World's official review of Windows 8
Technica tested Windows 8
World's article about Windows 8 software tools
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.
• 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.
• 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.
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