes to spatial data, Windows is still the final word. That’s why the next major update, Windows 8, is going to be such a huge deal. It’s different – so different, in fact, that it would be worth your time to get a copy of the beta, which you can do here, and play with it for a while.

With mobile hardware platforms becoming more capable and popular, the idea of centralizing the operating system and programs is becoming more practical. Because of that, Windows 8 is changing the whole dynamic of how users interact with their computers. Instead of a smartphone, desktop and tablet all using individual operating systems, Microsoft is using the same operating system for everything to standardize the user experience across devices.

As an example of the expected changes, here is a traditional home screen:






And here is the new Windows 8 home screen, “Metro.”






A little different, right? The idea is to make the flow from turning the machine on to getting to work as instant as possible. Instead of a start menu and folders, programs have icons on associated pages. The boot or startup time of Windows 8 is less than eight seconds. By comparison, my “old” Windows 7 computer takes about two to five minutes to go from start to working. Windows 8 still includes a traditional layout accessed by hitting the Windows key (between Alt and Ctrl), which is also the entry to all the new features’ keyboard shortcuts for power users.

While the official reviews are still in the making, this unofficial one is very clear and fast enough to cover all the new features and workflows in less than ten minutes. For some free practice, visit a phone store that has active Windows phones and play with them for a while; the experiences are very similar for a reason.

These changes and updates are designed to make accessing programs near-instant and to create an efficient and universal operating system for all of our different tools. But with all the re-learning required to use the basic interfaces, is it worth it to change over to the new operating system when it comes out? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.