Windows 7 to Windows 8: The system's biggest improvements

The most talked-about issue in the lead-up to Microsoft's launch of Windows 8 is the new Start screen, featuring the Modern UI. But Windows 8 has much more to offer than just a revamped interface.

The operating system includes fundamental enhancements, such as better multiple-monitor setups, an overhauled Windows Explorer, cloud-based account syncing, and new ways to personalize your desktop.

Here are 15 improvements to Windows that you'll want to check out in Microsoft's latest OS, including some new tools in the Modern UI.

Some of these improvements have no corresponding feature in Windows 7. If they do, we'll show you what they look like in Windows 7 and (for comparison) provide a screenshot showing how they are enhanced in Windows 8. Let’s dive in.

Account sync

Where to get started: Charms bar > Settings > Change PC settings > Sync your settings

Windows 8 can sync your user account settings across multiple PCs, saving you the trouble of having to customize your Windows environment manually on different computers.

Windows 8: If you have a Microsoft account, you can sync your settings between multiple PCs.

You can sync your desktop themes and backgrounds, lock screen, account pictures, passwords, HomeGroup settings, Modern UI app settings, browser history, favorites, and more.

Settings syncing requires having a Microsoft account connected to each Windows 8 PC.



Sharing

Where to get started: Charms bar > Share

Social networking comes built into Windows 8's Modern UI, with the ability to share items between Modern UI apps.

Windows 8: Sure, you can mail cool website URLs to your contact. But you can also easily share via social media with the People app. 

You can use this functionality to share items such as links and photos with specific people via Mail, or you can post items to social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter via the People app.

Sharing has to be built in to third-party apps by the apps' developers, so sharing may not work with all Modern UI apps.

Better multiple-monitor setups

Where to get started: Control Panel > Appearance and Personalization > Display

In Windows 8, Microsoft adds several improvements to multiple-monitor setups. The traditional desktop interface now features separate taskbars and backgrounds for each display.

Windows 8: You can configure each display in a multiple-monitor setup individually.

Inside-edge detection also lets you access the Charms bar and the Running Apps bar from any display. In comparison, Windows 7 can either mirror your displays or treat multiple monitors as one big display area.

New dialog box for file copying

Where to get started: Traditional desktop

The new version of Windows Explorer in Windows 8 brings all of your current file copy jobs into a single window, instead of managing multiple windows as Windows 7 does.

Windows 7: File copying and the OS's familiar progress bar.

In Windows 8, you can also pause or stop copy jobs (Windows 7 allows you to stop them but not to pause them), easily manage file-name collisions, and get more details about the copy job, such as the speed of data transfer and a more accurate estimate of time remaining.

Windows 8: The new OS has more detail than you ever imagined for file copying.
Windows 8: Or you can opt for a simpler view, but still track multiple file copying tasks in one dialog box, rather than in many.

Refresh and reset

Where to get started: Charms bar > Settings > Change PC settings > General

Many people make it a habit to create a personalized system image and reinstall Windows every 6 to 12 months to improve their hardware's performance. Microsoft aims to make that chore a little easier with the new refresh and reset features.

Windows 7: The older OS offers less flexibility for restoring backup images.

The new refresh lets you reinstall Windows without losing your personal data, Modern UI apps, and settings. The new reset removes all of your personal data and reinstalls Windows.

WIndows 8: The new OS's refresh and reset features even let you specify how you want the system image to be created.

Picture passwords

Where to get started: Charms bar > Settings > Change PC settings > Users

For people who are tired of using alphanumeric passwords, Windows 8 supports picture passwords.

Windows 8: Use an image and gestures to create a Windows password not easily replicated by hackers.

This feature requires you to choose a photo from your image library and then create three gestures on the photo using any combination of circles, straight lines, and taps (or clicks, on mouse-and-keyboard PCs).

Storage Spaces

Where to get started: Control Panel > System and Security > Storage Spaces

Borrowed from the first version of Windows Home Server and then improved, Storage Spaces lets you manage internal and external storage drives as if they were one massive drive called a storage pool.

Windows 8: Storage Spaces lets you easily add new drives and incorporate them into redundant pools.

Behind the scenes, Storage Spaces also duplicates your data across multiple drives in the pool to create redundancy in case of single-drive failure.

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