Windows 7 to Windows 8: The system's biggest improvements
Automatically change window color
Where to get started: Right-click from Desktop > Personalize > Window Color
Windows 8 has a new feature that automatically adjusts the window color in the traditional desktop to match your background image.
If you have an image of the sky, the windows and the taskbar will turn blue. If you have an image heavy in brown tones, the windows and taskbar will go brown.
Faster startup times
Where to get started: Power button
Windows 8 includes a new hybrid system that Microsoft says will dramatically improve boot times compared to Windows 7. The new hybrid boot combines processes used in cold boots and hibernation mode, including kernel-session storage and the employment of multiple cores in parallel during boot.
Where to get started: Computer > right-click Local Disk (C:) > Properties > Tools > Error Checking
A close cousin to the Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) is the Black Screen of Come On Already! (BSOCOA!), also known as chkdsk (check disk). Chkdsk is a utility that tries to fix file-system corruptions.
In Windows 8, the GUI version of chkdsk can scan an active drive, something the Windows 7 GUI version can't do. To fix problems, you still have to reboot in Windows 8, but the process is much faster.
Where to get started: Control Panel > System and Security > File History
Microsoft has upgraded the Windows Backup and Restore features of Windows 7 with a new, easier-to-use Windows 8 tool called File History.
Settings app in the Modern UI
Where to get started: Charms bar > Settings > Change PC settings
Mucking around in the Control Panel can sometimes be a pain, but in Windows 8 you can access some basic tasks via the new Settings app in the Modern UI. You can use the Settings app to adjust your system date and time, reinstall Windows, manage your HomeGroup, or access Windows Update.
You'll still need to use the Control Panel for most security tasks, power options, and power-user features (such as BitLocker encryption).
Search in Windows 8
Where to get started: Charms Bar > Search
The search tool in Windows 7 is fairly powerful, letting you search for apps, as well as search inside files and folders.
The new search function in the Windows 8 Modern UI adds to this by letting you search the content inside touch-centric apps. This is a handy feature when you're looking for something inside the Windows Store or for a news topic via the News app.
Third-party apps must add search functionality, so search may not work in all of your apps.
Where to get started: Windows 8 Start screen
For most users, personalization in Windows 7 means pinning apps to the taskbar, changing the desktop wallpaper, and selecting a user-account photo.
In Windows 8, personalization extends to showing you data you've arranged to highlight right from the Start screen's live tiles, including new email, social networking updates, and sports news about your favorite teams.
Where to get started: Charms bar > Change PC settings > General > Advanced startup
A new secure-boot process, enabled by default on all new Windows 8 PCs, will prevent unauthorized operating systems and malware from loading on your machine. The system uses cryptographic signatures to verify that the operating system is authorized to load and that it hasn't been tampered with.
Although some critics welcome the new security enhancement, this feature is controversial. Many digital-rights advocates worry that secure boot will give users less control over their PCs and even less security, arguing that the secure boot process will inevitably be hacked.
So much more
Microsoft has made many more improvements to Windows 8, including improved hardware acceleration for graphics, better printer discovery, and a new enterprise virtualization feature called Windows to Go.
Windows 8 offers something for everyone from nothing-fancy users who just want to handle email, surf the Web, and watch videos, to advanced users with needs such as managing multiple external hard drives and reinstalling Windows.
Windows 7 to Windows 8: The system's...