Windows 8 at rAge 2012: A warm welcome

While I was making my way through the awesomeness that was the rAge expo this past weekend, I stopped and spent some time watching people mill through the Windows 8 stand at Telkom’s booth, noting their reactions to the new OS and how quickly they adapted to working with the new Modern UI. What I found was surprising, so much so that I went to have a chat with the Microsoft rep managing the booth, Ashley Doherty (sadly, not any relation to Shannon). Now, I’ve been using Windows 8 on my main PC for the last three months – two of those on the consumer preview, one month on the release preview and for the past week I’ve had the RTM version as my only boot option, so I’m pretty comfortable with it so far.

NAG Online: So Ashley, how has consumer interest in Windows 8 been this past weekend, bearing in mind that so many people on the internet have had a negative reaction to the loss of certain UI elements in the OS and a drastic change to how information is displayed?

Ashley: Well, one of the things we’ve seen is that a lot of people are interested in the OS but they’re sort of…afraid, to touch the units, you know? Its like they’re approaching it with the thought that its an alien concept and some people here this weekend were even afraid to touch it or play around with the OS. But once they’ve been given a guiding hand to show them how it works, they get more comfortable with how everything works and many of them actually like it.

NAG Online: But then there’s the guys who miss the Start button, eh?

Ashley: Yes, there were a few of those types and they have valid points – some people have built up their computer knowledge and methods of navigating around XP, Vista and 7 in a particular way. For them we tried to show them how Modern UI works better than the Start button and also demonstrated how the live tiles and apps they can pin on the start screen really save valuable time.  You can get a lot of info presented to you by taking time to customise the Start screen so that it shows you what you want to see when you unlock the PC.

NAG Online: And for older folks, how have they gotten along?

Ashley: *laughs* I actually had an old lady this weekend come up to me and say, “I LOVE my Nokia Lumia! My grandson bought it for me and its really been easy to use. Can you tell me about the other stuff you’ve got going here?” And that was a turning point, almost a hint for me, because it shows that Modern UI works for all ages by displaying information relevant to your personal interests. You select which tiles you want, what information you want to see on the Start or Lock screen and it pretty much works for most people. Windows 8 just takes the elements from Windows Phone further and improves on them.

NAG Online: I see here some of the stand’s space is dedicated to Microsoft Media Room. How is this going to change video-on-demand rentals in South Africa, considering we’ve already got DSTV as the only competitor in the local market and Samsung’s push with Telkom’s VDSL trials for VOD services for their Smart TVs?

Ashley: Well you know, there’s not a lot of VOD services in the country at the moment. The Media Room demo is actually only just a demo at the moment and we have no concrete plans to bring the entire service into the country because, as you mentioned, VOD services are only being pushed by companies like Samsung because of Telkom’s move to VDSL and higher-bitrate services. But this is a taste of what’s possible with Media Room – you’ll see we have it linked to two Xboxes here. Its built to look and feel a lot like Windows Media Center that’s no longer shipping in Windows 8 and considering we have a wide console user base already, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to launch a new service on an existing, working platform. There’s not much else to see beyond what we advertise here – there’s rental and buying options for your movies and series and we use multiple sources like IMDB for the film’s history and info. What we’re trying to do is bring the same kind of service that Hulu and Netflix have in the US to the rest of the world in the cheapest way possible – so that’s with the Xbox and we’re investigating its inclusion in Windows 8 as well.

NAG Online: Well, that’s going to be music to the ears of HTPC enthusiasts! The launch on the 26nd of October, is it a worldwide or localised one that starts in the US?

Ashley: Its a localised one for the most part, but most countries will get it at the same time, with emerging markets and third-world countries getting things a little later.

NAG Online: If that’s the case, then how is Microsoft approaching the rollout of the online store? If you look at, for example, Xbox Live South Africa, the breadth and depth of the games available is less inclusive than the UK and US stores, which is why even though we have a local portal, many players prefer to keep their overseas accounts. Sony’s PSN doesn’t localise titles available online that much, but Microsoft and other companies do. How will this change?

Ashley: Starting from the launch Microsoft is planning a launch of the new store in 45 countries, with South Africa included. You’ll notice that a lot of the apps online available in the local store for local currency is the same selection as everywhere else. Currently we don’t localise anything to give users a taste of everything the store has to offer. Once the worldwide launch is underway, we’ll be working on adding another 135 countries to the mix as time goes by, with localised content for their specific country and information being displayed in their own language.

NAG Online: Does Microsoft’s approach to localisation mean they’ll limit the type of apps available?

Ashley: In a sense, no. What we are localising is the applications and tiles that connect with local companies for their online services. So for example we’re working with Gautrain on a Modern UI app for the desktop, tablet and smartphone. There will also be localised apps for companies like TakeAlot, some of the airlines and even Computicket to give local users access to a wide range of local apps. We won’t be limiting the rest of the apps available but country-specific apps for other regions generally won’t be available. You’ll still be able to get stuff like the NFL or Big League apps if you browse the store, but for the most part you’ll have a mixture of worldwide and local apps available.

NAG Online: Thanks for that info. And when I saw the stands being erected up on Thursday, I noticed the Microsoft ones in their plastic and hoped that there would be a Surface here on hand to try out. I see there isn’t one, but will they be available in the country?

Ashley: Microsoft is trying to push its hardware arm as much as possible in as many countries as possible. We’re transitioning into a hardware and software company and Surface is still something we’re reserving for the US and Europe while things get ironed out here, but you can rest assured you’ll see a good deal of other Windows 8 tablets in the spotlight locally. We also have a range of approved hardware from various partners, especially with large touch panels and we’re hoping to get those available in the mainstream market for as cheap as possible.

NAG Online: Thanks for your time Ashley, enjoy the rest of the expo.

Interestingly, I saw quite a few stalls that had hardware running Windows 8. The Xbox stand, for example, had tablets running Windows 8 that were used for text entry and people really loved using the on-screen keyboard. ComputersOnly had a hectic watercooling setup running for the show attached to an Acer 22″ touch panel with FreshPaint running in the background. I have never seen as much a crowd over a program like Paint as I did back in high school, where my friend would draw pictures of penises and save them as the background wallpaper for the PCs in the science lab. Those 16-bit brush strokes were masterful with a trackball mouse, but what I saw some people doodle at rAge was amazing.

Samsung, as previously reported, also had a few All-in-Ones and two Ultrabooks with the OS and reception was equally warm. It appears that not as many people hate Windows 8 as the internet would have us think. And I’m certainly one of them – my migration over hasn’t been easy coming from a long history of using Windows as my primary OS, but its a change over that was a quick decision to make.

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