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8 Things to Know About Windows 8

Windows 8 improvements for laptop, desktop, and mobile users


Windows 8, Microsoft's radically redesigned successor to Windows 7, promises to be much more touch-friendly and focused on delivering a mobile experience, while still accomodating keyboard-and-mouse users. Microsoft has designed the operating system to work on all types of devices, especially mobile ones--laptops, netbooks, notebooks, slates, and tablets--with touchscreen features at the forefront.

In addition to the new user interface, performance and security improvements make Windows 8 a forward-thinking operating system for devices of all types. Here's a quick overview of Windows 8's new features:

1. Metro Style Interface and Start Screen

Windows 8
Melanie Pinola

The colorful new Metro style interface features Windows Phone-like dynamic tiles. The Metro interface and new Start screen are by far the most stunning change to the operating system. Right away you can tell Microsoft is aiming for this OS to please tablet and mobile users who are used to seeing information tiled, tappable, and swipable. Interacting with the tiles via touch is very natural--but requires a tablet PC, touch monitor, or other touch-enabled device. Otherwise, you can scroll with your mouse and point-and-click, but the experience is less than optimal.

If you don't have a touch-enabled device or just don't want a phone-like interface on your desktop, know that the Windows UI we're all used to is still there in the traditional desktop view.

More: Touch-friendly laptops or hybrid tablet PCs that make the most out of Windows 8


2. Windows 8 Store Apps (formerly known as Metro Apps)

Part of the new user interface, the tablet-optimized apps from the Windows 8 Store may redefine the Windows world, the way that Apple's iOS apps have been an integral part of Apple's products. These are dynamic widgets on your Start screen that can pull in data--think weather, stocks, news and social feeds, etc., as well as the kinds of touch-friendly apps you may be used to on tablets, like games.

3. More User-Friendly and/or Informative Dialogs

Windows 8 BSOD
Tim Fisher

You may or may not be familiar by now with Windows 8's gentler, kindler Blue Screen of Death, which features a big cute emoticon that's much less scary than the old school version. Tim Fisher, About's PC Support Guide was greeted kindly with this sad face.

The copy and paste file dialogs have also been revamped to add more details about the speed of your copying as well as differences between conflicts.

4. A Better Task Manager

Windows 8 Taskmanager

Other features in Windows used more often by power users, such as the Task Manager, have also gotten a major facelift, with new performance graphs and an easier way to control the processes, applications, and services--including startup items and other details--that are running on your system from one screen. It's easy on the eyes and gives you more control over how you computer is running.

5. Reset or Restore Your PC with One Click

A boon for IT Departments everywhere or just everyone who likes to refresh their laptop or desktop every now and then, Windows 8's new restoration options are really interesting. There are two options available:

  • Basic Reset: Restart fresh while keeping all of your docs, accounts, personal settings and Windows Store apps saved
  • Complete reset: Restore your PC to its factory state

If you'd like, you can also create a reset disk, for your own backup needs.

The benefits of this are obvious. Before getting rid of your laptop (e.g., donating or recycling it), just use Windows 8's built-in complete reset feature to wipe your laptop of all data. Or if your computer is feeling sluggish and you need a "refresh" but don't want to lose your docs, try the basic reset option.

6. New Multiple Monitor Options

Windows 8 Monitors
Previously, if you wanted a lot of flexibility when using an external monitor with your laptop or a second monitor with your desktop, etc., you'd need to use a third-party utility. Windows 8 includes options for having unique taskbars on each monitor, duplicate taskbars, and otherwise fine-tuning your multi-monitor setup. And you know how having a second monitor is a great productivity boost.

7. Better Performance Handling

The first release of Windows 7 used about 540 MB of memory. Windows 8 uses just 281 MB, or slightly more than half of that. This means that if you own an older or underpowered laptop or netbook, you might be able to get away with running Windows 8.

8. Security Enhancements

We expect more protection for any software update--especially so for something major like this. Windows 8 had increased protection by adding "Secured Boot"--authenticating boot components to prevent malware from starting before the operating system is even up. Antivirus is also now built into the system too.

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