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Windows 8: the complete guide

Our in-depth guide to Microsoft's new OS

Touchscreen keyboards

Whether you're using Windows 8 on a PC, laptop or tablet with a touchscreen, there's a selection of onscreen keyboard layouts to choose from. The default view is a basic QWERTY layout and, even on a large screen, lacks a number row. To display it, you have to tap the &123 button, just as you do on many smartphones.

A keyboard icon at the bottom right allows you to select two other styles: split and handwriting recognition. The former is ideal if you're used to typing with your thumbs, and it also includes a central number pad. Depending on the size of your screen, this may appear too small to be very useful, but on smaller screens of around 10in, it's fine.

Handwriting recognition isn't new - even XP included it - but it's designed for use with a stylus. You could try using a finger on a standard touchscreen, but the results won't be very good. For most people, the standard touchscreen keyboard will produce the best results.

 Win 8 Standard Keyboard

 The standard keyboard (above) lacks a number row. The split version (below) is designed for thumbs.

Win 8 Split Keyboard

Verdict: Should you upgrade?

When Windows 8 launches later in 2012, it will quickly replace Windows 7 on all new PCs and laptops. This means that you're stuck with it unless you get your hands dirty and install a different operating system.

For those that aren't planning to buy a new PC or laptop, there isn't a great incentive to upgrade unless you have a touchscreen. The Metro UI is designed specifically for touch control and, although it can be controlled using a mouse, it isn't half as much fun.

Then again, using a touchscreen on a laptop or PC isn't much fun as your arm quickly tires of being held out in front of you when sitting down. It's a slightly different story if you have an all-in-one PC on a kitchen counter that you can use standing up, as that's a much more comfortable position to operate a touchscreen.

A tablet is the best choice: a lightweight device that sits flat on a desk or on your lap is the obvious way to interact with a touchscreen. However, in this marketplace Windows 8 has tough competition in the form of Apple's iOS and Google's Android. We'll be comparing all these mobile operating systems along with BlackBerry OS next month.

Microsoft hasn't yet announced pricing for Windows 8, and cost will be a big factor in the upgrade decision. It's possible that the company will follow Apple's lead and allow Windows 7 users to download the update for £20-£30. If history is anything to go by, though, the actual cost will be more like £70, making is much less attractive.

Plus, bear in mind that the vast majority of applications will run in traditional desktop mode rather than Metro, so you'll likely find yourself using Metro a tiny fraction of the time. Until the applications you use on a daily basis are updated to work in the Metro UI, your experience will barely differ from Windows 7.

See also: Windows 8 Advisor

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