Like Windows 7 was to Windows XP (see our previous post on the differences between Windows XP and 7), Windows 8 is a “completely re-imagined” version of Windows from start to finish. It has been rewritten so that it can run not only on desktops and laptops, but also on tablet PCs in a much more intuitive way than before. We previously wrote how Windows 7 would be very different from Windows XP and could take some time for new users to become reacclimatized.
Well, Windows 8 is an even bigger change. For most people, the change was too big of a shock. The removal of the Start button caused too much criticism and Microsoft finally relented and added it back in Windows 10. Windows 10 is not a huge jump from Windows 8 under the hood, so that’s why I’m comparing both Windows 8 and 10 to Windows 7.
1. No Start Button – Metro UI
Never liked the Start Button? Well, it’s gone in Windows 8 by default. It’s now replaced by the Metro UI. Yes, Microsoft has said there will be a way to revert back to the traditional desktop we are all used to (thank god), but by default it’ll be set to the new UI interface. I’ve played around with Windows 8 on a few test machines and I have to say that even though I think it’s a great interface for a tablet, I was not at all excited about using it with a mouse and keyboard. It looks a little nicer, but that’s about it. And clicking at the bottom left and not getting my typical start menu pop up was just too much change, even for me.
Obviously, this was added back in Windows 10, though the Start Menu was upgraded to include those new Windows apps. Also, the Metro apps phrase has been replaced with the term Universal Windows Platform apps.
2. Simpler Task Manager
Ever noticed what tabs you actually used in Task Manger up till now? Probably just Applications and Processes. That’s about all I ever use and normally just to kill off some processor hungry rouge program. What you see above is the new Task Manager! Yeah, that’s it. Just a list of apps running that you can kill with one click. What about processes you ask? Well, click on More Details, and you get a nicely split list of applications and background processes along with a heat map of CPU and memory usage.
Pretty nice actually! That’s one change I am looking forward too. The current task manager was too detailed and overly complicated for the average user. This one makes it a breeze for anyone to use.
3. Improvements to Copy, Move, Rename and Delete
Yes, this may sound trivial, but if you really think about it, you probably move, delete, rename or copy a file/folder several times a day, if not more. These four basic operations have pretty much been the same for years and through all versions of Windows. In Windows 8/10, they get vastly improved!
Firstly, when you copy stuff around, especially when you perform multiple copy operations, all of the info is consolidated into one dialog. No more doing 10 copies and having 10 different windows pop up. Now it looks like this:
What you’ll also notice is the new pause feature. Finally, you can pause a copy operation in the middle of it! Yay! What’s really cool, though, is if you click More Details, you can see the speed of the data transfer, the trend and the amount of data left in the transfer.
4. The New Windows Explorer
Say hello to the ribbon interface! You’ve probably already been introduced to it in Office 2007 and Office 2010 and now it makes its way into Windows itself. Love it or hate it, it’s there as a permanent fixture. Here’s what the new UI will look like:
What do you think about this change? Like it or not? Like I said before, Windows 8/10 has been completely reimagined and you can clearly see that with all the major differences.
5. Fast Startup Mode
Boot times have always been an issue with Windows and they have tried their best to fix that with new power states like hibernation and sleep. Unfortunately, those have their own set of problems. In Windows 8/10, there is a new fast startup mode (probably going to be called something else later on), which is a combination of a cold boot plus hibernation. Basically, this will be like “restarting” your PC without actually fully restarting it. You’ll still get a fresh user session with everything closed, etc like you just restarted Windows, but it’ll take significantly less time.
6. Plug-in Free Browsing
Not only does IE 11 significantly change the UI, it also changes the way you will be browsing. IE 11 is favoring HTML 5 over the traditional plug-in architecture and will run by default with no plugins. If you need to use something like Adobe Flash for a site, you can switch to a “desktop” view, but for the most part, they are phasing plugin support out. WOW! That is huge. And pretty bad news for Adobe Flash. Even though Apple doesn’t support Flash on their devices, Microsoft also moving in that direction is a major paradigm shift for the entire Internet.
In Windows 10, IE has been replaced with Microsoft Edge, a new standards-adopting browser from Microsoft that is very good. If you live in the Microsoft ecosystem, then using Edge is actually better than Chrome and Firefox. However, since I use Google for pretty much everything else, Chrome still is my default browser.
7. Reengineered Boot Experience
Haven’t we all gotten sick of the same tired list of “Safe Mode”, “Safe Mode with Networking”, etc., etc. when booting Windows with advanced options. It still looks a DOS command prompt, even in Windows 7. With Windows 8/10, that all changes. The boot experience is now very pretty and reminds me of setting up my iPhone when I upgraded it to iOS 5. You get nice screens to help you join a wireless network, pick your settings, etc.
8. Sign in using Microsoft Account
With Windows 8/10, you can now sign into your PC using your online Microsoft account. That’s right, Windows 8/10 is moving to the cloud (a little). With OneDrive integration also included in Windows 8/10, you can sign in using Microsoft credentials and have your files, settings, apps, etc. stored in the cloud. You can log into another Windows 8/10 machine and all of that will follow you automatically.
It’ll keep track of all your favorites in IE/Edge, your desktop wallpaper, and lots more. You can buy extra storage and store your files on OneDrive and access them online or on your mobile device including the iPad, iPhone, and Android devices.
9. Refresh/Reset Your PC
Two cool new features of Windows 8/10 are the refresh and reset options. Reset will remove all your personal data, apps, and settings and reinstall Windows. Refresh will keep all data, apps and settings and reinstall Windows. If you ever had to do this before in Windows XP or 7, you know what a real pain it is to try and restore Windows without deleting your personal data. And what happens if your PC doesn’t boot at all? Well, you can now refresh or reset from the boot screens.
10. Scaling for Different Screen Sizes
Along with the new UI interface, there have been many improvements in Windows 8/10 for scaling to different screen resolutions, screen sizes and pixel densities. Even though this may seem minor, you will be able to use Windows 8/10 on everything from a small Windows phone to a giant 34 inch screen with 4K or higher resolution! A lot of the apps in Windows 8/10 will be designed to automatically adjust to these different screen sizes and provide more/less content based on the size.
Overall, the Windows team has spent a lot of time trying to get things right and Windows 8/10 is a big step forward for PCs (mostly Windows 10). What are your thoughts about Windows 8/10? Do you enjoy using your PC? Let us know in the comments! Enjoy!
Update - Windows 10 is on the way. This latest iteration of Microsoft's desktop OS looks set to leave both Windows 7 and Windows 8 in the dust, and we can't wait for the full release. It's sporting some seriously cool features, too - the ability to flick between separate desktop environments, integration of Microsoft's digital assistant 'Cortana' and the return of the traditional start menu all have us pretty excited.
To find out when you can expect to get your hands on the full RTM version of Windows 10, click here.
Check out how it stacks up against the previous OS in our full comparison: Windows 10 vs Windows 8.1.
Or, to find out what's in the latest technical preview build, take a look at our expert analysis.
Support for Windows XP came to an end in April 2014, and Microsoft has set a date of January 2015 for the withdrawal of mainstream Windows 7 support. This doesn’t mean Windows 8’s predecessor is out of the game, however, and remains a popular option for consumers and business users alike.
In fact, recent market share statistics revealed that users choosing to move on from Windows XP are actually opting for Windows 7 rather than Windows 8 or 8.1, with Microsoft’s latest operating system not being welcomed as quickly as had been hoped. Until Microsoft stops support for Windows 7, people will continue to choose it over the alternative.
What, then, is the best option for your PC? Following XP’s demise, the upgrade candidates were Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, and we have broken down the key features to help you decide which is the better choice (fast forward to our verdict).
1. Boot time
Windows 8 machines only take 10-15 seconds to boot up, with some switching on even faster depending on the SSD. Gone are the days when you have to distract yourself by going to make a cup of tea while your system wakes up.
But how have we gotten to this point? Microsoft engineers combined the hibernation and shutdown modes into one for Windows 8, and Windows 8.1 uses a hybrid boot mode that allows the PC to start up much more quickly. The kernel lets it hibernate instead of shutting down completely, and the use of cores makes it possible to start-up in seconds.
Winner: Windows 8 – The faster the machine boots up, the more time you are able to spend on doing more productive things. By the end of the multiple year lifespan of your PC, this can add up to hours of reclaimed time.
2. Enterprise features
Windows 8.1 has more enterprise features than Windows 7, with Windows to Go featured on the Enterprise edition allowing users to start a personalised version of Windows from a USB or any other machine running Windows 7 or 8. It also means that the Windows Store is enabled by default, allowing users to access apps across multiple machines.
IT admins can virtually run Windows without any third-party software. Adding in the optional Hyper-V support for your copy of 8.1 allows you to connect to a server.
Windows 8.1 also has better support for managing mobile devices, with tap-to-print support via NFC and enhanced biometrics, malware resistance and encryption also included.
But IT departments around the world have given Windows 8.1 the cold shoulder in favour of its older siblings. In fact, HP told IT Pro that Windows 7 is the most popular choice for companies upgrading from XP.
“[Businesses] are ignoring Windows 8,” said HP project manager Jeff Wood.
What enterprise customers prize over everything is stability, and Windows 7 has time, familiarity, extensive testing and total peripheral compatibility on its side.
Those upgrading from Windows 8 to 8.1 have also run into problems, with users complaining the update broke simple things such as the ability to print.
Winner: Draw – Although Windows 8 has more enterprise features as a default, Windows 7 has the benefit of being tried and tested. Then again, further updates for 8.1 have fixed many of the biggest problems inherent to previous iterations of the OS.
Microsoft used Windows 8 as a guise under which to revamp the engine, and the results is a much faster system that consumes fewer resources than before. This makes it a better choice than Windows 7 for low-end PCs.
The redesign opts for simple colours and fewer visual effects, also contributing to the increased speed due to resources saved compared to the Aero Glass effect of Windows 7.
Overall, Windows 8.1 is better for everyday use and benchmarks than Windows 7, and extensive testing has revealed improvements such as PCMark Vantage and Sunspider. The difference, however, are minimal.
Winner: Windows 8 – It’s faster and less resource intensive.
The front-facing user interface that characterises Windows 8 has been a huge talking point since it was revealed, and there are several reasons for that. For some, the radical redesign has always felt more like two operating systems meshed together, and it has become the most discussed element of Windows’ latest operating system.
When switching on the computer, users are greeted with the now-familiar Start screen – a page of apps and live tiles. This Metro interface includes everything in the form of apps, including the classic desktop mode that has proven to be the preferred view for so many. In addition, apps like IE 11 are great for touch screen web browsing, but not much else.
But even the desktop looks a little different on Windows 8, despite the fact that Windows 8.1 did feature the long-awaited return of the start button. This doesn’t, however, come with the return of the Start menu (thankfully confirmed for Windows 9 in 2015), instead simply switching users between screens.
To say the revised interface has had a polarising effect is an understatement, and there is no shortage of people who have complained about Metro since it was released. Among their arguments – an interface designed for touch doesn’t make sense on a desktop computer.
Windows 8.1 has gone some way towards fixing the problem, however, as users can now choose to avoid Metro entirely and boot directly to desktop. Spend a little time setting up the OS, and you can get a comparable, if not slightly better, experience.
There are real UI improvements with 8.1. You can add Start bars to dual monitors with separate wallpapers on each. There’s also a fast universal search tight there on the Start screen, which you can access by hitting the Windows key and typing to search local files, OneDrive files, apps, settings and the internet. You can even browse OneDrive files through File Explorer (aka Windows Explorer).
Winner: Windows 7 – The classic, familiar desktop remains popular for a reason, and thus wins the day. Windows 8 simply tries to do too much too quickly and, even though the 8.1 update allows users the option of booting straight to desktop, Metro still has a nasty habit of popping up when it’s not welcome.
Security is a massive issue for both individual users and businesses and, as the most popular desktop operating system, Windows is sadly the primary target for malware and viruses.
Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 share many security features, both of them using BitLocker Drive encryption, but 8.1 goes one step further by enabling them by default. You can always download Microsoft Security Essentials for Windows 7, and it’s free, but its younger brother has it already built into the system.
Secure booting on UEFI systems is also included with 8.1, making it much harder for rogue malware to infect the bootloader. PCs running Windows 8.1 can also automatically connect to VPNs.
Winner: Windows 8 – The latest version of Windows smartly has more security features set as default.