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Operating systems software Reviews
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Microsoft Windows 8 review

From £25 inc VAT

Manufacturer: Microsoft

Our Rating: We rate this 4.5 out of 5

Windows 8 represents the biggest change to Microsoft’s operating system since the launch of Windows 95. Here’s our Windows 8 review. It’s the only Windows 8 review you are going to need.

We complete our in-depth Windows 8 review with a look at the touch interface, and examination of Windows 8 versions and which you should buy, plus our expert verdict on Microsoft's revolutionary operating system.

Windows 8: No touchscreen? Use a touch mouse

Microsoft's Touch Mouse has been available for a while and was designed to make it easier to use Windows 7. It's buttons form a sort of touchpad, and it supports gestures using up to three fingers.

Connect it to a computer running Windows 8 and, along with the latest software, it can be used to show the Charms bar and flip between open apps. Other gestures show the app bars (the equivalent of swiping in from the top or bottom on a touchscreen), and zoom in and out wherever semantic zoom is supported by apps.

All the Windows 7 gestures can be used in Windows 8, too. This means you can scroll and flick both horizontally and vertically to navigate around documents and web pages. You can also manage windows on the desktop, snapping them to the left or right, minimising and maximising them and hiding or showing all running programs.

Microsoft Touch Mouse

Since there's no scroll wheel, there's no middle click, but you can assign new gestures to add this feature. It can take a while to get used to swiping instead of rolling a scroll wheel, but once you've mastered all the gestures you'll wonder how you lived without them. Although not cheap at around £70, it's considerably cheaper than buying a touchscreen.

Windows 8: what about Windows Phone?

We were fully expecting that the final version of Windows 8 would have built-in, native support for Windows Phone 7 (and, when it launches, Windows Phone 8) handsets. However, although there's still time before Windows 8 officially launches, there is currently no native support at all. Connect a Windows Phone 7.5 handset such as the Nokia Lumia 800, for example, and the drivers will be installed automatically. 

Next, you'll be prompted to download the Zune software, just as you have to do in Windows 7 or earlier. This doesn't run in the Modern interface, so the experience of using Windows Phone 7 in Windows 8 is no different to using it with Windows 7.

Windows Phone 7 in Windows 8 (Zune)

Rumours suggest that the Windows Phone companion app will be available in the Windows store when Windows 8 launches on October 26th, and this will run in the new interface and provide the sort of integration you'd expect with the Modern UI apps. We'll have to wait and see, but we'll update this section as and when the app becomes available.

Windows 8: Which version should you buy?

Things are a lot simpler than previous versions of Windows. There are just two versions you might consider for a PC or laptop: Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro. Both have the Modern UI interface and the traditional desktop, but their features differ.

Windows 8

Windows 8 is the equivalent of Windows 7 Home Premium, and lacks Windows Media Player. This isn't too much of an issue as the Modern UI apps take up the slack.

What you do get is the ability to connect to another PC using Remote Desktop (but you can't remotely connect to a Windows 8 system), and Storage Spaces to combine several hard disks into a 'Storage Pool' which can have RAID-like redundancy for better file protection. There's built in support for ISO and VHD images too, which means you can 'mount' them as virtual hard drives or optical discs.

Windows 8 also has the option to switch not only the keyboard language, but also the Windows interface as well – handy if you speak more than one language.

Windows 8 Pro

Pro is aimed at business users and enthusiasts, and replaces the Professional and Ultimate verisons of Windows 7. It has all the features in Windows 8, plus some extras.

With Pro you get the ability to connect remotely from another computer, join a domain and encrypt the contents of your disk with BitLocker so someone can't remove your hard drive and access its contents on another computer.
Strangely, Windows Media Player is an optional add-on for Windows 8 Pro, but the pricing hasn't yet been fixed for this.

For most people using a laptop or PC at home, the basic version of Windows 8 will suffice. You're unlikely to miss any of the features in the Pro version, but enthusiasts who regularly use Remote Desktop might want to opt for Pro.

Windows 8: Pricing

If you buy a PC, laptop or tablet running Windows 8, the cost of the OS is included in the price. It's the upgrade price which is important and Microsoft has followed Apple's lead in drastically reducing the price compared to Windows 7.

As long as your computer is running Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7, you can upgrade to Windows 8 for just £25. If you happen to need to buy a new computer right now, you should be able to upgrade for just £15. These prices are unlikely to last for long, though, and everything points to a price increase in January 2013.

The price for Windows 8 Pro hasn't been decided for the UK.

Windows 8 People App

Windows 8: verdict

Use Windows 8 for a few minutes and chances are you'll hate it. It takes a lot longer than this to get used to the Modern UI and the way that most things scroll left and right instead of up and down.

It's easy to dismiss the Windows 8 apps as gimmicks, as many are shallow and lack features. However, we're certain that this will change as the core apps are developed and as third-party apps for well-known brands begin to appear in the Store.

It's also questionable whether the new Modern UI is even necessary or useful on a PC or laptop. You can go for days without ever seeing it as Windows 8 returns to the app you were using when put the computer to sleep. If you were running apps on the desktop, that's what you'll see after typing in your password on the Lock screen.

When you do use the new Start screen, the live tiles can become rather overwhelming as they all flash information at you. Some are arguably pointless, as there's little value in seeing faces from random contacts appear on the People tile, for example.

It's hard to get used to working on the desktop without a Start menu, but the universal search is a great tool for quickly finding apps, files, settings and even searching the web.

In fact, there's a lot to like about Windows 8. It's noticeably faster than Windows 7, yet its hardware requirements are no more demanding – it runs fine even on older machines. Not only does it start up and shut down quicker, but it's also faster at copying files and loading web pages. More than ever before is hardware accelerated, so even something as basic as word processing is slicker and more responsive.

It's also more secure, which is an important benefit these days. Yes, you can install a different security suite if you want to, but there's decent protection out of the box.

As it's more efficient with power, you'll be able to work longer on your laptop between charges.

The fact that it's the first OS that integrates the online services we all use every day means the information you want is easily available without having to open a browser and go to a website. Whether you want to see what people are up to, send someone a message or check your own personalised news feed, it's all built-in.

We understand that Microsoft needs to get the Windows Store on as many devices as possible in order to persuade developers to build apps, but it makes it feel like the Modern UI exists for laptops and PCs just for that reason. That said, Windows has had to modernise in order to avoid being left behind and we can see many people loving the new simplified apps.

Although we're yet to get our hands on a Surface tablet, the fact that it will have Office pre-loaded and a built-in keyboard makes it a more compelling productivity tool than an iPad. The fact that you can have two apps on screen at once also helps.

As we've said, you really need a touchscreen to get the most from Windows 8, but with the right hardware, it's quick and even fun to use with a keyboard and (touch) mouse.

It's important to remember that Windows 8 is effectively a brand new operating system. Yes, it will run your old Windows programs, but as far as Modern UI apps are concerned (and Windows RT tablets), this is just the beginning.

Combining the interface, performance, security and new features, Windows 8 leaves us impressed. For just £25, it's a no-brainer upgrade from Windows XP or Vista, and even for Windows 7 users, it's a worthwhile purchase.

Windows 8 Store

Microsoft Windows 8 Expert Verdict »
Microsoft Windows 8 Pro (Upgrade from Windows 7, XP, Vista) Scores 7.2 out of 10 based on 219 reviews
Any PC that can run Windows 7
Some Arm-based tablets
  • Overall: We give this item 9 of 10 overall

Combining the interface, performance, security and new features, Windows 8 leaves us impressed. For just £25, it's a no-brainer upgrade from Windows XP or Vista, and even for Windows 7 users, it's a worthwhile purchase.

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