Windows 8 vs. Windows 10: What You Need to Know

To let everyone else tell the story, Microsoft’s Windows 8 and Windows 10 operating systems are direct opposites. In most stories, Windows 8 is a perfect example of hubris and overreach. In a mad dash to stop the iPad and Android tablets from eating into its share of computing, Microsoft created Windows 8 and forced all sorts of changes on users it didn’t have to. Allegedly, Windows 10 is supposed to fix that. It’s certainly, a more exciting narrative than the truth.

Anyone who’s spent a ton of time with both will tell you that isn’t entirely accurate. Windows 10 isn’t a retreat. If anything Microsoft has moved further along in its quest to rethink what the PC is. The key change is that Microsoft approaches the same goals in a different manner. Here’s how Windows 8 and Windows 10 compare and what you need to know before the update arrives for your device later this year.


Windows 8 vs Windows 10: The Start Screen & Start Menu

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There isn’t a single thing that received more negative attention in Windows 8 than the Start Screen. Microsoft introduced the Start Screen as a quick way to solve a crucial problem. It past versions, the company had tried super-sizing elements in Windows to make them more touch-friendly. This never ended well, mostly because you could never make things like the Taskbar and most buttons big enough for users to tap without ruining the way Windows looked. The Start Screen’s job was to provide one centralized place to hold shortcuts, apps and web links. It was a great idea, but Microsoft forced it on all users.

Windows 10’s biggest feature change is called Continuum and it’s important to those who did and didn’t like the Start Screen. Now, the operating system looks at device profiles and input methods and changes the interface based on them. Say, your Windows 8.1 equipped Surface Pro 3 had the Start Screen on even when a keyboard was plugged in. Windows 10 detects that keyboard and asks you if you want to exit tablet mode. Exiting Tablet Mode shrinks the size of the Start Screen to Start Menu proportions and lets you resize every app that you encounter. When you unplug your keyboard, you can turn Tablet Mode back on. Device makers will get to decide if their devices will automatically switch between modes, allegedly. The Start Screen and its apps aren’t dead, they’re just fine tuned.


Windows 8 vs Windows 10: Bing Smart Search & Cortana

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Since relaunching Windows Live Search as Bing a few users ago, Microsoft has found some success in integrating the search engine into everything that they do. In Windows 8.1 we saw Bing surface as Smart Search, an integrated search area that spanned multiple screens and was directly accessible using the Search Charm. Windows 10 kills Bing Smart Search and replaces it with Cortana, the Windows Phone personal assistant.

Cortana sits on the left side of the Taskbar now, waiting for users to ask her questions or perform searches. In addition to searching the web, she can add events to Calendars, setup reminders and play music on command. Cortana, has a personality and a voice to confirm information about searches. There’s also an always listening toggle so that users can have her ready for a voice command at anytime. It’s a very, very big change, but one that’ll bring notebooks and desktops inline with what’s available through Windows Phone today.

Windows 8 vs Windows 10: Better Interface

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We’ve briefly touched on the core changes that Continuum brings, but there are other interface differences beyond it that are worth mentioning.


Successfully using Windows 8 on touch involves a lot of what’s called edge gestures. To search an app you needed to swipe from the right edge of your screen on a Windows device and open the Charms Bar. To switch apps quickly you needed to swipe from the left edge of your display. If you didn’t see an option you were looking for you needed to swipe up from the bottom edge. Closing an app in Windows 8 requires that users swipe down from the top edge. These edge gestures weren’t a bad idea. They were definitely not obvious though, and that was a huge problem.

Edge gestures are still in Windows 10. You can swipe from the left edge of the screen to get a new TaskView look at all of your apps and different desktops. Swiping from the right edge pulls up new the new Action Center notification and settings area. The difference here — really it’s the big key change — there are on-screen options to do anything that has a gesture. Closing apps is now possible from Task View. Buttons for TaskView and Action Center are available on the Taskbar itself. The things that used to require the Charms have been moved to a menu available in each Windows Store app.

Read: What is Windows 10?

No doubt, there are other reasons Windows 8 users will want to download Windows 10 when it’s available. Game streaming through the Xbox One app in particular looks cook, Mail is being replaced by a proper Outlook client. We’ll have to wait until we more of these apps to really determine whether they’ll provide big crucial changes for those upgrading to Windows 10.

Microsoft says Windows 10 will be available for Windows 8.1 users to download absolutely free for one year sometime later this year.