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Windows 8 review

Our definitive look at the latest version of Windows

With Windows 8 Microsoft is making a huge bet, as CEO Steve Ballmer has said repeatedly. The visceral and sometimes vitriolic reaction to losing the fiddly Start menu has obscured the major advances in Windows 8. This is a next generation version of Windows, even before you get into Windows RT running on ARM chips.

We liked

Windows 8 is faster; you'll notice the difference on older PCs as much as on new machines. Battery life improves enough to be noticeable. And it's significantly more secure. That makes the low upgrade price a bargain (and given that you can upgrade from any version of Windows, you only need to pay more than the upgrade price if you're building a new PC from parts).

And then there are the features, like Storage Space and File History, or the new Windows Explorer, or better multimonitor support. Picture Password is a great compromise between security and convenience (and yes, it works with a mouse as well as a touchscreen). The charm bar, especially the handy icons on the Setting bar, put most of the tools you actually use to manage your PC at your fingertips. The cloud integration in Windows 8 is a game changer.

It's not just the Windows Store, that's going to make finding desktop apps easier as well as supplying all the games, Twitter clients, feed readers and tablet apps you could want. It's the way that Windows 8 understands what it means to be connected and makes great use of it to make your life easier and more convenient.

We disliked

The new experience and interface is far from universally popular and while every interface is a matter of personal taste, the range of opinions about the Windows 8 interface is extreme even for the world of technology.

Actually, we dislike the vitriolic arguments about the interface and Start screen far more than the experience of switching from the desktop and back. What we miss is the unified search of documents and emails in the Windows 8 desktop that you could start from the Start menu (which Microsoft tells us very few people used).

The Search charm offers some of this, but only for files and 'modern' apps (so not Outlook or OneNote; OneNote MX is searchable but only opens notebooks from SkyDrive) and you can't see the search next to an open document. A wider selection of apps may deal with this but it's one of the few places the desktop feels like a second class citizen.

Until Connected Standby devices come out, hibernate and hybrid sleep is the best option for getting good battery life on a notebook, but neither are on by default in Windows 8. Microsoft may expect OEMs to tweak this on new PCs but that doesn't mean hiding the options away is a good idea.

We understand the plan to make Media Centre something you have to pay for given the success of Xbox for watching video as well as gaming and how few people use Media Centre; it's a shame not to see more improvements in Media Centre and this is only for the die-hard fans. If that's you, make sure you buy Windows 8 at the upgrade price because then you'll get Media Centre free. Incidentally, we don't know what the long-term price of Windows 8 will be after January 31, 2013 when the upgrade price expires.

Talking of things that should install automatically, why are the official apps like Mail, Messages, Calendar and the Bing apps the only ones that you get without having to go to the Windows Store? If you own apps that you've installed from the Store on another PC, we'd like to see the installation ask if you want to install them as well.

Also missing; DVD playback software. That's to save the cost of the licence for all the PCs without a DVD drive - when you get a DVD drive it always comes with third-party software (and Media Center can play DVDs) – and this is part of how Microsoft is getting to the low upgrade cost, but it's never fun losing features.

Windows 8 Pro gets BitLocker disk encryption. Windows RT has disk encryption that's very like BitLocker but doesn't get the name because businesses can't manage it in the same way and might get confused. But plain Windows 8 doesn't get BitLocker.

That's absurd; if Windows RT devices need to be encrypted (so that your toddler mashing their hands on your password screen five times will securely lock your managed-by-work tablet, by throwing away the encryption keys so you can unlock it with the recovery key, rather than wiping it like an iPad) then so do Windows 8 PCs.

Final verdict

This is the fastest, most secure, most battery-friendly version of Windows 8.

It's also a bold move to head off the danger of Windows becoming irrelevant in an iPad future, by giving you the best of both worlds. You can have a slim, lightweight, cheap tablet with a tablet OS, that can also run Office and turn into a notebook when you add a keyboard. (We have to see the final version of Windows RT to see how well this works, but so far we're impressed.)

Or you can have a slightly larger and pricier tablet with a tablet OS, that can also run Office and all your applications and turn into a notebook when you add a keyboard. Or you can get all of that in a notebook or a desktop, as long as you can deal with the touch-friendly interface.

Undeniably, Windows 8 shines most on a touchscreen system. Even older touch notebooks that were awkward to use with touch under Windows 7 give you a great experience and the latest tablets are fun and engaging to use (and features like rotation work immediately without you having to hunt down drivers). The mouse gestures mean that you can use Windows 8 without missing a touchscreen, but we really need edge gestures on trackpads and the Microsoft Touch Mouse to make it more natural.

But touchscreen or mouse, Windows 8, undeniably, shines. The final desktop look makes the transition between Metro and desktop less obvious. You can still stay substantially in the desktop if you want to and enjoy a faster, more secure version of Windows with a better browser that has longer battery life.

But as more useful 'modern' apps come along, you'll find you split your time between the two experiences more and gestures could be critical to making that a natural combination. Keep an open mind, spend some time getting used to the charm bar and the Start screen and we defy you not to be impressed by Windows 8.

Tech Specs

Product TypeOperating System
Brand NameMicrosoft
Software Sub TypeClient
Distribution Media/MethodDVD-ROM
Licence TypeComplete Product
Platform SupportedPC
Features

Windows 7, only better:

  • Windows 8 is built on the rock-solid foundation of Windows 7, but it's been improved on all fronts.
  • You can install Windows 8 on the same hardware that powers Windows Vista and Windows 7, and you'll love how it works on new devices, too.
  • Windows 8 was designed with Windows 7 apps in mind, because you probably have older apps you need to use.
  • In addition to the new look of the Start Screen, Windows 8 incorporates the desktop that you're familiar with.
  • Think of the desktop as one of the many apps you can run in Windows 8.
  • In the desktop, you'll see all the settings, devices and features you used in Windows 7-and you can run the desktop apps you ran in Windows 7, too.

Cloud-connected with your Microsoft account:

  • Sign in to your Windows 8 device with your Microsoft account and you're immediately connected to the people, files and settings you care about.
  • Your PC comes to life with all the things that make Windows yours, including your Start page, themes, language preferences, browsing history and browser favourites.
  • You can connect your favourite services to your Microsoft account, too, like Hotmail, Messenger, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and more.
  • And you can immediately get to your photos, docs and other files, whether they're on SkyDrive, Facebook, Flickr or other services.

It's all about the apps:

  • In the Windows Store, you can search for or browse great apps, all grouped in easy-to-find categories.
  • We highlight great apps for you and provide quick access to frequently downloaded apps.
  • You can also see how other people have rated apps.
  • You'll always know what's interesting, new and popular.
  • You won't have to worry about buying something you don't want because you can try before you buy, if the app supports it.
  • If you try an app and like it, you can buy it and continue using the full app with no interruption.
  • You won't waste time or lose your place.
Language SupportedEnglish
Licence Quantity1 User
ManufacturerMicrosoft Corporation
Product NameWindows 8 Pro 64-bit
Software NameWindows 8 Pro 64-bit
Licence PricingOEM
Manufacturer Part NumberFQC-05955
Manufacturer Website Addresshttp://www.microsoft.co.uk
Marketing Information

Windows has been reimagined to focus on your life. The beautiful, fast, and fluid design is perfect for a range of hardware: from compact, touch-enabled tablets and lightweight laptops, to PCs and large, powerful all-in-ones with high-definition screens.