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Windows 8 review

Our definitive look at the latest version of Windows

There are still features that work better with a mouse than with your finger (which includes the active pens you get on combination pen and touch tablets), because you can hover with a mouse; icons light up to show you can click them on the desktop, file search in the 'modern' interface shows more details about a file as you hover over it. that's nothing to do with the design of the interface; it's just that without something like Kinect, the screen can't see your finger before you touch it.

Hover over a file in search to see more details
Hover over a file in search to see more details

Using the desktop with a mouse is exactly the same as in Windows 8, with the exception of the charm bar and switching pane. The hot corners for charms and the app switcher bar work well for this (and there are keyboard shortcuts if moving the mouse all the way across a large desktop monitor slows you down).

The sensitivity of the corners has been tweaked so they're easier to select on purpose and harder to trigger by accident. Suddenly using the Start screen and charm bar with a mouse feels less haphazard and clumsy; it's like the difference between a drawer that keeps sticking and one that fits properly and opens and shuts smoothly.

When you use a mouse, just sliding from side to side scrolls the Start screen back and forth very naturally – just push the mouse over to scroll. Infuriatingly this doesn't seem to work in any other apps; you have to grab the scroll bar at the bottom which will make you long for a touch screen.

There's a button on the Start screen scroll bar that turns on Semantic Zoom; scrolling through this with a mouse isn't nearly as fluid as using a touch screen, but you need to turn it on to name and move groups. You can also right click to get the app bar in 'modern' apps instead of swiping.

In truth, it's not that using a mouse is an inferior experience in Windows 8; it's that using a touch screen is a superior experience especially if you have a notebook with a touchscreen so you get the fluid touch experience and a real keyboard for typing.

Trackpads

Although it's perfectly possible to use Windows 8 with a mouse and get all the features working smoothly, there's no denying a touchscreen makes it more intuitive; fast and fluid as the Microsoft marketing phrase has it. To approximate that on notebooks which increasingly have multitouch trackpads that are rarely used with more than one finger, Microsoft is adding trackpad versions of the edge gestures alongside the gestures on many multitouch trackpads.

Two-finger pinch zoom, rotate, two-finger scrolling and side to side panning are already supported by the trackpads in many recent notebooks, as are three-finger gestures for launching an app or scrolling through a presentation.

These aren't frequently used because they're fiddly and not well integrated with apps; having Windows make more use of these would be welcome. But being able to slide your finger onto the trackpad from the right to open the Charms bar and from the left to open the task switcher and from the bottom to display the app bar – the same gestures you use on a touch screen – will make Windows 8 on a PC a much nicer experience.

New notebooks often have a trackpad that's flush with the wrist rest; that makes edge gestures easier to use than on older notebooks with a distinct lip around the pad. Larger trackpads are becoming common – usually imitating Mac notebooks – and that will make gestures work better as well. To get edge gestures you'll need drivers that support them, not just the usual multitouch drivers.

These weren't yet available for any of our test notebooks, but we expect what Microsoft calls 'modern' trackpads (recent, multitouch models with enough space to make gestures on) should be supported by October if not sooner. For desktop users, the Microsoft Touch Mouse will get the same edge gestures with a software update soon.

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.