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What You Need to Know About Windows 8

posted by Christina DesMarais on October 31, 2012

Windows 8 has been released to the masses. To call it merely a “redesign,” would be a huge understatement because unlike Microsoft operating systems of the past Windows 8 is optimized for touchscreens. It still works with keyboards and mice, but it’s radically different from what you’re used to with Windows 7, XP or Vista.

While you might wonder why Microsoft had to mess with the most popular operating system on the planet, there’s no doubt touchscreen technology is where the future is headed.

For example, Intel has promised that by the end of the year 40 new Windows 8 Ultrabook laptops from various manufacturers will come to market with touchscreen displays. And just look at all the all-in-one desktop PCs selling at that ship with touchscreens. And of course, there’s Microsoft’s own Surface RT tablet, which is finally in stores as of October 26—it uses many elements of Windows 8 but only runs apps from the Windows app store.


Computers and Software, Guides & Reviews, Tech 101

Windows 8 is Definitely Different

When you turn on your computer it might not be evident how to log-in. To get to the log-in screen you can press any key or click and drag up from the bottom edge of your screen.

Once you log-in you’ll come to a start screen that lays out the start menu in tiles, instead of a list like it was with earlier versions of the OS. While this might seem overwhelming and confusing, it’s actually an informative and visual way to organize your apps—both full-screen apps you get from the Windows App Store as well as standard desktop apps such as Windows Explorer. In this photo, for example, you can see a weather tile that shows you what temperature it is outside and a mail tile, which updates in real-time to display message headers as they come in.


Because Windows 8 was designed for tablets you need to do quite a bit of swiping or clicking and dragging to get around. Swiping from the left edge of the screen to the right brings up an app switcher; pulling from the right edge of the screen to the left calls up a “Charms” bar where you can get at functions such as control panel or settings; and swiping up from the bottom edge gives you navigation controls for any app you’re in.

While there’s definitely a learning curve involved in using Windows 8, there are big improvements, too. For instance, sharing photos, websites and videos via email or to Facebook is dead simple and the operating system's ability to detect malware before it has a chance to run is much better. In fact, it’s the most secure version of Windows yet, say some security experts. Not only that, Windows 8 starts twice as fast as Windows 7.

And for all the complaints you’ll hear about the new design, the classic interface is still in there, but now it’s an app called Desktop. To get to it you click on the Desktop tile from the start screen.

Should You Upgrade Your Current PC?

There are a several things to consider.

If you use your PC to play DVDs, you should know that Windows 8 doesn’t include Windows Media Center. You can either use third-party DVD playback software (as long as it’s compatible with Windows 8) or get the Windows 8 Media Center Pack, which you can get for free until January 31, 2013.

And if you don’t have a touchscreen on your laptop or PC, why go to all the trouble of learning a completely new way of using your computer if you won’t be able to take full advantage of the way the OS was designed?

Also keep in mind that if your PC is running Windows 7, your files, apps, and settings will transfer to Windows 8. But if you’re currently running Windows XP or Vista, you will need to reinstall your apps after you upgrade.

See if Your PC is Compatible First

Before upgrading to Windows 8, you need to run the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant. It scans your hardware, apps, and connected devices to see if they'll work with Windows 8. It looks at things like CPU speed, RAM size and hard disk capacity and checks to see if your PC can support certain Windows 8 features, such as the Windows Store, snap, secure boot, and multitouch. If your PC doesn't support them you still install Windows 8, but you won't have full functionality. Once you receive your report you can do nothing, or the tool will recommend an edition to buy as well as help you through the steps to upgrade.

If You’re in the Market for a New Computer

If you want to buy a new PC or laptop running Windows 7, you’d better do it right away. Retailers are clearing out Windows 7 machines, so at some point you’re not going to be able to find them new. Keep in mind that Microsoft will only provide Windows 7 mainstream support—meaning automatic fixes, updates, or online technical assistance for consumers—until January 12, 2015. Without support, you won’t receive security updates that can help protect your PC from malware.

If you do manage to snag a new computer running Windows 7, know this: If you change your mind and want Windows 8 you can upgrade for only $15, thanks to a Microsoft promotion that lasts until the end of January 2013.

If you want to buy a new PC or laptop running Windows 8, there are plenty of options and there will undoubtedly be a landslide of great promotions this holiday season. Microsoft is promoting scads of touchscreen machines on its website and Best Buy is offering deals on dozens of exclusive Windows 8 computers and laptops designed in partnership with select computer makers. Many of them feature touch screens.

Discussion loading


From Fran on October 31, 2012 :: 1:36 pm

I’m buying a new PC only because my XP is 8 years old.  grin  ///  Thank you for this article.  It is the most informative, succinct article I’ve read re Windows 8.  Question:  You said MS would stop offering support in Jan 2015.  Won’t our security, anti-virus software (like Norton, Kaspersky, etc.) keep us safe?  As you can see I’m not real savvy.  grin ///  With that said, I’m going to buy 7 and upgrade to 8 after I’ve taken a class in 8 at my local community college.



From SMathew on October 31, 2012 :: 3:19 pm


Norton only protects you from Internet viruses like a Trojan virus or Malwares etc that gets downloaded when you visit or download items off of a virus infected website. But there are loop holes within Internet Explorer (IE) application, or Microsoft Excel, Word etc that Norton cannot fix. So Microsoft usually sends patches or updates to protect against viruses that will infect your computer due to a loophole in the IE and other Microsoft applications.



From Diane Ballou on October 31, 2012 :: 2:05 pm

I have an old XP computer and have been holding off for getting an all in one touch screen with Windows 8.

However, I have always heard that it’s not a great idea to buy a computer with a new operating system (and boy is this one different) until the kinks/bugs are worked out of it.  (I never bought Vista, for instance, and was glad I didn’t.)

I use the desk top I have now to work on our business Quick Books.  Will accounting software work on Windows 8?

Should I wait a few months or buy something new around Christmas time because of the deals….or wait until January????  Thanks



From Josh Kirschner on October 31, 2012 :: 5:11 pm

The sooner you get off XP the better. Microsoft stopped supporting XP some time ago and security holes are no longer being patched.

There are still plenty of Windows 7 machines out there that you could buy and then upgrade to Windows 8 later. Though if you’re going to make the jump from XP, you may be better off going straight to Windows 8, rather than learning Windows 7 and then having to learn Windows 8 later.

So far, Windows 8 seems to be very stable. I’m sure some bugs will arise, but Microsoft will fix them quickly. Even Vista, dog that it was when released, became much more stable when Microsoft released Service Pack 2.

I bet we’ll see a lot of deals for the holidays, but prices should drop even further in January. We plan on having an all-in-one roundup in a few weeks.



From Connie Edwards on October 31, 2012 :: 2:54 pm

I got so sick and tired of MicroSoft’s “father knows best, just do as I say” attitude, as well as their obsession with wringing out every last dollar from the consumer (while said consumer had computer after computer attacked by viruses) that I downloaded Open Office - and not sorry I did, I love it!

The question is, would it interfere with that?  Does anyone know?



From Josh Kirschner on October 31, 2012 :: 5:17 pm

Microsoft says all applications that work with Windows 7 will be fully supported in Windows 8. We would perhaps take a slightly more cautious view, but OpenOffice says that their latest version works just fine on Windows 8.



From Will on November 01, 2012 :: 1:26 am

ONLY in compatibility mode. Compatibility mode will bring back the old interface, only for the time the app is running. Making it Windows 8 native? Well, it depends on if Microsoft plays dirty and illegal, or plays nice with their new walled garden. there are other criteria that may get an app banned from that garden, most of which OpenOffice or LibreOffice should not get in trouble with, but the potential for misuse to squash competition exists with the walled garden model.



From Cassie on October 31, 2012 :: 10:22 pm

Had the free sample on the acer netbook, it’s ideal for a pad computer more so. If your getting a new pad now then highly recommend but for a main computer I would wait - in about 3 or 6 months as usually snags are run into and other upgrade features. So if your not upgrading a lap or desk top till after the holidays then do the system upgrade too.

So you can upgrade from windows 7 easy. Unless your getting a new computer. Just offering some frugal advice for later - when a mass group uses a new operation system well not all tests of limits are not fully done till you get more mass users. Mostly business users.

I’ve used on a pad computer big difference real smooth function and ideal so if your going for a first pad or upgrading a pad highly recommend.



From Will on November 01, 2012 :: 1:20 am

I can tell you right now, that way different interface is the SAME interface for Windows Mobile, the XBox, touch-pads, and unfortunately, out PCs.

It may do things called threads faster, use less battery on notebooks, boot faster, and such, but for those who KNOW their computers, this is a step in the wrong direction. Metro is now the default interface, your old Windows interface? Forget seeing it no matter what you do, other than running in compatibility mode (and only as long as that app is running) for older software. Which also brings up the point that Microsoft is taking a page out of Apple’s book with its marketplace… Worse thing is, they edited that page so as any Windows8 software must be approved to be installed. This means a good chance that hard-core gamers won’t get the titles and game features they used to due to restrictions. Restrictions that *could* potentially, and illegally keep competing software from being installed. There goes OpenOffice, LibreOffice, Or any other software that competes against their own.



From theresa on November 01, 2012 :: 1:54 pm

I downloaded windows 8 lost my internet I use a Linksys USB wireless adapter now I cant do anything because linksys does not have a update for windows 8 very upset wish i could take windows 8 off my computor and put back 7



From unhappy on November 12, 2012 :: 12:43 am

windows 8 is the most useless pile of software i have EVER used in my entire life. to open files,you have to go into control panel and dig them out by going into c drive. but there is no start button, only the side bar that does not offer control panel. to get to it, you have to press the windows command+r and then type in control panel. all to select a picture to upload. i will be returning my computer to best buy tomorrow on the grounds that the operating system renders it unusable.


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