What You Need to Know About Windows 8
Last week, Microsoft released a new version of its operating system. Unless you've been living under a rock, you've already heard about Windows 8.
So today I'm going to give you the facts - just the facts - focusing on what you will need to know about Windows 8.
First, all versions of Windows 8 have a new interface, which is radically different from any previous versions of Windows. The traditional start menu is gone. Now, when you start your device, you see a colorful conglomeration of squares and rectangles, called "tiles."
These are not small squares like you might see on an iPhone or iPad, but are rather large. You touch or click on these tiles to launch programs and/or apps. Some of the tiles are "live," meaning you can set them up to see real-time information such as the weather, stocks, email or news.
I can assure you that when you start using Windows 8, you will be stymied as to how it all works. So be sure to allow yourself a little time to investigate the new operating system. It may take a few weeks before you feel comfortable with the new interface.
Yet, after using Windows 8 for a few months, I can also tell you that this version is far superior to Windows XP or even to Windows 7.
The second thing that you need to know is that Windows 8 has an underlying interface that is very similar to the Windows 7 desktop. In Windows 8, it is simply called "desktop." You can switch to this desktop at your discretion (just click on or touch the desktop tile). You will be switched to the desktop automatically if you start a program such as Notepad, Word or Excel.
You might have heard that Windows 8 is made for touch screens, which is true. Yet every finger motion has a corresponding mouse and a corresponding keyboard motion. So it can also be used on a regular computer. I have used Windows 8 on a computer with touch screen and also on a computer with only a keyboard and mouse. It is very workable on both.
The third thing is that Windows 8 comes in four flavors. There is a Windows 8 Phone, a Windows 8 (called RT) for tablets, a Windows 8 (standard) and a Windows 8 Pro.
The Windows 8 Phone works only on smartphones and will come pre-installed. The Windows 8 Pro offers extra data protection, remote desktop, and the ability to join corporate domains. It will mainly be used for businesses. So you, as an average consumer, only have to worry about two versions, RT and the standard version, which is referred to simply as Windows 8.
The RT version will come pre-installed on certain tablets. You won't be able to upgrade to it. Windows 8 will come on almost all new computers and, if you have a newer computer or laptop, you will be able to upgrade your computer to Windows 8. Windows 8, however, will also come on some tablets and laptop-like computers. That's where the confusion lies.
If you purchase a tablet, you will have to know if you are purchasing a tablet with Windows 8 RT or Windows 8 because there is a big difference between the two. The colorful new interface is the same on both, and both can run the apps that can be found in the Microsoft app store.
The biggest difference is that RT can run only apps. It cannot run desktop applications such as Photoshop, Quicken or Family Tree Maker. Yet Microsoft has been very smart about this. It has developed its main Microsoft Office 2013 programs as apps.
In fact, when you purchase an RT tablet, Microsoft Office Home and Student Preview Edition comes preinstalled. When the final version is released, it will automatically be downloaded and installed at no cost. So while the RT version can't run full-blown programs, it can run Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote and actually comes with all of these.
The Office apps automatically appear in the desktop interface that looks like Windows 7. If you have used any of these Office programs on your Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7 computer, they will look and feel pretty much the same. Of course there will be some new features, but most of the features of the older desktop versions of these Office programs are available in the Apps. The two exceptions that I found were that the app versions of Office don't support macros or add-ons.
If you purchase a new computer with Windows 8 or the Windows 8 upgrade, which is currently available online through Microsoft for $49, you will not get Office for free. You will either have to make that a separate purchase or use an older version of Office that you already own. (Microsoft says older versions, even those as old as Office 2002, will work fine with Windows 8.)
Besides the new interface, Windows 8 boasts some key improvements, including longer battery life for portable devices, faster boot times and a smaller memory footprint. Most full-blown programs that run well in Windows 7 will also work with Windows 8 (but not with Windows 8 RT).
Once you are used to Windows 8, you will probably find it easier to navigate than previous versions of Windows. So there are many reasons to upgrade or to purchase a new computer with Windows 8 preinstalled.
Making the move to Windows 8 will be beneficial, but there is a learning curve, especially on a nontouch desktop or laptop computer. Also, with Windows 8 RT completely based on apps, the number of apps available in the Microsoft app store is very important. Right now, its app store has only about 7,000 apps, compared with 100,000 in the Apple app store.
While some of the major apps, such as Evernote and Kindle, are already available, others such as Words with Friends and Angry Birds are not. Of course, if Windows 8 is popular, the number of apps is sure to increase dramatically and quickly. Because of the learning curve and the wait for apps, I expect that acceptance of Windows 8 may be slower than expected.
Along with Windows 8, Microsoft released its own tablet line called the Surface. Last week, I had a chance to work on the Surface with Windows RT, which is available right now. (Surface with Windows 8 Pro will be available sometime in the next few months.)
I was actually quite impressed. At a base price of $499, with a built-in kick-stand and an optional keyboard that also acts as a cover, it has a lot to offer and stacks up quite well against the iPad.
More on that next week.
Contact Sandy Berger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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