Much was said about Windows 8 when it arrived in October 2012. Amongst all the hype, fog and shouting it was quite difficult to track down any decent information on whether it actually worked well as a platform for professional, creative work. Microsoft had taken a bold leap in trying to bring together mouse driven and touch driven interfaces, but for most mouse users the touch elements just seemed to get in the way. Thankfully with a click you were back to a familiar desktop and could get on with making your music. The update to Windows 8.1 has removed the need for that click and brought many welcome enhancements to both the mouse and touch environments. Windows 8.1 is now a stable, fast and efficient operating system that’s capable of running pretty much everything just as well as Windows 7 could and sometimes better. Even the traditionally conservative Avid now officially supports Pro Tools 11 on Windows 8 and 8.1.
So Which OS Should You Get?
If you have any doubts or concerns about Windows 8, whether real or imagined, then stick with Windows 7. There’s no real measurable performance difference between the two in terms of plug-in counts or virtual instrument polyphony so you can’t lose either way. But if you did want to take a leap into the future then Windows 8.1 has some key features that might be of interest:
- Firstly make sure it’s version 8.1 – version 8 was a bit clumsy and the 8.1 update improves the whole experience no end. If you’re still running version 8.0 then you really should get the update.
- The regular or non-pro version supports up to 128GB of physical RAM. Home Premium of Windows 7 only supported up to 16GB. So you don’t need to buy the “Pro version.
- The flatter, solid coloured interface design moves much quicker than the Aero desktop of Windows 7 and Vista. The desktop feels very nippy and clean looking in comparison.
- Better multiple monitor support with each screen showing its own dedicated taskbar.
- File Explorer is completely revamped with easy access to regular tasks, better copy and move tracking, including pausing transfers and better file name collision identification and resolution.
- Redesigned Task Manager giving a more detailed overview of programs and services that are running and resources being used.
- Native support for USB 3.0
- File History automatically creates incremental backups of files stored in Libraries and user-specified folders to a different storage device. Alternative revisions can then be tracked and restored using a “History” function in File Explorer.
- Integrated services and apps such as SkyDrive (now OneDrive) and Skype make for a very smooth workflow.
- Native multi-touch screen support for apps and any compatible desktop programs.
- Angry Birds in the Windows Store – what’s not to like?
64bit or 32bit?
This has become a bit of a no-brainer. The 64bit version of Windows 8.1 can run pretty much any 32bit application without any trouble. Of course there are exceptions so check your software compatibility. It also gives you access to all the RAM you have above the 4GB 32bit limit. You are going to need to have a very specific reason to limit yourself to a 32 bit operating system.
Is just around the corner. From what we understand Microsoft have spent a lot of time listening to the reaction to Windows 8 and are busy working on its successor. There’s even a dedicated creative pro audio team working on the MIDI and audio functionality with a view to making Windows 9 the operating system for creative professionals – that could be very interesting. Windows 9 should arrive around Easter 2015 and is looking very good indeed.