Judging by my monthly analytics reports, 2012 was the year of Windows 8.
My most popular posts this year were, invariably, about Windows 8.
In fact, I continue to get emails every day asking questions about Windows 8 that I've covered in posts throughout the year.
So I decided to take the 10 questions I'm asked most often about Windows 8 and assemble the answers right here, along with links to articles that go into much greater depth on the topic.
Here's the list:
- Is Windows 8 worth the upgrade?
- What should I know before I begin installing Windows 8?
- Where is the Start menu?
- What's the difference between Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro?
- Are there any deals on upgrades?
- Can I use Windows 8 in a virtual machine?
- What happened to Media Center?
- What's the point of Windows RT?
- Where can I find PCs with Windows 7?
- How do I downgrade to Windows 7?
This post doesn't cover every question, but it covers the big ones. Including the biggest one of all:
Is Windows 8 worth the upgrade?
That depends. Despite the highly vocal, often absolute opinions you'll read from critics, there's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all answer.
Windows 8 makes some very important changes in the underlying architecture of Windows. It is dramatically faster at starting and shutting down than Windows 7 was. It has antivirus protection built-in. Internet Explorer 10 is a very polished, fast, standards-compliant browser.
The Windows 7 desktop also gets its share of significant improvements, including positive changes in File Explorer (the new name for Windows Explorer) and Task Manager.
If you own multiple Windows devices, the benefits associated with signing on using a Microsoft account and synchronizing settings and files across those machines cannot be overstated. Combined with the free SkyDrive cloud storage service (which includes 7GB of free storage and a Windows 8 app that keeps everything in sync), it is very easy to move between PCs without skipping a beat.
That said, there are two roadblocks that stop some people from falling in love with the new Windows and even send some into fits of rage.
The first is the new interface, which works spectacularly well on touchscreen devices (especially notebook PCs) but requires a significant amount of unlearning and retraining on conventional desktop devices. I found the adjustment mostly painless, but I understand how some people would prefer not to change their habits. That's especially true if you are perfectly happy using desktop apps and don't feel the need to change.
And speaking of apps... The new Windows 8 app model, with apps available only through the Windows Store, is still in its infancy. Last I checked there were around 20,000 apps listed in the Store. That includes some very good ones, including a Kindle reader, solid apps for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, Skype and Shazam, Wikipedia and Khan Academy, and (naturally) Angry Birds. Some of the built-in apps that are installed with Windows 8 are superb. But many apps you can find today on competing platforms or on the web are missing in action in Windows 8.
There's no penalty in sticking with Windows 7 and waiting as the Windows 8 ecosystem matures. In fact, there's no penalty waiting until the first big update to Windows 8 appears, perhaps as soon as mid-2013.
Or, as I wrote back in July: "Honey, if you don’t want to upgrade, just don’t upgrade."
- Windows 8 from every angle: A guided tour of the Release Preview
- Surprise! What you can expect from Windows 8 RTM
- How to skip Windows 8 and continue using Windows 7
What should I know before I begin installing Windows 8?
I've covered this topic from multiple angles this year. Here are a few articles I recommend you read:
- The ultimate Windows 8 upgrade FAQ (product keys, installation instructions, and dual-boot do's and don'ts)
- Everything you need to know about Windows 8 upgrades (FAQ part 2) (detailed instructions for upgrading from Windows 7, XP, or Vista, plus details on how to downgrade from Windows 8)
- Eight things to do right away after you set up Windows 8 (after you finish Setup, there are some default settings you need to check and probably adjust)
- Adding Chrome, Gmail, and other Google services to Windows 8 (quick, do this before January 30, when Google will shut down its best sync option)
- The Metro hater's guide to customizing Windows 8 Consumer Preview (slightly outdates - I plan to do a new version of this shortly)
Where is the Start menu?
It's gone, and it's not coming back. If you just can't live without it and you're otherwise happy with Windows 8, you can take your choice of third-party replacements. I know of at least a half-dozen, and I recommend either of these two:
What's the difference between Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro?
I answered this question back in April. The short version: You need Pro if you want to join a Windows domain, connect to your PC using the Remote Desktop server, or use Hyper-V virtualization. The long answer is here:
Are there any deals on upgrades?
Yes. If you have a PC running Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7, you qualify for a discounted upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for $40. If you purchased a new PC with Windows 7 after June 2, 2012, you qualify for a $15 upgrade to Windows 8 Pro. Both offers expire on January 31, 2013. If you bought a new PC with Windows 8, your upgrade to Windows 8 Pro will cost a little more.
- How do you get the best deal on a Windows 8 Pro upgrade?
- What are the cheapest and easiest upgrade paths to Windows 8?
Next page: Media Center, virtual machines, and where to find new PCs with Windows 7