The Definitive Windows 8 Review And User Guide

The new version of Windows is now available on store shelves, and we have the complete lowdown on Microsoft's latest operating system. Join us as we thoroughly dissect the Windows 8 UI (Metro), Apps, Desktop, Gestures, IE10, SkyDrive, and Windows Store.

During the past year, all corners of the technology community were abuzz with news, rumors, and opinions regarding Windows 8. The vast majority of that chatter involved the operating system's completely new tile-based user interface. Up until the end of this summer, the new UI was referred to as Metro. But Microsoft's marketing department decided to change the interface's name to Windows 8 UI.

Big logo, right? Well, perhaps that's fitting, since Windows 8 is the biggest thing to happen to Windows since...well, windows. At this point, Microsoft could quite justifiably change the operating system's name to Tiles.

Getting Acquainted With Windows 8

As the resident “Linux guy,” I'm no stranger to drastic changes and bizarre user interfaces, though. I've seen plenty of both in Linux, and the shift to something new no longer scares me. Naturally, then, I was tasked with writing our Windows 8 review.

My first foray into Windows 8 was with the Developer Preview released back in September of last year. Like (seemingly) everyone else, I was taken aback by the changes being Microsoft presented in its then-Metro UI. But I thought, "Hey, it's just a developer preview. Most of this will probably change anyway."

Next came the Consumer Preview in February. This release actually moved Windows 8 further away from the classic Windows experience. I rationalized the changes yet again. After all, it was just a beta, and carrying the label of Consumer Preview, maybe it would yield enough negative feedback that Microsoft would have no choice but to reverse direction.

Then, in May, Microsoft released its Windows 8 Release Preview. Surely this one would address the serious workflow and usability issues that bloggers were publicly skewering. Nope, not even close.

Finally, a 90-day trial of Windows 8 Enterprise Edition was made available this past August, and I grabbed that too. Very quickly, I realized that Microsoft had no plans to pull the plug and back out of its bold design departure.

Which brings us to the here and now: Window 8 is officially available for purchase. If you were waiting for Microsoft to jump out from behind a bush and yell "April Fools!" after all of those early peeks at the operating system, you're no doubt flabbergasted by the operating system's final form.

But don't count Microsoft out too quickly. I didn't take Windows 8 very seriously until a few days ago either. But, during the course of writing this review, found my stubborn disdain turning into something else.

Along with Windows 8 RTM, I had early access to two genuine Windows 8-based notebooks from Toshiba: the Satellite S955 and P845t. Between my time with those two laptops and installing Windows 8 on every x86-based platform I could find, I finally understand Windows 8, and I'm confident that I can explain it to you, too.

Over the next 20 pages, we'll break down the Windows 8 UI, piece-by-piece in sometimes-sickening detail. We'll use the keyboard, mouse, and touch. We cover the installation and setup. We have the apps, the Store, and the settings. Then, we get into the "classic" desktop, following up with an exploration of how Windows 8 affects the traditional Windows experience. Plus, we show you how to either create synergy between Windows 8 UI and the desktop, or to ignore the new stuff altogether.

Let's kick this story off by going over the vitals: system requirements, upgrade paths, available versions, and pricing.

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  • 9a3iqa
    An x86 tablet sounds great as long as it has a dock.

    I'm waiting fingers crossed for Haswell and Kaveri to bring low power usage with high graphics performance (let's face it x86 cpu performance has already reached a level where it is good enough even with "low end parts").
  • Stupido
    I currently use Windows 7...

    ... and I currently use Vista... main usage - gaming & some browsing, thus do I need W8? :)
  • tulx
    Stupido... and I currently use Vista... main usage - gaming & some browsing, thus do I need W8?

    and I currently use Windows 8 and love it.
  • apaul1983
    I'm not bothered whether people care for Windows 8 or not, but I use it as I always upgrade to every new operating system and I'm one of those people who loves my new shiny Windows 8.
  • kimmetje
    Kudos for being part of the Logitech trackball users :) - I'm a Logitech trackball user too! Thank you for a very very complete review of Windows 8. I'm seriously considering making the jump, along with a Windows Surface to boot!
  • santfu
    Great article. It hasn't changed my mind, I will still stick to 7 and hope that linux gets some games love from the likes of valve. If that takes ages, which i do suspect, then I'm less concerned now about 8 than I was.
  • feeddagoat
    You've kinda put me off windows 8 after that article especially the way it handles multi windows.

    While reading it I kept think how nicely does it play with programmable keyboard shortcuts? After playing with it in Curry's for a couple of mins before being moved on, it really feels like keyboard shortcuts are the way forward. Personally I prefer that over clicking with a mouse when possible.

    the other thing I read is that NAS devices don't play nice. Is this something you got to investigate during your time with it? Its something that would make or break windows 8 for me.
  • adamjedgar
    I think the article conclusion misses the point completely. Users are not complaining about the mechanics of Win 8...its the damn user interface. In traditional keyboard and mouse environment, it is a complete failure unless you are running pure Apps. For software that is not app based it is a complete nightmare...switching back to the old interface as a stop gap measure!

    And for those who think apps on a desktop pc or laptop are great...have a look at the mail, print, and pdf reader apps. What a flaming joke!

    I know, lets all buy touchscreen monitor and get an arm and shoulder exercise workout moving your arm and hand 24" across a screen whilst swiping apps...not to mention the foot or two of movement to get your finger on the screen in the first place. Another flaming joke!

    Who was the nitwit that designed this interface???
  • metexie
    Great walkthough, thank you.
  • brianthesnail
    i had a question recently on yahoo answers " is windows 8 any good for gaming "... well in my opinion its not ..... im running the eval windows 8 enterprise on my spare rig ( HD6770.core 2 quad ,4gb ram ) and its running around 50% of all games without any issues ... the remaining are throwing up "unsupported os " and "direct x dll" bases issues.... maybe its early days however i shall be leaving my main rig running windows 7 64bit .... stable,secure and smooth ....
    on a positive note theres some nice new features in windows 8 especially personal settings .... the apps are interesting and easy to install.... and both avg and avast work fine with no bugs .... spybot seems ok however v2.0 is avalible as a beta and has a completely new ui
    one aspect that has impressed me is boot times.. even with the sata 6gb mechanical drive (500gb western digital ) in my spare rig boot times are as fast as 20 seconds ... bring on another ssd and reduce this to 10 seconds
    overall not too bad,but may be downfall of microsoft ... personally i hope it does well,however its too soon after windows 7 and most guys dont want a significant upgrade this soon .... also most of us havent got a touchscreen display ( would rather buy a 3d one instead ).....
    lets wait and see .... nice review guys