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