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Windows 8 Factoids
PC World's official review of Windows 8

Ars Technica tested Windows 8

PC World's article about Windows 8 software tools

PC World's article about a fix for the missing Start button

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Windows 8 is the brand new version of Microsoft's ubiquitous computer operating system.  Unlike any version since Windows 95, it has been totally rewritten.  The function of any OS is to connect the computer user with all the hardware and software resources available to his computer.  As new technologies are developed over time, the OS must be rewritten to include useability on new computers as well as access to the resources the new technologies provide.  In 2013 there are touchscreen laptops, tablets and smartphones.  They evince emerging technologies like USB 3, the ability to establish radio communication with a smartphone or other device by touching them together or bringing them in close proximity (called 'near field communication') and the ability to entrust remote services with the user's data, software and computation (called 'cloud computing') to name a few.  But many users have no inkling or need for the newer technologies.  They just want to connect to the internet and get their email, and browse and shop using their new laptops and desktop computers like they did with Windows XP.  Windows 8 has to work for these folks too.  Some users are tempted to wait until the bugs are ironed out of Windows 8 before they decide to jump in, but many of those bugs are features that aren't going away.  Here follows a bugs/features list for prospective jumpers to consider.

The good
Improved performance- Windows 8 comes installed on new computers and can generally be installed as an upgrade on Windows 7 computers.  Folks who make this upgrade will notice speedier performance.  8 boots a bit faster than 7.  The performance improvement in storage and image manipulation is more noticeable in the older hardware.  Using the new USB 3, which is native to Windows 8, makes copying files to USB devices significantly faster.  Internet Explorer 10 in a Windows 8 computer is a bit faster than IE 9, Chrome or Firefox in a Windows 7 computer.  Microsoft has improved and will continue to improve performance in Windows 8 and no one likes to wait for a machine.

Improved security- There's no need to add antivirus software to protect a Windows 8 system, because all that business is included.  It's like Microsoft Security Essentials, the recommended antivirus for Windows 7, is now part of 8 right out of the box.  And it updates and patches itself as part of Windows updates.  Further, 8 supports a feature called 'secure boot' that prevents unauthorized infections of the boot process.  This represents an added layer of security.

Heavier Microsoft account integration- For those who use multiple devices, Windows 8 provides more and better integration with online services, like Windows Live.  This makes it easier to synchronize applications and settings between devices.  8 also incorporates an integrated 'airplane mode' that allows the user to safely listen to music or play games without interfering with aircraft avionics, supposing you can convince the stewardess of this.

Windows Store and apps- For users who are used to shopping online, here is a way to see, try and buy (or as with available freebies, to just get) applications that extend the usefulness of the machine.

Improved Task Manager- The new task manager includes a heat map that indicates level of resource usage, friendly names for processes and a new option that allows the user to search the web for info about unfamiliar processes.

Interface and desktop- Windows 8 introduces important changes to the user interface that are aimed at users of tablets and other touchscreen devices.  Users of these things will appreciate the changes.

The bad
Interface and desktop- Microsoft now groups apps into Windows 8 applications and 'desktop' applications.  The desktop apps are all the things you used to do with the computer in XP, Vista and Windows 7.  8 boots directly into the new Start menu, and it's more of a Start screen now.  It's horizontally scrollable, and it includes your applications (each of which is represented as a clickable 'tile'), as well as a tile for the desktop itself.  When you start a Windows 8 app, that's all you see and all you can see-- only one application will run at a time.  To copy data from one app to another, for instance, it's necessary to copy the data in the first app, and then start the second app and paste the data into its window.  This also makes comparing screens of data difficult.

Doing these things is easier with the desktop, where you can run multiple applications.  You can start one of them from the Start screen, which is one way to get to the desktop environment.  From there, you can open multiple apps and multiple windows within each app.  The desktop app mimics the Windows XP and Windows 7 desktop with desktop icons and pinned taskbar icons, but you have to learn to put them in place yourself, and navigating the desktop is now the crux of most folks' problem with Windows 8 because THERE IS NO START BUTTON OR FAMILIAR OLD START MENU AVAILABLE ON THE DESKTOP.  Pressing the Windows key from the Windows 8 Start screen after you boot takes you to the desktop.  Press it again, and you're back in the Start screen or the last Windows 8 application that you were using, including, possibly, the desktop app.  To get to the desktop consistently, click its tile in the Start screen or press Windows-D (can be tricky).

More removed features- Though Windows 8 will support third-party DVD playback software, the Windows Media Player no longer plays DVDs, and the Windows Media Center is no longer included by default.  This is likely because tablet devices are shipping without optical drives anyway these days, and you can stream a lot of content (movies and TV-- though NOT everything available on disc) from services like Netflix and Amazon.  To remedy this for a laptop or desktop computer, you can buy the 'ProPack' at the Windows Store, which also upgrades 8 to Windows 8 Pro.

On computers upgraded from 7 to 8, Backup and Restore will continue to perform your scheduled backups, but in primary Windows 8 installations it has been replaced with File History and Previous Versions.
Windows Update notifications no longer appear on the desktop.  Instead, look for them on the login screen after you start up.

The resolution
Is Windows 8 for you?  Depends on a] if you're stuck with it because you bought a new Windows 8 laptop or desktop, and b] how adventurous you are.  There's an undeniable learning curve associated with any operating system you've never used.  Microsoft is counting on your adventurous angel to stick with it and maybe even buy into the cloud or get a touchscreen computer, and there are third-party apps available already to put the Start button back onto the desktop and to let you bypass the Windows 8 Start screen and boot directly into the desktop application in your Windows 8 mouse-and-keyboard computer.  There are and will continue to be Windows 7 computers available for purchase, and you can always jump ship and spring for a Macintosh, or just hold onto your Windows XP machine.  Microsoft has promised to continue supporting that system until at least April 2014.

Links are provided at the left in case you'd like to pursue this topic.
January 10, 2013

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