If you've found yourself lost in the transition from Windows 7 to Windows 8, you're not alone. In an effort to ease consumers’ switch to the new OS, Microsoft is offering a host of Windows 8 training programs at its retail locations ranging from a free one-hour course to a more in-depth $49.99 three-hour training session.
To see how much the average consumer can learn from one of these classes, we visited a Microsoft store in a suburban New Jersey mall and requested a free one-hour training session called, "Getting to Known Your Windows 8 Device," on the Sunday following Black Friday. Read on to see what we found.
Introduction and Touch Gestures
We arrived at the Microsoft store at roughly 1:00 pm and asked the first employee we saw if she could provide us with information regarding the Windows 8 class. We were then escorted to the rear of the store where employees were walking several customers through the setup process for their recently purchased Windows 8 laptops.
The store itself bares a striking resemblance to Apple’s own retail store, right down to the hardwood floors, white walls and large wood tables. Microsoft’s store does, however, have more of a party atmosphere complete with large TVs circling the room and an Xbox 360 with Kinect setup on a bench just outside. On the other hand, while Microsoft’s store seemed to be filled with mostly employees, Apple’s was full of customers.
A few minutes passed after we took our seat before one of the Microsoft store employees, Ryan, came over with a Surface tablet in hand and asked what we wanted to focus on during our training. Since we didn't have a Windows 8 system handy, we told him that we were looking to see how the OS worked, since we were thinking about purchasing a computer or Surface for a relative who usually just surfs the Web and checks email.
Ryan then guided us to a kiosk set up to help educate potential customers about Windows 8. Before diving into the training, Ryan stopped to explain the thought behind Microsoft's latest endeavor, accurately detailing how the company developed its new OS as a way to merge the desktop and tablet worlds.
After showing us how to navigate the Modern UI on the Surface and a desktop machine using touch gestures, Ryan opened the Desktop app on and explained that we could still use the operating system in essentially the same way we had used our familiar Windows 7 machine. He also noted the Desktop app's lack of a Start button, then swiped in from the left side of the screen to show us that it was located in the Windows 8 Charms menu.
Switching back to Modern UI, Ryan began explaining how to customize the Start screen by resizing and moving its Live Tiles. Overall, he managed to touch on all Windows 8's major touch gestures, save for keeping two apps open next to each other via the Snap feature.
Apps and Compatibility
With our introduction to the Windows 8 interface out of the way, Ryan turned toward the OS's app ecosystem. We were glad to see his honesty when he told us that Microsoft's Windows Store had fewer apps available than Apple's App Store. Still, he insisted that there were plenty of apps available, including several major releases, and that the numbers were growing by the day.
Unfortunately, during his presentation, Ryan told us he would download a Pandora app. But when the Microsoft employee searched the Windows Store for it, he quickly discovered that it didn't exist. The lack of top-flight first party apps is a major issue for Windows 8, which still doesn't even have its own Facebook or Twitter clients.
Next Ryan explained how to search for apps using the Search feature in the Charms menu and how to arrange recently downloaded apps on the Start screen. When we asked if we could run standard Windows 7 programs on the Surface, Ryan correctly pointed out that we couldn't because the OS doesn't support X86 software.
Our next lesson focused on Microsoft's SkyDrive, and how the app can be used to access documents from any SkyDrive-enabled computer. First, Ryan opened a blank Office document on the Surface and saved it to his SkyDrive account. He then logged into SkyDrive on a nearby Windows 8 desktop and opened the file to demonstrate that files can be saved and opened in the cloud.
To further illustrate how well SkyDrive works, the Microsoft store employee began working on the file on the desktop and told us to watch the file on the Surface to see the changes as they updated in real-time. We were also shown how changing the Start screen background on the Surface would carry over to the Start screen on our desktop or laptop PC as long as we were logged into our personal profile on both machines.
Windows 8 RT vs Windows Pro
Ryan then asked us what other tablets we had looked at prior to visiting the Microsoft Store. We explained that we had checked into Apple’s iPad, as well as Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD 7-inch. Ryan then told us that the Surface features a full-size USB port, something both the iPad and Fire HD lack, as well as the ability to print wirelessly. When we pressed Ryan as to whether the iPad was actually unable to print wirelessly, which it can, he called over another store associate who could neither confirm nor deny Ryan’s assertion.
Ryan then quickly transitioned to the upcoming Surface with Windows 8 Pro. He correctly identified the difference between the device and the standard Windows RT-powered Surface, pointing out that the Surface Pro will be powered by an Intel processor and, unlike the Windows RT Surface, can run full Windows applications. When we questioned whether we should wait to purchase the Surface with Windows 8 Pro, he said that it would probably be unnecessary for someone looking to simply surf the web and check email.
Making the Grade
After dropping a few more quick tidbits on Windows 8, we shook Ryan’s hand and made our way to the store’s exit. Overall, we give Microsoft high marks for its efforts. Based on our experience, it's clear Microsoft is serious about educating both potential customers and new users about the ins and outs of its new operating system. For a free one-hour course, the value can’t be beat.