The new Windows 8 start screen is your personalized home for items you use the most and can be customized according to your user preferences. Windows 8 Live tiles provide real-time updates from your Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail accounts. Along with the new Start screen, the lock screen now includes e-mail, calendar, and clock widgets. This product comes in 5 different box designs. The box design you receive may differ from that shown in the image above. The image to the right shows the different designs available.
Redesigned Start Screen, and the end of the Start button
Everyone can, and will, figure it out.
It's safe to say the Windows Phone-esque Live Tiles have been the single most polarizing thing about Windows 8. Which makes sense: the new, mobile-inspired Start Screen looks wholly different from anything we've seen on previous versions of Windows. What's more, you can't even interact with these apps the same way: they run at full-screen, and can't be minimized or re-sized like the windows you're used to. In short, these tiles are the cornerstone of the Windows 8 experience, and they're impossible to avoid, even if you plan on doing much of your work in the traditional desktop.
We'd add, too, that once you master this new layout, there are lots of useful things about the OS that feel like clear improvements over previous versions of Windows. If you make the same pinch-to-zoom gesture you'd use to zoom in and out of web pages, you can shrink the Start Screen so that you can see all your pages of apps at once. As you can imagine, that's useful if you have a large collection of apps and don't want to page horizontally through eight home screens.
The Charms Bar is at its best when you have some sort of touch device at your disposal.
We already mentioned the Charms Bar, which appears when you swipe in from the right side of the screen. Here, you'll find shortcuts for the Start Screen, settings menu, a list of connected devices, search and sharing. Lingering on that last point, sharing works much the same as it does on other mobile devices, which is to say if you've got some piece of content -- say, a Word document or a batch of photos -- you can share them in all sorts of way. This includes email, as well as Facebook, SkyDrive, Twitter and any other applicable service you've linked to your Microsoft account. Again, we're used to doing this on our smartphones and tablets, but it's a pleasure to be able to use a Windows PC the same way.
When it comes to switching apps, you can use that Switcher gesture, but there are other built-in features designed to make multitasking a bit easier. For starters, Snap allows you to dock a window or app so that it takes up either a third or two-thirds of the screen. That leaves room for a second app, which you can snap into the remaining space. That's actually quite similar to Aero Snap from Windows 7, except here the dimensions are in thirds, instead of half the screen. As in the Win 7 version of this feature, you can't manually re-size these windows: once they snap into place they're going to take up a predictable amount of space (i.e., one third of the screen).
To some extent, you can control the look and feel of Windows 8. No, there's no bringing back the Start button, but you can select different color themes for your Start Screen. Toward the end of the Windows 8 development process, Microsoft added so-called Personalization Tattoos -- essentially, Start Screen backgrounds with patterns and borders. So long as you're signed into your PC using a Microsoft account, this, too, will follow you to other Windows 8 devices you might log into. Get another Win 8 PC down the line, and it will show your paisley background as soon as you sign in for the first time.
In addition to the Start Menu, you can customize the look and feel of the lock screen. This includes the background photo, as well as which notifications are displayed. For instance, even without entering your password, you can see upcoming calendar appointments, as well as a peek at how many unread messages or emails you have. In the PC settings, you can also choose to display detailed information for one of two things: your upcoming calendar appointment, or the weather forecast.
For the most part, the desktop should feel familiar to Windows 7 users.
For the most part, the desktop should feel pretty familiar to Windows 7 users, especially compared to that redesigned Start Screen. Still, there are some differences here, too. For starters, the Aero UI is no more, which means windows no longer have a transparent border. Everything here is flat and two-dimensional, not unlike those new Live Tiles.
Setting up the Mail app is easy: if the Microsoft ID you use to initially sign in is tied to Gmail, or some other service not run by Microsoft, it automatically prompts you for your email password. In the case of Gmail, we had the option of syncing our Google contacts and Calendar as well (we said yes). There are also easy setup options for Hotmail, Outlook.com, Yahoo and AOL, though you can add accounts from other services too. Even if you don't link a Hotmail or Outlook account, the Mail app will import all your folders and labels -- everything, really, but your starred items, in Gmail. Those folders take up just a narrow pane on the left side of the screen. Next to that is a wider window where you can see each individual message, along with previews and, when applicable, thumbnails of the contact who wrote to you.
As promised, when we chose to sync our Google contacts and Calendar, our appointments all promptly showed up in the built-in Calendar app. (If you're not a Google user, you can also link your Hotmail, Outlook.com or Exchange / Office365 calendar.) The default view is by month, which is a bit too busy for our tastes -- you can only see two appointments per day, even if there are many more. We highly suggest selecting the daily or weekly view in the menu options hidden at the bottom of the screen. If you're creating an appointment from scratch, you'll have the same options as if you were doing this online: everything from date to time slot to reminder alerts.
The People app doubles as an address book and a one-stop shop for social networking updates. Using the settings menu in the Charms Bar, you can link all sorts of accounts -- things like Google, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Obviously, the more of these services you connect, the more contacts will pop up in your People Hub. All told, it works similarly to the People Hub in Windows Phone, which is to say everyone you know gets a contact card that pulls in all available forms of contact -- everything from email to a Twitter handle. Open your own contact card and you can update your Facebook status as well as post, favorite or reply to tweets.
In Windows 8, you get not one, but two versions of the IE 10 browser: one for the desktop, and a more touch-friendly one that lives on the Start Screen. Both versions have a Chrome-like setup, with a single bar for URLs and web searches. The two also sync with each other, which wasn't the case in earlier builds of the OS.
Windows' built-in camera app is simple: a full-screen frame (if you choose a 16:9 resolution), with a few options always visible at the bottom. These include a timer, video mode and a "change camera" toggle (assuming there are front and rear cameras). There's also a "camera options" icon, but from there you can only switch the resolution or choose another audio recording option, if applicable.
In addition to creating a dedicated SkyDrive app for Windows 8, Microsoft made over the browser version of its cloud storage service. As ever, people signing up for a new Microsoft account get 7GB of free lifetime storage. However, if you recall, folks who had previously uploaded files as of April 22 of this year had the option of opting into 25GB of storage. If you're already enthusiastic about Windows and the Microsoft ecosystem at large, chances are this describes you.
Messaging is your native IM app. For now, you can link it with Microsoft Messenger (of course) or Facebook chat. Though it would be nice to add Google Talk, the way you can add your Gmail address in the Mail app, we're not surprised that Microsoft has excluded the competition here.
Similar to the People app, Photos pulls in pictures from all sorts of sources: Facebook, Flickr, SkyDrive and your PC's local storage. As a portal for viewing and sharing photos, it's great. You can run a slide show, and use the context-aware sharing feature in the Charms Bar to easily upload pics to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and other websites. You can also pull in pics from another PC you may own -- so long as you install the SkyDrive desktop client on that system and select the checkbox next to "Let me use SkyDrive to fetch any of my files on this PC."
Games, Music and Video
We'll just lump these together since they all fall under the Xbox ecosystem. Through these apps, you can buy music, movies and Xbox Live games, with the additional option of renting some movies. For now, Windows Phone games are not supported in the way you can play some iOS games on both iPhones and iPads. It would seem logical of Microsoft to eventually make its Windows Phone games available on Windows 8 devices, but for now, you'll have to download different sets of apps for your tablet and smartphone.
Required Hard Disk Space
Required Video Card
Graphics hardware acceleration requires a DirectX 9 graphics card with WDDM driver
Additional System Requirements
Microsoft account required for some features. Watching DVDs requires separate playback software. Windows Media Center license sold separately.