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Windows 8: It's a Whole New Windows

It's go time for Microsoft and its completely overhauled operating system, Windows 8. Why should you care? Let our small business technology experts explain.

When Windows 8 launched on October 26, 2012, the event marked a turning point in Microsoft's tried and true operating system interface. As the first Microsoft operating system to fully support touchscreen technology alongside traditional mouse and keyboard commands, Windows 8 looks, feels and acts differently from its predecessors.

The new Windows 8 Modern UI Start screen, filled with colorful application tiles, could come as a shock to users accustomed to a relatively Spartan desktop environment.

Many potential users have important questions about this new operating system. For instance, why would Microsoft release a new operating system on the heels of Windows 7? Can Windows 8 tablets compete with the popular and well-established iPad? And, perhaps most importantly, is Windows 8 worth your time?

How do we benefit?

Now that Windows 8 has enjoyed some time in actual customer’s hands, many are finding the touchscreen technology to be a fast, accurate and intuitive alternative to traditional mouse-and-keyboard interactions. This isn’t to say the mouse and keyboard are headed for retirement—especially for business-class users—but for home use and casual content consumption (think: movies and web browsing), it’s more than proven its mettle as an operating system.

More importantly, however, Windows 8 has a “baked in” ability (read: right out of the box) that allow users to synchronize and share information across various hardware platforms, including tablets, Windows 8 smartphones, desktops and laptops.

The advantages of a single operating system for all electronic devices are obvious. Someone traveling for business can access the home office directly from her tablet or smartphone, update information on the fly and access files at any time. Sensitive files can remain on the home office servers, accessed only when needed. Bluetooth capabilities make sharing even more convenient.

Individuals may have less compelling reasons to update from Windows 7 immediately, but the new operating system isn't just a business application. New applications designed specifically for Windows 8 and sold or distributed for free from the Windows Store make it easy to share information – and receive updates – from various social media sites. Windows 8 apps also provide easy access to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and similar sites.

One OS, Three Versions

Windows 8 comes in three versions: Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro and Windows RT. Which version you choose depends on your personal needs and your device's processor.

Windows 8 will be the operating system's standard edition, is available for PCs, laptops, and tablets that use x86 processors. Windows 8 Pro offers more bells and whistles for the computer enthusiast, including domain management, virtual operating system capabilities and file encryption. That version is aimed squarely at business-class users with greater demands of their OS. Windows RT is intended for devices running on ARM processors, and offers improved battery life for ultra slim devices like tablets and phones.

Visible and Invisible Changes

The Windows 8 Start screen, with its bright, primary colored app tiles, puts people used to the old Desktop interface at bit off-balance initially, but navigating among the tiles quickly becomes second nature.

Like many other vendors today, Microsoft offers both free and purchasable apps through an online store, called Windows Store, with a link to the store prominently displayed on the Start screen. Microsoft vets all apps before adding them to the store, so the risk of malware infections due to rogue apps is almost negligible. Better still, software updates are automatically tracked. When one of your applications from the Windows Store has an available update, the system will automatically alert you so you can download at your convenience. No tedious monthly tracking necessary.

Under the hood, Windows 8 offers some features that improve on Windows 7. Most significantly, Windows 8 includes a built-in antivirus program, making third-party viral protection unnecessary, and saving the user the cost of an annual antivirus program subscription.

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