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 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.

Windows 8's tile-based UIWindows 8's tile-based UI

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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  • 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
  • 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!!!
    http://classicshell.sourceforge.net/
  • 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.
  • JOSHSKORN
    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....
  • tomfreak
    win8 user here who finally get the grasp on how to use win8 wisely/effectively and possibly better than 7.

    People who hate win8 UI is either.
    1. denial to drastic change UI
    2. tried win8 for 5mins on some PC shop that they didnt really get the whole idea of how to effective use win8 UI, things like pinning and unpinning the shortcut to UI is a really important thing u need to do, so u can do something as productive as u were in win7. Startmenu will be forgotten when u do this.
  • Sensi23
    rdc85My Impression.... Lots of thing need to be learned......

    Not really, if you put aside the all new Modern UI part you basically just have to learn that windows key is your new home button, that you can type your search query right from the start screen and that you have to "ctrl+alt+del" to find the shutdown. The rest is rather business as usual or found using search.
  • I think I'll stick to my OS update policy: when a game I want to play doesn't work in my current OS or has significant fps increase in the new OS, i'll update... chears from portugal
  • Sensi23
    @ Tomfreak
    I am with you on this, I do prefer windows 8 [pro x64 w/ media center] over 7 ! There are a lot of subtle improvements and tweaks all over the place.

    What is rather funny is that you could find the same uninformed or ultra-conservative critics about XP and the UI changes, something people have forgotten (see "Windows 8 is the new XP" over zdnet).