The Definitive Windows 8 Review And User Guide

The Windows 8 Desktop And Task Manager

One of the first realities that power users will need to accept is that everything about the traditional Windows experience, which we're all pretty familiar with, is now contained within an app. That is to say the Desktop and every application running on it is treated as one of the Windows 8 UI's apps. The Desktop can even be launched from the Start screen, just like any other app.

As bizarre as that sounds, there isn't much fundamentally different in the Windows 8 Desktop than there was under Windows 7. Aside from the missing Start menu, Windows 8 does away with the Aero theme, it adds a ribbon-style file menu to File Explorer, and it features an enhanced (and also simplified) Task Manager.

Start Menu

Alas, the Start button and its associated pop-up menu didn't make the cut for Windows 8. We know that the Start screen replaces the Start menu, but what about the Start button? Although there isn't a Start button attached to the taskbar in Windows 8, if you move your mouse cursor to the bottom-left corner, a sneaky auto-hide Start button appears.

The button is actually an accurate representation of your Start screen layout. If you move your tiles and groups around, the little squares on the hidden Start button change accordingly, too.


By ditching Aero, windows no longer appear to be made of translucent glass. Also missing are the drop shadows, which conveyed depth in Windows Vista and 7.

Instead, the Windows 8 taskbar and window borders are flat and square. Those borders now take on solid colors, while the taskbar transparency is toned-down to the point of being barely opaque.

Though the Aero theme is no more, Windows 8 retains its Snap, Peek, and Shake features, which were originally introduced as Aero Snap, Aero Peek, and Aero Shake.

Dragging a window by its title bar to either side of the screen still snaps it, maximizing it to one-half of the desktop.

Hovering the mouse cursor over any taskbar icon still generates a thumbnail preview of that application's windows and/or tabs, and shaking a window still minimizes all other windows.

File Explorer

File Explorer is Windows 8's reworked file manager, formerly known as Windows Explorer. The new file manager gains a ribbon-style file menu and new Quick Access Toolbar.

The Quick Access Toobar is essentially a set of small icons for common file manager operations. It sits right in the window title bar, directly to the right of the app icon. By default, the File Explorer's Quick Access Toolbar sports the Properties and New Folder icons, though Undo, Redo, Delete, and Rename can also be added.

The new file menu contains File, Home, Share, and View menus.

The File menu pops out, somewhat like an upside-down Start menu, to reveal the options to "Open new window", "Open command prompt", "Open Windows PowerShell", Delete History, Help, and Close. Other than Close, all menu items have sub-menus with additional options like opening the command prompt as an administrator.

The remaining menu labels, Home, Share, and View, pop-out a ribbon-style menu with their own options. Double-clicking on any of them causes the pop-out ribbon to dock and remain open. The far end of the file menu strip has an arrow button to expand or minimize the ribbon, next to a Help icon that launches Windows Help and Support.

The navigation bar still contains controls for stepping back, forward, and up a directory, as well as a location and search boxes. Likewise, the left-hand pane remains mostly the same as in Windows 7, containing links to Favorites, Libraries, Homegroup, Computer, and Network.

The status bar, which sits at the bottom of the File Manager window, lists the total number of files in a given directory on the far left side. The far right hosts buttons that switch items in the window to a Details view (a vertical list with file information) or large thumbnails. 

All told, we're putting Microsoft's new File Explorer in our column of pros favoring Windows 8. Unlike other areas of the operating system, this feature offers power users more control in a cleaner, high-customizable package.

Task Manager

The simplified default view in Windows 8's Task Manager only lists the name of currently-open applications. Simply highlight one and select End Task to kill it. The Task Manager lists desktop applications and Windows 8 UI apps, with nothing distinguishing one from the other.

Although the new Task Manager might look like major downgrade from the previous version, which relayed a lot more information, simply select More details (check the image above) to get all of the old functionality back, plus more.

Better still, Windows 8's Task Manager opens back up in whichever form it was in the last time you closed it. If you're a power user, you won't have to click More details every time you want to look at App history, Performance, or Services.

The Process tab details the resources consumed by each running application, along with background and Windows processes. Sort the list according to any of the horizontally-listed categories, allowing you to identify a piece of software chewing up your CPU cycles, your memory, hard drive space, or network throughput.

The next tab is labeled Performance, and it contains utilization over time graphs for your processor, memory, disk, Bluetooth connection, and Ethernet-based link. Select any of the graphs on the left side of the screen to make them larger on the right, adding more detailed information.

Although the first two tabs don't give you any information you couldn't find in Windows 7's Task Manager (just more, better-organized information), the next tab is completely new. The App history tab lists the total running CPU time, network usage, metered network usage, and the amount of data consumed in updating the live tiles of each Windows 8 UI app.

Next is the Startup tab, which lists all of the apps that launch when Windows 8 boots. This replaces the Startup tab in MSConfig (officially, System Configuration) in Windows Vista and 7. Simply select an item and click Disable to prevent that app from launching at startup.

The Users tab is similar to the Processes tab, but sorted by user account. The Details tab is essentially the old Processes tab from Windows 7's Task Manager, and the Services tab appears to be unchanged.

Microsoft's reworked Task Manager is another Windows 8 advantage, both for the casual Windows user and enthusiasts. Even though it initially launches in a simplified view, a more detailed view clearly surpasses the detail available from Windows 7.

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    Top Comments
  • luke904
    Who the hell wants a touchscreen on a desktop computer? Or even a laptop for that matter? A mouse and keyboard is far superior. It's faster and alot more comfortable.
  • amuffin
    Too "blocky" for me. :P
  • tpi2007
    The interface in Windows 8 does not allow you to do the same things as in Windows 7.

    1. The Start screen does not place tiles of recently used applications first for your convenience;

    2. The Start screen does not allow for program tiles to display jump lists of recently opened files for your convenience;

    3. The search function does not display results from all categories in one go, meaning that if what you are looking for does not fall in the first category, you have to click on the right category, meaning more work than previously;

    4. The search function does not have a "See more results" option that opens a window with all search results so that you can browse at will whenever you want; useful for opening multiple files, for example, files that contain a specific text string like work files that have financial reports, or pictures that have a specific theme / keywords to them;

    5. The Start screen search function also has the following features missing:

    - delete some / all of those files; in the Start screen you can't perform file operations;

    - send those files to a zip folder, extract compressed files; or send files as e-mail attachements, with the Start screen you can't because it doesn't have context menus, because the interface was designed with tablets primarily in mind, with desktops as an afterthought, meaning they didn't have time to implement desktop features properly;

    6. When you are browsing the Start screen you are taken away from the desktop. This has several consequences:

    - any program that requires you attention does not show on the Start screen. Examples: a finished download, Steam notifications, Anti-virus / Internet Security packages notifications, a multiple file copy / transfer that just finished, etc;

    - you can't see programs or webpages that automatically refresh (Outlook, Thunderbird or any e-mail client that checks for messages periodically, certain news sites, facebook, your e-mail account), because you are on the Start screen.

    7. These annoyances do get in the way because they make the workflow feel clunky, it takes longer to achieve the same results, for crying out loud, they even managed to hide the Shut down, Restart, Sleep, Hibernate, etc, options, making it take longer to get there, whichever way you want to get there: Charms menu, Ctrl+Alt+Del or Alt+F4 when you are on the Desktop with all programs minimized. How screwed up is that ? More, in the Charms Menu they are under Settings. Shutting down your PC isn't a setting LOL, it's a function. How can they screw up such basic things ? People have come to the ridicule of suggesting making our own options on the desktop or on the Start screen. I'm sorry, when people have to start making their own basic easy access to Windows features something is seriously wrong.

    8. Along wit the problems above, Microsoft brought back the "Up" button in the File Explorer, when it is plainly redundant now. Had they made a better job of explaining how beautifully simple Windows 7's address bar works, the "Up" button wouldn't be needed again. The address bar lets you explore all the directory tree that is above the directory you're in, you just have to click the folder you want to go to, it is not only faster in the sense you only have to click once to go, for example, two directory levels up, because you just click on the directory name you want to go to, as it is also much clearer, as the directory name is plainly written for you to know where you're going.

    The only reason they put the Start screen as the first screen you see is because they want you to look at all those apps and the app store, hoping you'll buy some apps. I have nothing against them wanting to make money, but Windows has lost functionality and ease of use the way they implemented it, and it honestly feels insulting that they sacrificed desktop usage just so they could show you how nice their tablets work. People haven't had any difficulties in adapting to using mobile OSes. People use Nokia's Symbian, iOS and Android, and have no difficulty in using desktop OSes; having the same user interface for devices with different input methods, which has been shown on several reviews to be a compromise, serves no useful purpose other than to promote their hopeful money making machine.

    Intel's CEO, Paul Otellini is right, Windows 8 was launched without being ready. I bet they are going to be adding features very soon. They didn't even manage to ship the Windows RT tablets with the final version of Office 2013 Home and Student - it's not even the full suite, so it should take less time to get it ready on time, talk about praise for Steven Sinofsky's ability to release software on schedule, he did it in the past, he failed this time, according to reports the final version will only be made available in January.
  • Other Comments
  • deftonian
    decisions, decisions... part of me wants to upgrade, the other part is afraid there's no turning back. I'll keep reading reviews and eventually make the decision. However, thanks Tom's, and not for posting the review, but for not posting another apple article.... :)
  • mayankleoboy1
    Adam, where are the UI performance improvement benchmarks ?

    Win8 is supposed to have everything GPU accelerated, to "better handle big texts" like MS-Word.
    So how will you measure FPS in MS-Word ?
    Plus, how do you measure the 2D performance improvements, the much touted smoothness of win8 ?
  • amuffin
    Too "blocky" for me. :P
  • Anonymous
    Upgraded to Windows 8 Pro yesterday for $15 on a brand new all in one computer I bought the same day and already, have lots of problems. A lot of my the software I had running on Windows 7 Ultimate worked fine and now don't work at all. The brand new computer I bought with the touch screen... well the touch screen doesn't work and the manufacturer has not driver update to fix it. I'm hoping this will change in time.
  • jasonw223
    Just bought 3 copies for my desktop / HTPC / wife's PC. There are quite a few haters out there - but I quite like it. I think if more people gave it a try (like the reviewer) that it would grow on them.

    Also, if anyone wants to buy my Transformer Prime, let me know lol.
  • DjEaZy
    ... classic shell FTW!!!
  • agnickolov
    I'm getting an upgrade copy for my wife's computer. She's struggling with Vista, so this should help I hope... (It better, she's getting a 128GB Samsung 830 as well.) For myself I'll likely stick with Windows 7 Ultimate.
  • DjEaZy
    agnickolovI'm getting an upgrade copy for my wife's computer. She's struggling with Vista, so this should help I hope... (It better, she's getting a 128GB Samsung 830 as well.) For myself I'll likely stick with Windows 7 Ultimate.

    ... why you are torturing your wife... it's hardly an update from vista to 8... the one is slow but windows, the other is quick, but nothing like windows... be a good husband and get her Win7 too...
  • SteelCity1981
    Without Aero the Windows in Windows 8 looks like something you would see in Windows Windows 9x which makes Windows 7 with Aero look more modern then Windows 8 without Aero. I would even say Windows XP's Luna Windows looks more modern then Windows 8 Windows.

    I gave Windows 8 a chance for months in its preview version and not much has changed since the preview version went to the RTM version and always found myself navigating back to Windows 7. I mean Windows 8 felt like an OS that had things i didn't want then an OS that had things I did want. I didn't want a Modern UI as my main screen. I didn't want MS to get rid of the start menu, I didn't want Aeroless Windows that looks like something you would see on Windows 9x. Sure there are programs like classic shell the helps ease the pain of not having a start menu, but that won't be a gurantee to always work esp if MS tries to block it from working with future update patches to Windows 8. And even if they don't patch it all i'm doing is trying to make Windows 8 look like Windows 7 so why don't just stick with Windows 7 instead if that's the case.

    Now I think Windows 8 is great on touch screen devices, but for pc's it's another story. Which is why I always thought that MS should have made two diff versions of Windows 8 one for touch screens and one for non touch screens without the Modern UI and with a start menu. Those two simple changes would have made a lot more people that use anon touch screen pc more satisfied with Windows 8.

    I read people on here saying people are haters of Windows 8, but those so called haters of Windows 8 reflect on reality off the frustration that most consumers will feel the first time they try to use Windows 8. I think what some of you are missing is the avg consumer that aren't tech savvy doesn't like a lot of change presented to them at once, because it took them a while to understand the Windows that they are using now and making a big change to that will generate almost instant frustration and this is where I feel MS is at a big disconnect with Windows 8 and the avg consumer who are vastly makeup the computer market and when you impose something that seems radical to them and what they have been soo used to for years, it's going to have a big negative effect on that product.
    Now that I think about it, I don't even use my Start Button. Everything I need, I have tucked away in quick launch. Very rarely do I find myself looking at my Start Button, unless I need the Control Panel.
  • Axelion
    I just upgraded to Windows 8 and love it so far. I rarely even use the start button on Windows 7 so it doesn't bother me that Microsoft removed the button from Windows 8. Also Windows 8 boots up and shuts down lot quicker than Windows 7. My only complain is that they removed Windows Aero which is one feature that I like in Windows 7.
  • SteelCity1981
    AxelionI just upgraded to Windows 8 and love it so far. I rarely even use the start button on Windows 7 so it doesn't bother me that Microsoft removed the button from Windows 8. Also Windows 8 boots up and shuts down lot quicker than Windows 7. My only complain is that they removed Windows Aero which is one feature that I like in Windows 7.

    That's because Windows 8 doesn't actually shutdown or go into a full boot because, it uses a hybrid boot and Shutdow methods by defualt which is why the boot time and shutdown time are faster. If you turn off the hybred mode in the power settings it will boot and shutdown normally like Windows 7 and won't boot any faster or any quicker on shutdown.
  • killerclick
    Last time I rebooted my computer was 7 days and 22 hours ago, according to Rainmeter, so faster boot time doesn't mean anything to me.
    As for this review, nice job of pacing and leading, right out of the textbook. I understand that lots of hardware vendors advertise on Tom's hardware and that their fortunes are tied to Windows 8 generating more sales, but I'll sit this one out. Windows 7 until 2020 for me.
  • luke904
    Who the hell wants a touchscreen on a desktop computer? Or even a laptop for that matter? A mouse and keyboard is far superior. It's faster and alot more comfortable.
  • brandonvi
    man i hope microsoft makes a PC verson of windows 8 eather in SP1 or when they put out windows 9 because what they have there is a OS for a smartphone or tablet

    just got to pray i am not going to be stuck with windows 7 for the next 8-10 years
  • Super_Nova
    Is it me or does the new Windows logo look a bit (much) like the Swedish flag?
  • Sensi23
    A few missing details: when you move your mouse pointer on the lower left corner to make the "start screen" preview appears (page:"The Windows 8 Desktop And Task Manager") you can right click the preview which will show you some utilities links (task manager, control panel, run, command prompt, etc), you should also mention the convenient "alt+tab" to switch between opened apps/windows and which is may be more convenient than the "switcher" for keyboard users, also the mandatory "ctrl+alt+del" to reach the logout/shutdown screen.

    To give hesitant people my useless opinion as a decade old IT pro working all the day long on the desktop : I don't miss windows 7 at all and I don't think that my desktop productivity has taken an hit: as far as you learn the few mandatory shortcuts you will be more than fine, with the best Microsoft OS to date.
  • Sensi23
    luke904Who the hell wants a touchscreen on a desktop computer? Or even a laptop for that matter? A mouse and keyboard is far superior. It's faster and alot more comfortable.
    Maybe people not too obtuse and who we will use the touch functionality whereas it is the most convenient : on the go, wherever your keyboard and mouse are of no use...
  • rdc85
    My Impression....

    Lots of thing need to be learned......
  • abbadon_34
    i love microsoft, but hate apple, and thus since windows 8 is a step toward apple (from microsoft) i hate win8 . why did you have to screw with a good thing? XP was awesome for a decade. win7 could be too. come onnnnnnnnn....