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Windows 7 vs Windows 8: what's the difference between Windows 8 & Windows 7?

What's new in Windows 8, and whether you should upgrade

Windows 8 vs Windows 7: security, cloud, task manager

There are a couple of other relatively minor, but significant changes in Windows 8 that may make it worth an upgrade for Windows 7 users. Windows 8 has a cloud focus to it which might be a tempting feature. Microsoft stores all your settings and customisations in the cloud so whenever you log on to a Windows 8 machine you will have it looking and working your way.

Other elements of the cloud system include pulling your email from Gmail, for example, and viewing all your photos from Facebook. And each Windows 8 device comes with a ready-enabled SkyDrive account.

In terms of security, as well as the additional peace of mind that downloading apps from a curated Windows Store brings, Windows 8 features a lock screen which allows you use a picture password. This means you can affix a photo to the lock screen, and replace your password with a gesture traced out over the photo. Because of the additional complexity this adds in over a traditional alphanumerical password, it ought to be more secure.

Staying with the theme of security, Windows 8 is the first flavour of Windows that comes with antivirus baked in, in the form of Microisoft Security Essentials, which sits alongside the software firewall in Security Center. You could justifiably save yourself a few quid by not bothering to buy security software (although standalone security vendors will have a thing or two to say about this). There's also an all new Task Manager, offering two different ways to view information: one simple, one more complex.

Windows 8 vs Windows 7: speed

That's about it in terms of significant feature changes, but Microsoft would have us believe that Windows 8 is much faster than Windows 7 - it certainly works on the same hardware, which removes one barrier to upgrade. (And it won't be an expensive upgrade, either.)

Bill Karagounis, Principal Group Program Manager for the Windows 8 Fundamentals Team, recently claimed that startup times were 40 percent faster than Windows 7 on the same hardware, and that the memory footprint of the new OS is '10 to 20 percent better'. He said that the Windows code base comfortably scales on all devices from tablets right up to workstation PCs, and demonstrated Windows 7 and Windows 8 running on similar laptops, with relatively low specifications (including just 1GB RAM).

According to a demonstration Karagounis ran, Windows 7 uses 389MB of system memory, Windows 8 only 330MB. And this in an operating system that includes more functionality.

Karagounis also showed how an older Asus UltraBook with a second-generation Intel chip could boot from cold in just 8 seconds. However, he said that Windows 8 was intended to be what he called 'always on, always connected'.  'You don't boot and shut down Windows 8', he said. Further, he suggested that the OS was designed to be always running switching on and off instantly like a smartphone. He demonstrated the power draw of an Intel-system on a chip Windows 8 slate, using virtually no power in sleep mode, with only the occasional tiny peak when it checked for or received data.

The device was, he said, connected to the web, working in the background in a mode he described as 'connected standby'. Karagounis sent an IM to the slate, at which point he power draw peaked and the device set off an alert. This status applies to Windows RT PCs, and Intel SoC PCs . In the demonstration the power draw goes up instantly something then happens, and then drops off quickly when so-called  connected standby kicks in.

This is all Microsoft's own take on things, however, but recent independent tests suggest that Windows 8 uses less memory, and Windows 8 performs better than Windows 7, on the same hardware.

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