Windows 8: Big differences from Win7, and it works!

By Karen Stagg, Member, Golden Gate Computer Society
March 2012 issue, GGCS newsletter
editor (at)

Windows 8 is substantially different from previous versions of Windows, and, though it requires a learning curve, the task is not insurmountable, says GGCS member Ernie Ganas, who helped about 75 guests and members understand the newest Microsoft operating system (OS) during the February General Meeting.

To make the newness more palatable, Ernie offered that this new OS takes only 15 to 20 seconds to boot and 10 seconds to shut down. And the Internet loads instantly.

In addition, Windows 8, which costs about $200, is a stable platform—more so than previous versions of Windows, which has been a concern since even-numbered Windows upgrades have notoriously had problems in the past. Windows Defender is standard in Windows 8 and replaces Microsoft Security Essentials.

The online app store for Windows 8 has 35,000 choices to purchase online, though many are free.

The term “apps” is starting to replace the word “programs” but can still be used interchangeably.

Be aware that many of the default applications or preferences are made by Microsoft, i.e. Bing instead of Google. If you don’t like Bing, you can choose Google (or another search engine), and Lock your choice in Internet Options>Tools.

Windows 8’s (Pro version or higher) unique feature called “Windows to Go” (WTG) allows you to boot your workspace from a USB flash drive, so you can see your desktop as you would see it at home—your files, programs, etc.—on any computer you plug into. If you need to use someone else’s computer, say, while traveling, WTG builds a virtual box that holds your Windows environment. Your information is never on that computer; it’s all just on your flash drive.

The logon screen, though inconvenient to some, does serve a purpose. It allows a user to sign into a different computer and have their home configuration (including references) visible.

Windows 8 also helps us access our data by promoting the use of cloud storage with Sky Drive, available in various size options. Ernie suggests that the trend in computer security may be to virtual environments to protect computers better.

How it looks and works The new Task Manager is well-designed, showing useful information not available with previous Windows versions. The initial start-up screen shows many icons such as:

  • Weather
  • Maps
  • People
  • Mail
  • Games

But the “search” feature is the fastest way to find anything (apps, settings or files) on your Windows 8 computer, Ernie says.

Windows 8 stores your data in a “pool.” It gathers files and data from multiple sources such as your flash drives, hard drives, or other storage mediums. The only drawback is that once the data is transferred to the pool, you can no longer determine from what device the information was transferred from.

Windows 8 was made to be used with a touch screen monitor, but those of us (the majority attending the meeting) still have the conventional screens and can handily navigate Win 8 with a mouse or touchpad.

To return to the “Tiles” view, use the Windows key on the keyboard. To close a tile, the screen offers no obvious place to click Close. Instead, for those with a touchscreen, hold your finger at the top of the screen and “brush” the screen down or toward you, as if you were brushing something off the screen itself. To do this action with a mouse, click and hold at the top of the screen, then drag the window down instead of “brushing” it. Old timers remember the Alt + F4 keystroke works too.

Users with touchscreen experience on an iPhone or Android, iPad or, tablet will be familiar with “brushing” or “sliding” motions. Ernie speculates that the computer industry is headed toward a tablet/phone touchscreen interface.

The touchscreen and decidedly visual platform isn’t intuitive. Ernie’s first challenge was figuring out how to start, restart, and shut down—he found no button in an obvious place. Windows 8 does offer some right-click options for shut down and closing a window. Finding them is another matter. In addition, Ctrl + Alt + Delete doesn’t work in this version of Windows.

John King, one of our well-schooled computer buffs, responded to Ernie’s request for an experienced assessment of this new system: “It is a stretch to learn this system.” Fortunately, the Microsoft store in Corte Madera is well set-up for customers to learn how to use all the bells and whistles in their products. Ernie suggests YouTube as a valuable source for tutorials.

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