Windows 8 has arrived and has caused more than a little confusion for computer users. Set forth below are several items and cheat sheets which should make it easier for you to decide whether it is worthwhile for you to upgrade to the newest version of the Windows O/S and, if so, how to customize the system to your liking. This is only intended as a very brief introduction to Win8, enough to intelligently inform you what it’s all about, so you can decide if Win8 is for you. For more detailed information or personal or group instruction, contact us directly:
Microsoft released Windows 8 on October 26, 2012. Initial reviewers felt that there is a somewhat steep learning curve (“jarring” is the word used most often to describe the transition), but probably worth it. Besides, it’s supposed to be the future for PCs and tablets, and will come on virtually all new computers from now on. And it can work really well, but far better if you have a touch-screen monitor, an additional cost. Some “user experience specialists [“UX”] have suggested that Windows 8 suffers from too much bias toward touch screen and gestures on tablets, therefore causing confusion and extra steps for those users of classic laptops and desktops, who work with documents or productivity tools using keyboard and mouse, making it less user friendly and not as useful for those who rely on mission-critical and legacy apps. (For precisely this reason, right now, 74% of enterprises say they have absolutely no plans to upgrade to Windows 8.)
There is some additional confusion however, since Microsoft simultaneously introduced not one but two different versions of the O/S - Windows 8 and Windows RT. The main difference - WinRT is the version of Win8 that doesn’t run Windows programs. The two versions may look alike on the surface, but RT is primarily for tablets and will not be capable of running traditional Windows programs or (since it is completely different coding and it’s own touch-centric hardware) installing most Windows hardware drivers. That said, Microsoft will be introducing look-alike apps like Paint, Wordpad and Notepad and later RT versions of Word, Excel and One-Note. Just make sure you are purchasing the correct Win8 version for your uses, otherwise you may be disappointed.
Other points: Like Apple does with iTunes, you must purchase all Win8 apps for the Surface through the Windows Store. Win8 doesn’t even come with games, like the old Windows. Want your old Solitaire? Gotta download it from the Windows Store. Or an app for playing or burning DVD movies (they want you do add the $100 Windows Pro Pak for this feature if you don’t have Media Edition; I’d go for VLC Media Player for free, though). But check before you buy - some Win8 apps won’t work with RT or Windows Phone or some combination. Printing support will vary as well - check with the HP or other support sites to see if your printer will work automatically or with downloads or not at all on WinRT. While the only supported version of Office for the Surface is Home & Student 2013, Outlook isn’t included and none of the Windows Live/Essentials programs will work. And you can’t sync an iPad with a Surface tablet. So, if you want the PC pad experience, get the Surface with WinRT, but if you want Win8 for a desktop or laptop machine, get Win8. If you’re convinced that “if it’s not broken don’t fix it”, do nothing. Or wait to see how the reviews come in, there’s no rush.
On the plus side: So it’s different - the original iPad and iPhone also had no precursor and they’ve quickly become commonplace!
On the negative side: The lack of the old Windows desktop concerns some users. Good News: You can still get Win8 to boot to the old Windows desktop. Let it boot, then simply click on the tile that says “desktop” and you’re at the Classic Desktop.
But it’s not really the old desktop. True, there is no Start button or Windows Start Menu (blame Steven Sinofsky, former head of Microsoft’s Windows Division). But you can still put shortcuts on the desktop like you always have. Also, the Classic Start Menu is still hidden within Win 8 for backward compatibility purposes. Using the Toolbar feature, you can navigate to the Win8 Start Menu folder, select it, then drag the toolbar where the Start button used to be, hide the folders and lock the toolbar. If you absolutely must have the old Start menu, there are always the third-part apps available for this purpose (e.g. StartW8, Pokki Menu, Classic Shell, RetroUI Pro, StartisBack, StartMenu8, StartW8, ViStart, Power 8 and Start8 - all free or just about). You can even put the Start button back with apps like Startisback. If you like the Win8 Modern UI look and feel, but would like the traditional functionality of the old Start menu, Start Menu Reviver does a great job. And, if you really like Windows 7 better and find the Windows 8 interface annoying, you can always find third-party apps to import the best parts of Windows 8 into Windows 7 (such as a better Windows Explorer, copy/paste function, Task Manager and the like.) Or just bite the bullet and install Windows 7 (yes, you can still get that).
The Windows 8 Style interface [formerly dubbed “Windows Metro” until Microsoft discovered that “Metro Style” was copyrighted] is the home base for your new operating system. The Win8 desktop tiles are basically big, colorful shortcuts like the smaller icons you had in your previous Windows versions. Some tiles are static and contain a description of the item (like the Internet Explorer tile above), while others are “live” and show updated information at intervals right on the tile without clicking on it (like the Now Playing tile above). The Apps window is basically the same as the old Programs window. The Files Explorer is essentially the same as the old Windows Explorer. The Ribbon Interface is the same as it has been on post-2007 programs.
The two important differences in Win8 are the way you navigate programs and Windows utilities. By swiping your mouse to the right side of the screen, the Charms Bar appears down the right horizontal side of the screen. This bar can add lots of new features to the O/S on this menu (including turning the computer off), some old ones (like Search, Share, Devices, Start and Settings) as well. By swiping to the left, the Apps Bar (a/k/a Switch List (apps list panel)) will appear on the left. It is used for selecting and switching between apps.
Basically, this is the same old Microsoft dance when it introduces a new operating system: To add, remove or change programs in WinXP you navigated to “Add and Remove Programs” in the Control Panel. In Win7, Microsoft kept the icon in the Control Panel, but renamed it “Programs and Other Features”. Win8 sticks it onto the Charms Bar. Essentially the same feature, but a different name and location with expanded features. Win8, because it changes the desktop itself, just takes a little more getting used to. Or take the Task Manager: You can still access it using the usual Ctrl+Alt+Delete “three fingered salute”. But you can also find it by (right) clicking on the Desktop taskbar and selecting it from the pop-up menu. Even worse, some options (e.g. Privacy) are available only on the Metro side, while others only on the Desktop, and a few on both. But even then, it’s confusing: Windows Update is on both, but you can only check and install the “Important” updates on the Metro side, while you have to migrate to the Desktop side to check for the “Optional” available updates. ???? And why would Microsoft link baffling menu items like Refresh Your PC along with Highlight Misspelled words? And, again, it has expanded features beyond those in the older operating systems. The only real difference with the Win8 introduction is that Microsoft didn’t immediately take Win7 off the shelves the day it introduced Win8.
It’s not the purpose of this brief review to tell you how to operate and customize Win8, just to familiarize you with it to decide whether it’s for you.
IF YOU GET ONE THING ABOUT WINDOWS 8 FROM THIS PAGE, IT SHOULD BE THIS: You can find almost anything you want using the SEARCH function built into Win8. That is, simply start typing on the keyboard, using natural language to specify what you want. You can type “Quicken” to locate that program. Or “remove Quicken” to uninstall it. Or “Control Panel” or “Printers” to get to the location in the operating system where that window is located. Or even a natural language query like “Who was the 38th president of the United States”. Because the enhanced search feature in Win8 is so complete, you can pretty much count on never getting lost.
Moving on, there are a number of Win8 shortcuts which may prove useful to you as you navigate the new O/S, many of which are similar to the Win7 O/S should you have been using it. If you are using Tiles rather than Desktop, you will find that there are many keyboard and mouse shortcuts to perform many of the actions that you could also perform using a touch screen by tapping, pinching and swiping. (If you are using a Microsoft Touch Mouse the shortcuts operate slightly differently.) What follows is a summary of some of the most important ones.
Notice that the shortcuts below start with the [Windows] key (“WinKey”). If you think of the WinKey as a replacement for the old Start button, you’ll find that it’s an easy way to launch your apps and tools. For example, pressing the WinKey and starting to type the first few letters of the name of the app or tool you want to launch will find and display it. For example, typing Winkey + word will display Wordpad or Word, which you can click on to open the program. Alternatively, you can use WinKey + Z to bring upp the App command bar, then [enter] or click on the All Apps button to bring up all of the apps to select the one you are looking for. Even more, you can use the “Semantic Zoom” feature (clicking the minimize button on the lower right corner of the screen) which displays icons alphabetically and categorically.
You can also pin an app to the taskbar by right-clicking on a tile or icon on the Apps screen and selecting Pin to Taskbar as an option. (If you have lots of apps, the Task Bar will automatically add another row.) Sending the app to the desktop as a shortcut icon is about the same as in previous Windows versions: Locate the app execute file and select the Send To - Desktop command.
WinKey — The most important keyboard shortcut; toggles between Metro and Desktop and also switches between the Metro Start and the desktop view: The most popular and useful shortcuts are shown in blue:
WinKey + B — Goes to the Desktop from the Metro Start Screen
WinKey + C — Brings up the Charms bar (where you can search, share, and change settings)
WinKey + D — Goes to the Desktop from the Start screen
WinKey + E — Launches Open Computer/File Explorer with Computer view displayed
WinKey + F — Brings up the Files search box
WinKey + H — Open the Start Share panel
WinKey + I — Opens the Settings panel (to adjust settings for the current app, change volume, access wireless networks, shut down, or adjust the brightness)
WinKey + J — Switches focus between snapped Start applications (see further Window Snap navigation below)
WinKey + K — Opens the Devices panel (for connecting to a projector or some other device)
WinKey + L — Locks the PC and returns to Lock screen
WinKey + M — Minimizes all Windows on the desktop
WinKey + O — Locks device orientation on tablets
WinKey + P — Chooses between available displays if you have the proper graphics card and an additional monitor attached.
WinKey + Q — Brings up the Start App Search screen
WinKey + R — Switches to Desktop and displays the Run box
WinKey + U — Switches to Desktop and launches the Ease of Access Center
WinKey + V — Cycles through app notifications (these appear in the upper-right corner when appropriate to a particular app)
WinKey + W — Brings up the Settings Search screen
WinKey + X — Launches Windows Tools Menu
WinKey + Y — Temporarily peeks at the desktop
WinKey + Z — Opens the App bar for the current Start application
WinKey + Tab — Opens the Metro Taskbar (application switcher) menu (toggles between applications)
WinKey + Page Up/Down — Moves tiles to the left or right
WinKey + , (comma) — Aero Peek at the desktop
WinKey + . (period)* — snap right
WinKey + Shift + , (comma)* — snap left
* On keyboards with separate arrow and numeric keypads, use WinKey + right or left arrow.
Ctrl + Tab — Show the Apps window
Ctrl + F1 — Expand the ribbon in File Explorer, Paint, and other native Win8 apps
Ctrl + + (plus) — Zoom in
Ctrl + – (minus) — Zoom out (or hold down Ctrl and use Mouse wheel to zoom in and out)
Alt + F4 — Close an application
*** Check out FAQ No. 53 for information about how to boot to the BIOS/UEFI in Windows 8, which is often prevented by the Win 8 “fast start” feature.
We can see the handwriting on the wall: Windows’ desktop days are numbered now that Win 8 is out. While the next version of Windows (Windows “Blue,” scheduled for September release) is in the works, it will make some cosmetic changes to the desktop, including restoring the Start button, but is not expected to return many of the missing Win 7 desktop items. It will advance a few new features and options to the Win 8 UI (“User Interface”), but little to the desktop. The move from classic desktop to modern UI is expected to take 5 - 10 years, if it even takes this form, much like the move from DOS to Windows did in 1985. But, for the legacy desktop to completely disappear, it will require modern windows to provide for all new apps (programs), particularly in the enterprise arena, which will supplant the older, common, legacy apps throughout the Windows universe. Many of these haven’t been developed yet, as developers are only beginning to embrace the WinRT API (“application programming interface”) to commence this process. So the bad news is that the Win8/Metro/Modern UI is the future, but the good news is that you’ll probably own another computer or two until you’re stuck with it.
At least that’s what Microsoft is saying now, after the initial release. But there is almost universal hatred of Windows 8, from enterprises to techs to individual users. It may be that if Win 8 is not adopted en masse that Microsoft will be forced to create another version of Windows that remedies the failings of Win 8, much as Windows XP cured the mistakes Microsoft made with Windows Vista. Or they may, and should, simply separate the desktop version from the tablet version of Win 8.
Unfortunately, there are several issues which are unique to Windows 8 that may frustrate you, but there are always work-arounds available to customize the operating system to do what you want. Among them: Win8 doesn’t allow POP mail (?!?). It requires Administrator accounts to install and remove software and hardware (probably a good thing). It requires tablet users to enter the desktop for key functions. The power button is hidden way too much. The lack of a Start button makes multi-tasking somewhat harder, and the Switcher groups all desktop apps into one giant thumbnail. And you have to get everything (and I mean everything) from only the Windows Store. But, as I said up front, there are customized fixes for all of these and other drawbacks.
WINDOWS 8.1 UPDATE
Windows 8.1, Microsoft’s first update for Win 8, was released on September 16, 2013. It didn’t make a lot of changes that will satisfy those users who aren’t happy with it, now will it persuade Win7 users to upgrade, but it did make changes. Some of the ones described above are there. But the underlying problem with Win 8 remains: There are two separate “worlds”: “Desktop World” for standard keyboard and mouse based computers and “Tile World” for tablet computers. It is this duality which is causing confusion among Windows 8 users as they switch back and forth (particularly with desktop computers) and which still isn’t addressed in the update. Many of the inconsistencies addressed above about the inconsistencies in settings between the Metro and Desktop screens have been somewhat repaired.
THE UPDATE ITSELF: The Start button is back, but it’s not a full version. Right clicking does provide links to many useful features, however. Much more important 8.1 lets you boot to the desktop! Tile sizes are upgraded from two to four. The new Help + Tips tile should have been there from the beginning, it solves a lot of the lack of explanation issues with Win 8. Search now covers the entire contents of the computer, not just the apps. And the Mail app is much more customizable as well. The Lock screen can display a slideshow of your photos, which can be customized by you. You can now boot directly to the desktop. Snap View lets you view up to four apps on most monitors simultaneously. You can now edit photos in the Photos app. The App Store design has been completely updated and includes new features for auto-updating and remembering you purchases. Xbox Music has been redesigned as well. And also the calculator app. A Reading List is included as a new utility. And Skype is included with Win8 now. Internet Explorer 11 is a significant improvement to IE 10, loading pages faster, with more tabs. In fact, the whole O/S starts faster, has better security, backup, task and file management, and supposedly improved laptop battery life. The camera app is improved, as is Bing search. Windows Defender is expanding its protection. Win 8.1 does have NFC printing support and 3D printing support as well. There’s also an auto-VPN feature for business users. And lots more smaller upgrades, some of which are just eyewash (like animated backgrounds on the Start screen).
Other differences: The Win7 File Recovery is completely gone in Win 8.1. Instead, you have System Image Backup, accessible from File History.
WHAT’S NEXT? WINDOWS 9?: Microsoft predicts that “Threshold,” to be called “Windows 9” is presently scheduled to ship in April, 2015. Probably because of the less than stellar acceptance of Windows 8 (less than 25 million copies sold, very few at the enterprise level), Microsoft is supposed to be changing Windows 8 to provide the return of the full Start menu and the ability to run Metro-style apps on the desktop, but alongside the desktop applications.
IS WINDOWS 7 STILL AVAILABLE? FOR HOW LONG?
As with all Microsoft O/S introductions, the pre-Win8 systems will vanish to make room for the Windows 8 version. Microsoft’s policy is to allow retailers to sell the boxed versions of a previous O/S for up to one year after the release of the new O/S, and that OEMs can sell PCs with the previous O/S version pre-loaded for up to 2 years after the launch of the new one. That would mean that retailers are free to sell boxed copies of Windows 7 until October 26, 2013 and that OEMs like Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer, Asus, Toshiba and the like can sell Windows 7 PCs until October, 2014. But that doesn’t mean that they will: Already you can’t find a Windows 7 computer anywhere at Best Buy and other places, and you will be forced to locate one online. And, if you do, it will probably be for limited older models that may be available. True, there is sometimes a way to downgrade or roll back a Win 8 computer into a Win 7 computer, but the process is expensive and agonizing if it can be done with the newer hardware. Mainstream support for Windows 7 will end in January, 2015.
Don’t let new systems scare you. Much of it is familiar, just renamed and in a different place. And there are lots of new features which may or may not be useful to you. First, however, you’re got to decide if “touch centric” computing even interest you. If you’re involved in office productivity apps, it may make life more difficult. But if you’re interested in tablet computing to work with photos, videos, music and the like, but don’t want to go in the Apple direction, the new interface may please you.