One Line Overview
– everything you love about Windows 7 made better, with a bunch of touchscreen stuff added in.
One Paragraph Overview
Windows 8 builds upon the strengths of Windows 7, making even greater improvements to efficiency and ease of use. On top of these improvements, Microsoft has added a brand new suite of touch-friendly, mobile phone style “apps” that work in their own touch-friendly environment. Moving from this new environment to the familiar desktop is simple and generally seamless. Windows 8 is as easy and intuitive to use with a mouse and keyboard as it is with a touchscreen. There are still a few hard edges that need to be smoothed out but overall it is a very positive step up from Windows 7 that is much easier to learn than the move from XP to Vista or Windows 7 was.
The Full, Rambling Overview
Everything you know how to do in Windows 7 carries over to Win8. The one thing that has changed is the Start Menu and, let’s be honest, it was severely broken in Vista and Win7 anyway, so good riddance. As that is the one and only change, you only need to learn one new thing to be up and running. You only need to know that even though the Start button is gone, you can still click in the bottom-left corner where it used to be and open the new Start Screen. Alternatively, you can just hit the Windows key on your keyboard, which is what I have learned to do. All your familiar keyboard shortcuts will still work, MS have even added several new ones you can learn at your leisure, and things like Control Panel and Device Manager are just as they have been since Vista. It is all there and it works as well as it always has, even better in some cases.
OK, so you are wondering how I can possibly suggest that Win8 is so similar to Win7 when the only image you ever see of it is something totally alien to any Windows 7 user. The answer is simple (the good ones always are), that is the one thing that has changed and it isn’t all that different to the old Start Menu, really. Just imagine that the column of pinned icons on the left-hand side of the old Start Menu has been given a whole screen to sprawl over, which allows you to pin many more things to it. It’s also been made so that you can customise the hell out of it and get everything in exactly the order you want it. And when you want to find something that has not been pinned, you just right-click on the background and choose the only option – “All Apps” – which shows you everything that would previously have shown up under “All Programs” in the Win7 Start Menu.
“What are all those stupid looking, multi-coloured squares and rectangles!?!” I hear you ask. They are new additions, things that have not previously been a part of Windows. If you ignore them completely you will be no worse off. e.g. There are new music and video apps but if you don’t like them, Windows Media Player is still there and it works just as it does in Win7. (i.e. Not very well at all; it is one of the things I hate about Win7.) Some of them are actually OK – I like the new email app and the weather app is really good, too. And the tiles make them even better because they display up-to-date information, even if that app is not currently open. The email app shows the latest emails and the weather app shows the current weather, both without the need to go in and look for the information. There is also a Windows Store where you can go and download more, much like Apple’s App Store.
It has mostly been good so far but the reality is that there are still a few areas that don’t work as well as you might like. In some situations, moving between the new app interface and the desktop is a bit jarring. e.g. The default program for opening a PDF file is the new Reader app, which is a simple app that does its job nicely. The problem is that once you have read the file and closed the app, you are back at the Start Screen, not back in Explorer where you started. It’s not a disaster, you can get straight back to Explorer using the familiar ALT+Tab keyboard shortcut, but it is definitely not as slick as it is in older versions of Windows. The same thing happens with pictures and videos you want to look at from Explorer. If it gets really annoying, you can simply spend a few minutes making photos open in Windows Picture Viewer, videos open in Windows Media Player and PDFs in Adobe Reader or whatever else you use. Or you can do what I did and just get used to it.