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Windows 8 release date and features UK

Windows 8 is set to revolutionise how we interact with our computers

The release date of Windows 8 is very important day indeed. Why? Because it's the day that could, and probably will, change the way we interact with our PCs in future. One of the major ways that the Windows 8 OS will change how we interact with our traditional PCs and laptops is by making touchscreens an additional way of controlling and operating a PC. See also Microsoft Windows 8 review.

Microsoft has also designed the Windows 8 operating system to work across other mobile platforms such as smartphones and tablets. With Windows 8 tablets launching alongside the OS release date and Windows Phone 8 is set to launch shortly after the Windows 8 launch - it's no wonder why the release date is so eagerly anticipated. Contributing authors: Chris Martin and Jim Martin.

Windows 8 release date

The launch of the Windows 8 operating will be on 26 October. President of Window's at Microsoft, Steven Sinofsky, revealed the Windows 8 release date at the company's annual sales meeting. Visit Top 10 Windows 8 apps: so far.

Those upgrading from Vista, XP and Windows 7 will be able to do so for $39 (£25). But those with a new Windows 7 machine will be able to upgrade for £14 via the Windows Upgrade Offer.

Windows 8 will come in four versions – Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, Windows 8 RT and Windows 8 Enterprise for PCs, laptops and tablets. This week Microsoft also announced the new version of Office 2013 software for Windows users.

Windows 8 features

Windows 8 Features

In essence, Windows has been largely the same thing since the launch of Windows 95. Sure, it's been updated and improved along the way, but from a user's point of view, accessing programs and files using Windows 7 isn't that different from how it used to be back in the glory days of the 95 Windows OS. In other words Microsoft has been using it's current operating system layout for 17-years, ask anyone and they will tell you that's a long time for something to last in technology.

What Microsoft has tried to do with Windows 8 is create a platform that works with and across PCs, tablets and smartphones. SeeWindows 8 Tablet review.

PC Advisor's Jim Martin explains more: With Windows 8, Microsoft's aim is to have one operating system that runs on all your devices, be that a smartphone, tablet, laptop or PC. Regardless of screen size or how you interact with the device, Windows 8 will scale perfectly. Read Windows 8: the complete guide.

We've tried the new 'Metro' interface on a range of computers, including touchscreen all-in-one PCs, laptops and tablets, and were surprised at just how well the interface copes with a huge range of screen sizes from 10in right up to 27in

Most computer users resent even tiny changes to interfaces, struggling to cope with programs and settings being renamed or moved. Facebook is a classic example, as it is constantly updating and refining its website. With each change comes a barrage of protest, and the change from the classic Windows desktop to Metro will no doubt lead to people returning their new purchase to the shop where they bought it.

Here's a few of the most notable Windows 8 features we'd like to bring to your attention.

Windows 8 desktop

Windows 8 Desktop

There's an icon on Windows 8's Start screen called Desktop, if you're using a laptop or PC. This launches the traditional Windows desktop and looks almost identical to Windows 7. There's one obvious difference though: no Start button.

With Windows 8, Microsoft's aim is to have one operating system that runs on all your devices, be that a smartphone, tablet, laptop or PC. Regardless of screen size or how you interact with the device, Windows 8 will scale perfectly. That's the theory, but is it madness… or genius?

This also means there's no Start menu, which can feel quite disorientating to begin with. There are various ways of launching applications. One is to use the Search tool on the Charms bar (you can swipe in from the right to display it). Another is to right-click the bottom-left corner of the screen to display a 'Start menu' of sorts. This lets you fire up a Run box, Command Prompt and various management programs.

Windows 8 and the cloud

One of Windows 8's main themes is integration with online services. As well as the all-new Store where you can download Metro-style apps, you can also connect apps to your existing online accounts. For example the Mail app can pull in email from Gmail, and the Photos app can display images from Facebook. All your settings and personalisation are stored in the cloud as well, so you can log onto another Windows 8 computer using your Microsoft account and everything will look and work just like your computer does.

Windows 8 Metro apps

Windows 8 metro apps

Windows 7 came with far fewer pre-installed applications than Vista. Messenger, Movie Maker, Mail and more were stripped out and made available as a free download from Microsoft's website.

This is where you'll browse and buy new apps, just as you would on a smartphone. There are various categories and you can pinch to zoom out to scroll quickly through the categories, zooming out again when you see something you like. Tap on a particular app and a description, screenshots and user reviews will appear.

Windows 8 Internet Explorer 10

Windows 8 ships with Internet Explorer 10 and the Metro version is radically different from IE9. The interface is hidden until you tap or swipe upwards, giving the entire screen over to displaying the website. Swiping up reveals the address and search bar at the bottom of the screen.

Gone is tabbed browsing: swiping down from the top shows thumbnails of all the sites you have open, and you can scroll right to see the full list or tap the '+' button to open a new site.

Windows 8 Bing Maps

Another completely new app, Maps uses Microsoft's Bing Maps service to provide search and directions across the world. The interface isn't dissimilar from the Bing Maps website (www.bing.com/maps) but the entire screen is used for the map. You can scroll around with your finger and pinch to zoom in and out.

When you tap and hold the screen, top and bottom bars slide into view and you can set the map to your current location, switch from Road to Aerial (satellite) views and enter a location or business to search for.

Windows 8 Media

Although Media Center and Media Player are still present, there are Metro-style apps as well. Music combines your local library with the music marketplace so you can quickly add to your collection.  Video is a separate app which looks identical to music and displays the files in the Videos folder. There's no 'video marketplace' yet, but there will almost certainly be one in the final version of Windows 8.

In both apps, it's easy to control playback with your fingers, but it's not so easy to find what you're looking for. Admittedly, most of the Metro-style apps are unfinished, which would explain why it isn't possible to quickly jump to artists beginning with a certain letter, for example. Currently, you can browse only by 'most played'.

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