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In previous versions of Windows, Microsoft had graphics or words to click on so you would know what to do. Because Windows 8 is the same operating system from phones to desktops, they cannot afford the screen real estate. The Start Menu, Toolbar, System Tray, etc. would use up nearly all of a smart phone's screen. So, now you're going to have to know where to click or what keys to press to do what you want. It's a big change. So, while a lot of Windows 8 is pretty much Windows 7, there are a huge number of significant differences/improvements/nuisances.

There are essentially two desktops -- the one you are used to in Windows 7 and the new interface which contains a bunch of very large icons, suitable for manipulating with your fingers on a touch-screen. This was originally called "Metro" but that name was already taken. We'll use Metro for this article, even though it isn't the real name.

There are essentially two kinds of "programs" as well. In addition to all the programs you are used to in Windows 7, on the Metro desktop there are dozens of Metro Apps that run only full-screen. These have no small boxes in the upper right corner to minimize, maximize or close. If you want to close an App you click the mouse at the top of the screen and drag it to the bottom, or use the keyboard shortcut, Alt-F4. Because gestures that are easy to perform on a tiny smart phone become more bothersome on a large screen using either mouse or finger on touch-screen, Windows 8 is going to make all of us workstation users keyboard shortcut users.

Here are a few of the differences between Metro and Desktop:

  • Internet Explorer 10: It's really two programs, one on the Metro interface and one on the Desktop. The IE 10 app in Metro isn't configurable. It's just a browser, designed primarily to be used with touch on tablets/phones. The IE 10 program on the Desktop is pretty similar to IE 9 that most of us have used previously.
  • Mail: For phones and tablets, mail is partnered with People, Messaging and Calendar. They are separate apps, but they share the data. From People you can select a person to send email to, exchange messages with, call on Skype and even map the address in Bing Maps. You can even keep track of social media so the What's New feed will keep you abreast of of new posts and will allow you to reply directly without opening a browser. Win8 users can use the apps or stick with Outlook, Live Mail or even Thunderbird.
  • Storage Spaces: Essentially an on-the-fly RAID. Set it up and all data is automatically mirrored on two or more drives. File History provides versioning -- it keeps different versions of the same-named document.
  • Push Button Reset: If Windows is not working properly, Push Button Reset will return your computer to exactly the state it was in when you purchased it. Less drastically, PC Reset will save your apps, programs, settings and data and then refresh them after the Reset.
  • Microsoft Account Integration: Setup the account so you log in with your Windows Live credentials and it authenticates username and password at login. Afterwards, SkyDrive sync will happen automatically (Win8 only - with WinRT you have to click Sync). No longer do you have a secondary login. Hotmail just opens to your account, etc. Your computer knows who you are with only one login.
  • Microsoft AntiVirus: Windows 8 comes with its own antivirus. You don't need (and can't install) others. It updates with the other Microsoft Updates, never expires and is one less thing to worry about.
  • Apps are sandboxed: One way viruses work in Windows is they modify other programs. Apps can't do this. There is no way to have one app change the behavior of another app. They are all in their own sandbox. This also means there will be no add-on features for apps. There will be no Business Contact Manager for Outlook, no integration of Adobe with Word to create PDF documents, etc.
  • Cellular integration: All versions of Windows now support broadband connections.
  • Photos: Integrates with SkyDrive, Facebook and Flickr and has limited editing capabilities.
  • Xbox Music: Poor man's iTunes, leftover from Zune. Lets you listen to what you own, buy online or subscribe for $9.99 a month to everything in the library.
  • Task Manager now controls startup applications. You can turn on or off items from starting up when Windows boots from TaskManager.