Windows 8 vs Windows 10
We explain what is the difference between Windows 8 and Windows 10 and explain why Windows 10 is a worthy upgrade, either from Windows 8 or a previous version such as Vista or Windows 7.
Windows 8 vs 10: UK price and availability
Buy a new PC or laptop and it will come pre-installed with Windows 10 so the situation is more likely to be whether you should upgrade from Windows 8 (actually Windows 8.1 if you want to be pedantic) or an earlier version.
As an end user you will not know the cost of Windows to your PC's manufacturer, but if you pay for an upgrade or to buy a licence outright you will have to shell out.
You can't buy Windows 8.1 from Microsoft any longer, but it doesn't take much searching online to find it on sale for around £20. Buying software licences from unknown retailers is a tricky business, and we don't recommend it.
Originally, Windows 10 was a free upgrade for existing Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and (some) Windows Phone users. After that first year the upgrade offer ended and you now have to buy a copy of Windows 10.
Buy it from Microsoft's website and Windows 10 Home costs £119.99, and the Pro version £219.99.
Windows 8 vs 10: Compatibility
Confusingly, there are three different types of operating system that could reasonably be called 'Windows 8'. Four, if you count 64- and 32-bit versions. Windows 8 itself is x86 software built for use with PCs and laptops, as well as some tablets.
Then there is Windows RT, which was used on other tablets, primarily Microsoft's own Surface and Surface 2. Finally, there is Windows Phone 8 (which explains itself).
Windows 10 does away with these divisions, and Windows RT was ditched years ago.
Microsoft claimed that Windows 10 would run on all Windows PCs, laptops, tablets and phones but that isn't completely true. Plus, only some phones running Windows Phone 8 are updateable to Windows 10 Mobile.
Fortunately, most machines will run Windows 10, as long as they have an Intel or AMD 32-bit or 64-bit CPU. If yours does have a 32-bit CPU, though, it's time to buy a new PC or laptop. For more, see 32-bit vs 64-bit explained.
Windows 8 vs 10: Features
Since Windows 10 arrived, there have been two major releases: the Anniversary Update (July 2016) and the Creators Update (April 2017). These are free and both brought new features and improvements. Here are the latest features in the Creators Update.
Here, though, we'll stick to the major differences between Windows 8 and 10 which haven't really changed.
The return of the Start Menu is a key change to Windows 10 on the desktop. Here's Windows 8's Start Screen:
And here's how it looks in Windows 10:
Some people moaned that Microsoft hadn't listened to their pleas to bring back the Windows 7 Start menu as-is, but the Start Menu is improved in such a way that it may make Windows apps useful.
The Windows 10 Start Menu includes a list of frequently used apps and shortcuts to PC settings. Here you will also find documents and pictures folders.
The Start Menu is customisable - you can resize it, and rearrange the tabs.
Universal Apps and Continuum
These are two big and important features of Windows 10, which will make most Windows 8 users want to upgrade.
A Universal App (including things like Outlook and Word) will provide the same experience across any device running the OS - whether it's a PC, laptop, tablet or even a phone.
The interface, of course, will simply adjust to the screen you're using, but more importantly your data is synched across all your devices so you can finish something you started somewhere else.
Continuum is similar but different.
On a phone, it is the ability to run a desktop-like PC experience. You'll typically do this with the Microsoft Display Dock, which connects your phone to a monitor, keyboard and mouse.
On a tablet or 2-in-1, Continuum refers to the ability to switch between a touch-friendly interface and one suitable for a mouse and keyboard.
Another key new feature of Windows 10 not available in Windows 8 is Cortana – Microsoft’s semantic digital assistant. A kind of super-Siri, which can engage you in conversation.
More than simple speech recognition, Cortana constantly scours the web for information to inform its interactions with you. And it learns from your behaviour, contacts and so on, in order to better serve your needs.
Cortana on Windows Phone is pretty great, and it's now available on iOS and Android. So the inclusion of Microsoft’s digital assistant is a big boost over Windows 8.
Universal search in Windows 8 is a much-undervalued feature. It's been in Windows since Vista, but came to maturity in Windows 8. Searching to load up apps and files is much more efficient than navigating via apps and file systems.
And because Cortana is woven into Windows and search, the new search box next to the Start button is extremely useful indeed.
As well as typing you can talk to Windows 10. Whether that's searching for something stored locally or something online, it's all done from the same search box.
You can type or say the name of a file you want, or ask Cortana to launch Photoshop. You can even 'search' for a weather forecast or an appointment in your calendar.
On top of this, File Explorer has been updated with a Quick Access section which replaces the old Favourites. This automatically displays your recent files and frequently visited folders and makes finding files you've worked on faster and easier.
Every app in Windows 10 can be dynamically resized in a window. That includes 'modern apps', so unlike in Windows 8 - where modern apps can only run full screen or snapped next to one other app - you can run as many as you like simultaneously in Windows 10.
Snap Assist means up to four apps can be snapped per screen. This is surprisingly useful - true multitasking on a single screen without the hassle of manually resizing apps so they fit without wasting any precious pixels.
Even better, Snap a document to one side or one quarter of the screen, and Snap Assist displays other running apps which you can snap to another area on the screen, and this continues until the screen is full.
The feature is intended to save you the hassle of Alt-tabbing through all your open apps to arrange a desktop.
Task View and virtual desktops
When you click the Task View button, you get a new version of the thumbnails you get in Windows 8 (or 8.1) when you press Alt-Tab.
However, this is yet another useful and visual productivity enhancer: Task View allows you to create a kind of multi-monitor setup within a single monitor. It's basically the virtual desktops which Mac users have enjoyed for years.
As with previous versions of Windows you can use Alt-Tab to quickly shuffle between windows. When you click the new Task View button there's an Add desktop button in the bottom-right corner.
On each desktop you can snap apps or run them in whatever size windows you like. So you could keep your email and web browser on one Desktop that you hide away when you are working on an Excel spreadsheet.
Finally Microsoft is attempting to make use of the awesomeness that is Xbox, within the dreary world of Windows. Whereas Windows 8 users can install an Xbox app on to Windows PCs, it really doesn't offer much of the true Xbox experience.
In Windows 10 Microsoft aims to change that, and PC gaming is finally starting to get the focus it deserves from Microsoft.
Windows 10 comes with its own built-in Xbox app, offering a unified view of your games, the activity of your friends, and your own gaming activities. Windows 10 also bakes in Xbox Live, so that the more than 50 million Xbox Live members can connect across multiple devices.
You can record and share your gameplay, and you can stream games from an Xbox One to your Windows 10 PC or tablet: a literal game changer. And a massive improvement over Windows 8.
You'll find more in our in-depth Windows 10 review.
Windows 10: Specs
- Windows capable PC and web connection
- membership of Windows Insider Program
- Windows capable PC and web connection
- membership of Windows Insider Program
With Windows 8 being so poorly received (despite being a pretty decent OS underneath) Windows 10 is certainly a step in the right direction. When it was a free upgrade it was a no-brainer. It's a harder decision now you have to pay. For some, it will make more sense to buy a new laptop, PC or tablet with Windows 10 already installed, as machines running XP or Vista are already long in the tooth.