Windows 8: What’s New, What’s Different and What It Means To You

windows 8 logo

Later this week Microsoft will release Windows 8, their latest and greatest version of Windows. Unlike all earlier versions of Windows, Windows 8 is pretty much a complete re-working of the Windows we have today. It isn’t just a few speed improvements and some nicer looking graphics (though it does have those too).

Windows 8 is Microsoft’s view for the future of the computer, but before you run out and buy a new PC, or upgrade your current one, read on. We’ll explain what’s new and different here and what it means for you.

What’s New and What’s Different

Like Windows XP, Vista and 7 Microsoft has decided to come out with a few different versions of Windows. Thankfully they’ve dropped this down from the five versions they had when Windows 7, down to two: Windows RT and Windows 8. Now while both Windows 8 and Windows RT are very similar, they also are very different.

Windows RT

microsoft surface

Microsoft’s new Surface RT tablet

Windows RT is the version of Windows 8 you’ll see on a lot of Windows 8 tablets, it’s Microsoft’s answer to the iPad and Android tablets. It’s great for going online, using apps and taking notes or writing papers.

Windows RT runs on what is known as ARM processors, or the same type of processor that powers the iPhone, iPad and all the latest and greatest Android and Windows Phone 8 phones. With ARM processors, manufacturers like Dell, Lenovo ASUS, Samsung and even Microsoft (with their new Surface tablet) can create very thin tablets with great power and excellent battery life. And since these processors are similar to the ones in tablets like the iPad, they can also price them in that same $500 range the iPad costs.

windows 8 start screen 1

Windows RT brings most of Windows 8 to these tablets. All have the new Start homescreen, built-in apps like Messaging (for Facebook chat), Mail and People (things that wasn’t built-in for Windows 7), the ability run two apps side by side, play games through the Xbox app, and it also has access to all the new Windows 8 apps thanks to the Windows Store. And all Windows RT tablets will come with the latest, most touch friendly version of Microsoft Office (Office 2013) pre-loaded. And like Windows 8 Pro tablets, you can buy keyboard docks for most of these tablets to turn them into laptops.

Now there are two important things to note here. The first is to remember that these are more like Windows versions of the iPad, and while they run Windows they won’t have large 500 GB hard drives in them, instead going with smaller 32 or 64 GB solid state drives. If you have a lot of music, pictures or videos you will want to get an external hard drive.

windows 8 windows store

Windows RT has one other big problem– while it looks like Windows 8, and even has the traditional Windows desktop (it’s an app on the Start homescreen) you cannot run any older Windows apps on here. iTunes? Older games? Sorry, the only apps that will work on Windows RT tablets are the ones available in the Windows Store. You see, the problem is that those older apps were designed for PCs running Intel or AMD processors and don’t know how to work on these new ARM ones. App developers can update their apps for Windows RT and submit them to the Windows Store, but until they do they won’t work on your new Windows RT tablet.

On the bright side, since you can only download apps from the Windows Store there shouldn’t be any viruses on here.

Windows 8

samsung ativ smart pc pro

The Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro– One of the many tablet/laptops that run Windows 8

Now if you have a lot of older apps don’t worry, you can still run them on a new Windows 8 PC or tablet, you just need to make sure its a PC or tablet with an Intel or AMD processor inside, something with Windows 8. These PCs have full access to the desktop mode and can download and install any apps, even those not from the Windows Store.

windows 8 side by side apps

Running two apps side by side in Windows 8

Windows 8 is kinda like the perfect mix between old and new. You get all those new benefits software wise of Windows RT— the new Start homescreen, the touch friendly design, the Windows Store etc.– but you also have the full Windows desktop. This means that if you have an app– like an old game, older version of Office (Office 2013 isn’t included here) or iTunes– you can just download it here and it should work fine.

Windows 8 will also be available in tablets, as well as traditional laptops and desktops. Since Windows 8 was designed for both touchscreen tablets and keyboard and mouse PCs you’ll also be able to upgrade you’re current PC to Windows 8 if you want. We’ve been using Windows 8 on an older Windows 7 laptop without a touchscreen, and while it did take a few days to get used to, once we got used to it we actually found it to work really well. We actually found that it made that laptop even faster than it was with Windows 7.

All this being said, we also over the last few weeks have had a chance to use Windows 8 on some newer tablets and laptops with touchscreens and found it to be much better. Windows 8 is designed for touchscreens, and if you’re looking for a new computer than we recommend getting one that has it.

What This Means To You

Office Home & Student 2013 RT

Windows 8 is a pretty radical change to the Windows we all grew up with. And we’re not gonna lie, it’s not for everyone and it will take some time to get used to. And as much as I liked it in the few minutes I’ve spent with it on and off over the last few months (not enough time yet to give it a full review), I’m not sold on it enough to upgrade my Windows 7 laptop to it just yet. If your Windows 7 PC runs well right now and you don’t have the time to learn something new, you can and should wait.

But if you’re looking for a new PC, Windows 8 can be a game changer. For students this could bring us the computers we’ve all been waiting for. Great battery life, great apps, extremely portable and the ability to put it in a keyboard dock and use it with Word and OneNote to take real notes and write papers. It has the potential to be the best of an iPad and the best of a PC all in one.

As always though, if you’re looking for a new computer we recommend going over to your local Best Buy, Walmart or Staples and trying out some of these new Windows 8 computers for yourself. As we’ve said, this is a big change and may not be for everyone and the only one who will know if it’s right for you is you.

Posted on October 22, 2012, in Computers, Microsoft, Tablets and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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