The Definitive Windows 8 Review And User Guide

Windows 8: Mistake Or Misunderstood?

The user interface formerly known as Metro is heavily inspired by the tile-based UIs of Windows Phone 7, the Xbox 360, and Zune HD. So, the fact that we're now faced with the Windows 8 UI on the desktop isn't completely out of the blue. Microsoft has been pushing this for quite some time.

And yet, many in the enthusiast community are up in arms, labeling Windows 8 little more than a touchscreen interface haphazardly thrown on top of Windows 7. In some ways, it is. But the real truth is that Windows 8 is very much two different operating systems, and your experience depends on how you approach it. If you want a gadget-like experience, Windows 8 is Microsoft's take on the iOS/Android model, and the fundamentals of the Windows 8 UI are exceptionally solid. But only time will tell if Windows 8 can be a player in that market. No doubt we'll be reviewing Windows Phone 8- and Windows RT-based devices to better evaluate the company's execution there. On the other hand, if you're looking for a desktop-oriented Windows experience, it's possible to work around much of what power users claim to loathe.

I Currently Use Windows 7...

What the Windows 8 Desktop has over its predecessor is the updated File Explorer, revamped Task Manager, and new File History feature. However, if you're using a traditional keyboard/mouse-controlled desktop and already own Windows 7, those few features aren't worth the $200 that Microsoft's Windows 8 Pro upgrade will eventually cost. I will, however, be upgrading at the $40 promotional price. If you like what you see, now's the time to jump.

If you already have a Windows 7-based PC, I'll concede that there really are no killer reasons to upgrade to Windows 8 today. It's just not as efficient as Windows 7 for those of us slogging away with a keyboard and mouse. And I'm not so simple that switching around from an Xbox to a PC with a different user interface is going to confuse me.

I'm Shopping For A Laptop...

Increasingly, the laptops you find on store shelves are simply going to include Windows 8. Whether that's a pro or con depends on the input hardware your mobile platform of choice sports. The two Windows 8-based Satellite laptops that Toshiba was kind enough to send over are perfect examples.

Although the Satellite S995 sells with Windows 8 installed, it's clear that Toshiba didn't design the hardware for any specific Windows 8 feature. It's equipped with a standard laptop trackpad, which is more frustrating to use than an actual mouse. So, when desktop users complain about navigating Windows 8 with a mouse, just imagine how frustrating it is with a trackpad.

On the other hand, the Satellite P845t-S4310 was clearly conceptualized with Windows 8 in mind (and I'm not just talking about its touchscreen). Using Windows 8 with the P845t's modern clickpad is an absolute dream. It turns out that you don't need a touchscreen to make Windows 8 come alive; just a touch.

I cannot stress this enough if you're shopping for a Windows 8-based notebook: clickpad, clickpad, clickpad. Windows 8 doesn't play well with old-school laptop trackpads, which suffer from jumpy, laggy gestures.

In fact, I was so impressed with the Satellite P845t-S4310's clickpad that I'm now quite anxious to try out some of the Windows 8-based multi-touch peripherals, such as Logitech's Wireless Touchpad, on my desktop. If some of these Windows 8-compatible add-ons can do for Windows 8 on the desktop what Apple's Magic Trackpad did for my OS X-based Hackintosh, I'm sold.

Windows 8 Versus Android And iOS...

The difference between Microsoft's Windows 8 UI, iOS, and Android is that this latest touch-oriented operating system was clearly built for work. Think about it. Windows 8 managed to avoid the awkward text selection and copy/paste issues that more mobile-focused operating systems had in their early days. Right out of the gate you can snap apps. The on-screen keyboard splits in half for thumb typing, and the app controls are placed along the screen edges.

Windows 8-based devices are meant to be gripped, not held out with one hand and tapped on by the other. You're clearly supposed to perform a lot of input, not just consume content. After getting to use the Windows 8 UI on Toshiba's touchscreen-equipped Satellite, I'll definitely be keeping a close eye on Windows RT devices over the holiday season.

How Does Windows 8 Affect Microsoft In The Marketplace?

Although Microsoft would like you to think that it's creating a seamless experience across devices and form factors, it's not. Windows 8, Windows RT, Windows Phone 8, and the Xbox 360 are all very different platforms, and technical barriers prevent you from, say, playing Xbox games on anything but an Xbox. Windows Phone 8 is just out there on its own. Windows RT apps won't run on Windows 8 unless they're ported to Windows 8. And legacy Windows software won't run on anything except Windows 8. In fact, you can have a copy of an app in Windows 8 and be forced to buy it a second time for your Windows RT-based devices.

Update (11/03/12): We posted an addendum to this review that clarifies the relationship between Windows 8 and Windows RT from the perspectives of developers and end-users. See Windows 8: Clarifying Codecs, Compiling, And Compatibility for more.

So yeah, Windows 8 basically just replaces Windows 7. The one thing Microsoft does manage to achieve with Windows 8 (and this was really the point all along) is unifying the interface between all of those disparate pieces of hardware. 

The software ecosystem doesn't facilitate compatibility between platforms, unfortunately, but the way in which we interact with those devices is basically the same. Live tiles are replacing windows. That's what's happening, and it's a big deal.

Personal technology is deeply integrated in four areas that the heavy hitters are battling to conquer: PCs, tablets, smartphones, and the TV. Apple has PCs, tablets, and smartphones. But Apple TV is a joke. Google has tablets and smartphones. Chromebooks are not PCs, and Google TV is also a joke. Only Microsoft has troops on the ground in all four theaters, and now it has a consistent user-facing experience for them all.

So, Did Microsoft Hit The Mark?

I have no trouble admitting that I started this story very bearish on Windows 8. But as I went, exploring each of the operating system's features, I grew to like it more and more. For all of the reasons covered in the preceding 13 500 words, we're giving Windows 8 Tom's Hardware Recommended Buy award.

Although a missing Start menu is scaring off many power users, the fact is that Windows 8 does everything Windows 7 does, plus some. If you want a familiar Windows experience on your desktop, Windows 8 makes that possible. All of the software you're used to using works the way it always has under the Windows 8 Desktop app. But Windows 8 also introduces the viability of a true touchscreen-only x86 tablet. Not the ARM-based devices currently dominating the market, but an actual PC tablet. Touchscreen-only Windows 8-based devices may very well be what many in the technology press were hoping the original iPad would be: something able to transcend the consumption model and facilitate true productivity. But because we can't give out our Best of Tom's Hardware award based on potential, Windows 8 receives our Recommended Buy honor instead.

Microsoft's latest may be called Windows 8, but it's far more than Windows 7+1. Love it or hate it, this is the biggest thing to happen to Windows since the Start menu. Hell, it might even outrank the window.

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  • 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....