Windows 8: A little different, but still Windows

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Trevor Whalen, Staff Writer

You may have seen commercials on TV for Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 8. The distinguishing feature of Windows 8 is a touch-screen driven welcome menu, and this marks the first time the company has included touch-capability on a desktop OS.

You don’t need scientific polling to know that Macs are more popular than PCs with college students. The University of Dallas is no exception, but if you are among those with a PC – especially if you own other Microsoft products – you should read up on Windows 8.

For details, I refer readers to the reviews of Windows 8 across the web, such as at Wired or PCWorld. I read what these publications had to say and I also browsed Microsoft’s website to get an idea of Windows 8 and its capabilities.

Windows 8 has enough new features to make it different from previous Windows OSs. At the same time, it is still essentially the traditional Windows OS users are familiar with.

The most noticeable difference between Windows 8 and all prior Windows OSs is the “Start Screen” that greets users when Windows 8 starts up. This is a tile-based interface designed primarily for touch-screen use. If you’ve used either an Xbox 360 or a Windows Phone, those systems’ main-screen interfaces have a similar look and feel.

Each tile is for a Windows 8 application. Default apps include one for your email, one for all your contacts (on Twitter, etc.), one for news, and so on. The Start Screen and all the app menus can be navigated with either mouse and keyboard or by touch-screen (depending on the computer you’re using). Using a touch-screen with the Start Screen is more intuitive.

Behind the Start Screen is the same Windows desktop you’d expect. You access it by tapping the “desktop app” in the Start Screen. At first glance, this desktop looks just like Windows 7. But there are a few substantial differences.

The most noted is that the traditional Start menu, which each Windows OS has had at the bottom left, isn’t there anymore. In its place is a folder icon that takes you to the “My Computer” screen. If you hover your cursor over the bottom left corner of the screen, a pop-up menu will allow you to return to the tile-based Start Screen.

Applications in Windows 8 are divided into two groups. One is “Windows 8 apps,” which includes all the ones you launch from the Start Screen. The other is “Desktop applications,” which are traditional Windows programs you launch from the desktop. So to use both apps, you have to switch back and forth between the Start Screen and the desktop.

Right-clicking on a tile in the Start Screen brings up a menu at the bottom of the screen. Here you can choose to “unpin” the app from the Start Screen. Likewise, when on the desktop, you can right-click on an icon and then choose to pin its desktop application to the Start Screen.

On top of the default apps already present on the Start Screen are those you can buy from the Windows Store. Any music or video you wish to buy are organized under the “Xbox Music” and “Xbox Video” apps. Such titles refer to these stores having started on the Xbox Live marketplace.

The touch-screen based Start Screen and the Windows 8 apps are the most noticeable distinguishing features of Windows 8. But there are other “under-the-hood” improvements with Windows 8 that makes it faster than Windows 7, which I haven’t gotten into here (and which you can read about on any number of tech websites).

The main goal for Microsoft with this OS was to synchronize their products into one single family. Windows 8 allows you to sync together your Microsoft products by signing in with your Microsoft account. If you use a 360 or Windows Phone then you have a Microsoft account – just sign in to Windows 8 with those credentials. You can also choose to create a local account on your Windows 8 device.

With Windows 8, Microsoft is going in the direction of modern OSs but not all the way. If you just want to mess around with Windows 8 apps, you can remain in the Start Screen where using touch-enabled navigation is preferred. But when you want to do anything more, you have to go to the traditional Windows desktop; and it’s time to pull out a mouse and keyboard.

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