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So last Friday night I decided to make the jump and upgrade my PC to Windows 8. I was hesitant at first, because I was getting it for my desktop PC, and pretty much everyone seems to think of Windows 8 as a touch operating system for tablets and ultrabooks.

However, I’m here to tell you that it’s a wonderful OS for desktops, and works great with mouse and keyboard. After a week of using it, I say with firm conviction that this is the best operating system from Microsoft to date. It’s sleek, attractive, fast, and genuinely live. You’ll love the 3-second boot up, and once you get used to the tiles and new methodology, Windows 8 simply works better. In almost every application that I put it to, it has proven quicker and more stable than Windows 7, and if you’re worried about legacy, fret no more. Everything works fine, with a few minor tweaks – some games needed to initially run in Windows 7 compatibility mode, but patches are coming in so this won’t be necessary for much longer.

As you probably know, Windows 8 has two interfaces in one OS. The primary one is the start screen with the live tiles, which reflect the programs (now called apps) you have installed, including all the default ones. This can be modified quite easily. Press the Windows key on your desktop, mouse over the top right corner of the screen, or simply click the Desktop tile, and you’re whisked off to what looks just like your Windows 7 desktop from before. It obviously isn’t the same desktop underneath, it’s Windows 8, but it adds an air of familiarity. The only thing that’s missing is the start button, which you don’t need anymore.

Together, the start screen and desktop work very well. Multitasking is also a breeze, and Windows 8 can handle numerous apps at once without breaking a sweat. Plus, if you happen to be a Windows Phone or Xbox user, you’ll cheer as these are now fully integrated into Windows 8 with seamless syncing and and sharing. The design is also very consistent across PC, Windows Phone, and Xbox.

As I said, the tiles are live, so many of them change to show new information. For example your news tile displays headlines, tiles for games track your progress, and so on. It’s really engaging, and looks beautiful. Suffice it to say, I’m a fan.

Let’s take a look at a sequence of photos that document my journey with Windows 8 so far. My desktop specs are Intel Core i5 processor, 16GB DDR3, P8H77-M PRO motherboard, and an ASUS HD 7950 DirectCU II. On this config Windows 8 runs super smooth, and games look better, perhaps thanks to the new Catalyst 12.10 drivers AMD put out. At any rate, you don’t need a monster PC to run Windows 8.

I made use of Microsoft’s US$39.99 upgrade offer, which is download only and Windows 8 Pro. The more basic version of Windows 8 won’t be available until the new year. A boxed version is available, but costs more and clearly requires shipping. If you installed genuine Windows 7 in the last six months or so, you get a US$14.99 upgrade offer!

Once you make your decision, the Windows Upgrade Assistant downloads. Run that to get Windows 8 going on your PC.

Beginning of the install/upgrade process, with the new Windows logo.

You’re taken to this screen, where you’re given three install options. I believe most opt for the install now choice.

Proper install process. In my case this took around two hours start to finish, with multiple reboots of the PC. Sounds like a chunk of time, but it went super-smooth and like I said, everything works as expected. Compatibility is simply not an issue.

Once again, the new Windows logo, as the OS gets ready to finish the process. At this point I was truly excited.

Remember that Windows 8 refers to programs as apps now. Even your desktop is essentially an app. In this part, the OS loads up and installs the default applications plus anything carried over from your previous Windows version.

Here’s the pseudo-Windows 7 desktop. I checked it first right after Windows 8 finished installing/setting up. It’s basically an intact version of my pre-Windows 8 desktop, with everything in place. This was a great relief and told me things are going to be good with the new OS.

First look at the colourful and lively (literally) start screen. On the bottom left you see the desktop tile/app, click on it and you go to the desktop I showed you before. Otherwise, these are mostly default Windows 8 Pro apps, including IE10, finance, messaging, maps, media, and of course the store and gaming sections. Games are now labelled Xbox Windows, and carry achievements just like their Xbox console brethren. In fact, most media is Xbox-branded starting with Windows 8. There’s Xbox Music and Xbox Video. You can expect more PC/console integration in the near future.

Here’s an example of the game store, with titles carrying the Xbox Windows tag. A lot of these are free and really excellent. Adera is highly recommended for light adventure/puzzle fans, and Taptiles is very addictive on its own.

Applications like my beloved Steam work great, just like in Windows 7. Having said that, some specific games do have issues, and need to be forced into Windows 7 compatibility mode to work. Patches are incoming for most, so it should be fine. Overall, I would say 95% of the games I’ve tried so far run hiccup-free, and with the new 12.10 drivers from AMD actually look better.

Many were concerned with multitasking, but Windows 8 handles that very well. Right click anywhere on the start screen, and an All Apps button comes up that lets you access and manage every installed app on your desktop.

Closer inspection of multitasking – mouse over the top left corner, and all open applications currently running appear in their own little windows. Switching between them and closing them is a breeze.

Windows 8 comes with Internet Explorer 10, which is faster and easier to use than any previous IE. Click in the address bar and these huge tiles appear for all your frequent/favourite sites. Speed is noticeably better than IE9.

On the right hand side you can see the famous Charm Bar, which gives you access to basic PC settings, device syncing, app search, and more. Leave it on for a second or so and the date and time pop up. In this shot you can see I’ve added some more apps, including Smart Glass which allows your tablet to control your Xbox console or desktop PC. The way the start screen is laid out by default is simple: left to right it’s basic/standard apps, personal installed apps carried over from previous OS versions, and newly downloaded apps. You can move the tiles around very easily, though, as you wish.

The verdict on Windows 8 for me as an ardent desktop user is simple. It’s a wonderful operating system for traditional PCs – looks great, runs great, and feels great. There are some very minor teething issues. Some games and programs are not fully compatible,and  Blu-ray playback remains an issue. But In the grander scheme of things, Windows 8 is much more than a pleasant surprise, it’s a bona fide joy to use. And not just for those portable devices – you’re talking a serious OS for gamers and performance heads on desktops.

Let us know what you think!

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