There's plenty to like about Windows 8. It can synchronise settings across all your devices; the File History tool is perfect for simple backups; there are a host of useful new tools in the Windows Store; it's fast, includes some excellent repair options, and the list goes on.
What really matters this time, though, isn't just what Microsoft has added to the Windows mix: it's what it has changed, or taken away.
And that's because this is no gently incremental upgrade. Rather, Windows 8 has undergone a major redesign which sees the Start menu scrapped, the desktop demoted, and years of interface conventions thrown away.
Can you learn to live in a Windows 8 world, then? That all depends on how you feel about what Microsoft has done. Let's take a closer look.
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The Start Screen
Log on to Windows 8 for the first time and you'll notice that the Start menu has been replaced by the colourful new Metro Start Screen. This looks so good that you may not mind, at least initially, but it won't take long before you run into problems.
The Start menu provided easy access to every aspect of your system, for instance: search, Windows tools, settings, installed programs, recent documents and more. There simply isn't room to display all this on the Start Screen, though, and so many functions have now been scattered around the system, making them much harder to find.
After launching Windows 8, for instance, experienced users may want to customise it - but there's no Control Panel tile. The Start Screen does have its own Settings dialog, but this is so hidden that many users will probably only find it by accident (you need to move your mouse cursor to the top-left corner of the screen to launch the Charms menu, and click Settings). And even then they'll be disappointed, as it doesn't contain very much.
Installing applications isn't difficult, and they'll extend the Start Screen with tiles of their own. What you won't find is a Documents menu, though, or a clear way of pinning files to the Start Screen.
And it's not even obvious how to perform a simple task like shutting down or restarting your system. In Windows 7 clicking the Start button was enough to point you in the right direction: now you have to move your mouse cursor over to the top-left corner of the screen, hit the Settings option (not the most obvious location), click Power and choose the option you need.
It's not all bad news, though, fortunately. The Start Screen does include a simple menu which provides easy access to some system tools: Control Panel, Task Manager, the Command Prompt and more (press Win+X to see it).
And better still, if you press Win+F, or just start typing a search term, then you'll launch the Windows 8 search tool. Type "Note", say, to see a link for Notepad, or type part of a recent document name to list that file. And if you ever find yourself unable to figure out how to perform some task, just type a relevant term - "shut down", say - and click Settings for more helpful links.
These techniques aren't a complete solution, of course. If anything, they present some issues of their own. When we search right now, for instance, Windows 7 displays matches for Control Panel, Documents, Pictures, Music and Files, all on the same display.
Windows 8 displays results only for Apps, Settings or Files, though, and while there are many more options available (News, Travel, Store, more) it takes an extra click to view each one.
Still, the Win+X menu should reduce your initial frustrations, and if you find you're still lost then the Search tool does a reasonable job of tracking down the information you need.
One notable problem with Windows 8 is that it tried to bring together two largely separate worlds: one for the programs you're running now, and another for its Start Screen apps. And this can complicate the way you work. Let's take task management as an example.
If you want to launch a regular Windows program, for instance, then clicking the Start Screen "Desktop" tile will launch something which looks much like the Windows 7 desktop (less the Start menu, anyway). Run programs here, matching buttons will appear on the taskbar and you'll be able to switch between them with a click, as you can now. But you won't see buttons for any Start Screen apps you have running. It's as though they don't exist.
Press the Windows key to switch back to the Start screen and everything changes. You can launch multiple apps, but there's no taskbar to switch between them, so instead you must move your mouse cursor to the top left corner of the screen to see the previously used app, then drag down to see all the others. And while this will show you the desktop as one of the apps, you won't be able to switch directly to a specific program which you've launched from there.
Again, there is a sort-of solution here: just use Alt+Tab. This displays all your programs on a single screen, whether desktop or Start Screen-based, and allows you to switch to the one you need. But this may not necessarily be straightforward - switching from one running program to the next might take a while, especially if you've lots of Metro apps running in the background - and the underlying problems still remain.
The taskbar isn't as reliable a way to show running programs in Windows 8; users have to learn a whole new Start Screen task management technique which is similarly incomplete; and so even simple task switching can require a little more thought and effort than it did before.
That's just the start, though. The real problem with Metro apps comes when you want to run them alongside something else, because by default they run full-screen. It's possible to run two alongside each other, if your screen resolution is high enough (move the mouse to the top of the screen, click, drag and drop the thumbnail to the left to move one app to a sidebar, then run another), but that's your limit.
While the desktop still allows you to run multiple regular applications next to each other, in windows sized and positioned to suit your needs, that simply can't be done in the Metro world.
These issues won't be a major concern for everyone, of course. If you live solely on the desktop, or make only occasional visits to the Start Screen then they may not bother you at all. But the fact remains that Metro apps are very inflexible in how they can be displayed, and as Microsoft seem to think they're the future then you may not be able to avoid that problem forever.
Another Windows 8 irritation comes in the way it sometimes splits functionality between similar Metro and desktop tools. There's an Internet Explorer app on the Start Screen, for instance, but it doesn't have all the functionality of the desktop version. And there's no way to switch from one to the other.
Or maybe you'd like to customise the look of your PC? You might launch "Personalize" in the Start Screen's PC settings, or maybe "Ease of Access". But there are more options in the full Control Panel's "Appearance and Personalisation" and "Ease of Access Centre". Again, the Search tool can help, but of course you only need to use that so often because Windows 8 has added these extra complexities in the first place.
Install applications and you'll discover other issues. In the past, if programs added ten items to the Start Menu, say, it wouldn't matter as they were neatly hidden in a Start menu folder. Now, though, many are automatically pinned to the Start Screen as separate tiles, so you're likely to spend rather more time manually removing any you don't need (right-click, select Unpin...).
And even figuring out how to close Metro programs can pose another challenge. There's no "x" top-right, no "File > Exit" option, because Microsoft's intention is that Metro programs should happily run in the background until the system decides they can be closed (if your PC needs more resources, say).
You can shut them down with the mouse, though: just move your mouse cursor to the top of the screen until it changes to a hand icon, then click, hold, and drag it to the bottom of the screen. But as usual with Metro, there are no interface cues to even show you this is possible. And so the best approach might just be to press Alt+F4, which always closes the active program, whether you're on the desktop or running a Metro app.
This, and many of the other Windows 8 problems we've raised are mostly just a matter of familiarity. They may be confusing at first, and perhaps take an extra click or two, but once you've learned the basics then life will mostly return to normal.
But other issues still remain, in particular with Metro, which just doesn't feel like it belongs on a desktop. If someone has a 27" monitor, will they really want to be restricted to displaying a maximum of two apps at the same time? And if the answer is, as we keep hearing, "don't use Metro if you don't want to", then why does Windows 8 force you to boot into its Start Screen at all?
Don't let all this put you off entirely. As we said earlier, there's plenty to like about Windows 8 and it's worth taking a look at the Release Preview. Just be ready for some frustrations: there are many significant changes, and even mastering the Windows 8 basics could take quite some time.