Seven Essential Things You Need to Know about Windows 8 and Windows RT

Thinking of upgrading to Windows 8 or buying a PC with the new operating system? Confused by all the changes in Windows that have taken place? In this article I will try to give answers to some basic questions about the new systems. Here are the essential things you need to know before you upgrade or buy anything.

1. What is the difference between Windows 8 and Windows RT?

There are actually two distinct new versions of Windows. They are intended for different kinds of hardware and Microsoft marketing has not explained the difference very well. One version is called Windows 8; the other is sometimes called Windows 8 RT but, more often, just Windows RT.

Windows RT is designed to run on mobile platforms that use what are called ARM processors and it will not run on conventional PCs that use x86/64 processors.. It is oriented to a touch interface and will only run software that is specifically written for it. It also will not run many older peripherals. Note that RT is the operating system on the recently released tablet from Microsoft called Surface.

The system called Windows 8 is for conventional PCs that use x86/64 processors but with a lot of emphasis on using touch screens. However, it will run most legacy programs. This is the system to use for upgrading older Windows versions.  To break into the new era of touch screens, Microsoft has given Windows 8 a split personality. In many ways it is like two operating systems in one package. It has one interface that looks much like the Windows 7 desktop (but no Start menu) and it has another interface with colorful tiles that is intended mostly for systems with touch screens. This tile interface is the default and is called the “Start Screen”. Using Windows 8 tends to involve switching back and forth between the two interfaces.

2. Can you use Windows 8 on a system with a mouse and no touch screen?

Yes, it is possible to use Windows 8 in a purely point-and-click environment. But in my personal experience it takes some getting used to and it can be frustrating at first. For example, the absence of a Start button and Start Menu requires an adjustment in thinking. With or without a touch screen, Windows 8 requires learning new ways to do things.

3. What existing Windows systems can be upgraded to Windows 8?

You can use an upgrade edition of Windows 8 (not RT) on Windows XP, Vista, and 7. However, only Windows 7 systems will allow for the transfer of existing files, programs and settings. If your PC is running Windows XP or Windows Vista, you will need to reinstall your programs.

To check what legacy applications work on Windows 8, you can download the Upgrade Assistant from this Microsoft link. You can also check hardware compatibility at this Microsoft page. According to Microsoft, the minimum system requirements are as shown below (but personally I would double the RAM and the disk space):

  • Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster with support for PAE, NX, and SSE2 (more info)
  • RAM: 1 GB (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit)
  • Hard disk space: 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
  • Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver

Note that these requirements are a minimum and probably do not allow for very much activity on the PC.

4. What are the new Metro or Windows Store apps?

As part of its growing emphasis on mobile platforms, Microsoft has begun its own collection of apps for its new operating systems with an online source called the Windows Store. Microsoft originally called these little programs Metro apps but a trademark dispute led to a name change and they are now called “Windows Store” apps. In emulation of Apple, all Windows Store apps have to be approved by Microsoft. There are currently far fewer of these apps for Windows 8/RT than there are for Apple IOS or Android platforms but developers are adding new ones as time goes by.

Only apps that are bought or downloaded from the Windows Store can be used on a platform that has RT as its operating system. Windows RT will not run any standard desktop Windows applications except the applications that are bundled with the operating system. However, Windows 8 will run Windows Store apps as well as older legacy programs.

For the technically minded, the Windows Store apps and the bundled apps on Windows 8/RT use new APIs that are different to the conventional WinAPI set. All the gory details about APIs can be read here

5. How do you dual-boot Windows 7 with Windows 8?

The procedure is quite straightforward. It is described at many places on the web. Here is a Microsoft link. According to another Microsoft link, you will need a full edition of Windows 8 in order to dual-boot. Personally, I have been using a virtual machine.

6. What editions of Windows 8 are there?

Wikipedia has a very large chart (link here) with all the information you are likely to want. Basically, however, there are two consumer versions of Windows 8, each with 32- and 64-bit varieties, plus a 32-bit Windows RT. For the time being, Microsoft is offering Windows 8 Pro upgrades for the same price as plain Windows 8 and should be your choice.

If you are a user of Windows Media Center, you should be aware that Microsoft is going to charge extra for this feature. However, until January 31, 2013 you can get Media Center as a free addition to Windows 8 Pro. Go to this Microsoft page.

7. Is it worth upgrading to Windows 8?

The decision to upgrade depends on a number of factors and is a function of individual preferences. Let me say up front that my personal opinion is that most ordinary home PC users employing a point-and-click environment will find the benefits of a Windows 8 upgrade to be marginal. It is on touch screen devices where Windows 8 shines.

Those who have Windows XP or older Vista systems may very well find that their hardware is too old or inadequate to deal with an upgrade. The odds are that these systems are not good candidates for an upgrade to Windows 8. Microsoft has worked hard to provide driver compatibility but you may find that peripherals like printers that work just fine on these older systems may need new drivers or may not work at all. Personally, I feel that an older system that is currently serving your purposes should be left alone for now. Even Windows XP is still receiving security updates from Microsoft.

Those who upgrade Windows 7 systems will have an easier path but may still face software and hardware glitches. Hardware companies always seem to lag in providing drivers for new operating systems. I think a good general rule is to wait a few months before trying any new operating system. Microsoft has already issued a large update for Windows 8 and more fixes will probably be forthcoming as the inevitable bugs are uncovered.

Technology enthusiasts who enjoy trying new things will obviously be interested in Windows 8. If you are one of those who see the PC as just a tool to accomplish certain tasks and have no particular interest in learning about new operating systems, then I see no compelling reason to upgrade to Windows 8 yet. But in the last analysis this is a personal choice.

More information

Thanks go to Gizmo, Jojoyee, and MC for suggestions and help.

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This tips section is maintained by Vic Laurie. Vic runs several websites with Windows how-to's, guides, and tutorials, including a site for learning about Windows and the Internet and another with Windows 7 tips.

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Comments

by eikelein on 10. November 2012 - 3:31  (102095)

Before I forget: Vic, Thanks a BIG bunch for this article!

Real life story:
Customer call: "Can you help, my computer behaves erratically and is just different...". What do I find? Win8 pre-release trial version installed over a previous Win 7.

Customer claims that nobody but him ever touches this computer and that he did not install Windows 8! Well, the wonders of the Micro$oft world.

Solution: I install Classic Shell (free!), do a bit of setup and some clean up and he is happy as a clam.

I have Win8 running on all 4 computers except the one I am writing on, my "production system". Just no time yet...

My conclusion: The Win8 Modern UI (formerly Metro) SUCKS big time on conventional computers with screen, mouse and keyboard.

Even with a touch enabled screen I would not want it. Have you ever tried to hold your hand for three minutes (only!) up and about half arm length out in front of your chest? I have been told that even younger people complain about the weight of their hand and arm!

by tuna (not verified) on 20. November 2012 - 3:25  (102590)

A couple people I know bought big 23"+ touchscreens and none has reported liking sitting within arms reach. The persistent ones sit even closer to prop their elbow because of fatigue. No thanks. Gimme a keyboard with a long leash any day.

by Juxxize on 11. November 2012 - 13:12  (102162)

i never thought about that, i can imagine your arm would ach using the touch screen all the time, after an hours use your arm would feel like it was ready for dropping off. The fact the media center will not be included after the promotional period is a real draw back for me.

by ajm345 on 10. November 2012 - 3:59  (102098)

I found it frustrating with a mouse and purchased a Logitech Touchpad 650 for use with my desk top PC it has all the swipe functions of the tablet and I now really like windows 8. I have been a tablet user for a long time so I got used the single application interface and with the touchpad I can switch between apps quickly. The first time I launched word a it took me to Win 7 desktop was a little disconcerting but it was fairly easy to adjust to this.
The performance is great even with Office applications not written for 8. Word and Excel launch almost instantaneously.

The upgrade was flawless and very quick, 40 minutes, only two programs were reported as not supported and removed and that was Comodo firewall and MS security Essentials which was replaced by a Win 8 version.

I have not had a single problem since installing. Although the metro interface will odd to most users you should give it a try, I think MS is headed in the right direction.

Just incase you wonder I am 67 years older and not a geek.

by godel on 10. November 2012 - 1:39  (102091)

By the way, the old "clean install with an upgrade disk" trick
still works, as it did with Vista and Windows 7.

No previously installed OS needed.

by Remah on 9. November 2012 - 23:57  (102086)

It is not mandatory to run the Upgrade Assistant but I suggest that users with 32-bit processors always do so before attempting to upgrade or install Windows 8. They are the ones most likely to be told that “Your PC's CPU isn't compatible with Windows 8” because they don't have "support for PAE, NX, and SSE2".

Coreinfo is one of the many programs that itemizes your processor's capabilities http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/cc835722.

The NX and PAE features can be switched off in the BIOS settings, so it is worth checking there to turn them on.

Windows installs that don't use the processor check include 'network installs and 'boot from media' installs. In such cases, the alternate version of Windows Setup will get the error "UNSUPPORTED_PROCESSOR code (0x0000005D)". This applies even when Windows 8 is being installed into a virtual machine (VM).

CPUs before 2003 will definitely not run Windows 8. From 2005, most will as they're mainly 64-bit CPUs. If you have a 32-bit CPU and are already using Address Windowing Extensions (AWE) then you are more likely to be OK.

As an example, a 2003 Dell Dimension 2400 has an Intel Pentium 4 processor which has no NX bit so the Upgrade Assistant says Windows 8 won't install. Windows 8 Setup just hangs with a blank screen.

by Remah on 12. November 2012 - 21:01  (102214)

If you want to upgrade 32-bit Windows and have a 64-bit processor in your PC then running the upgrade assistant will give you the 32-bit Windows 8 upgrade. There is no upgrade path from 32-bit Windows XP, Vista and 7 to 64-bit Windows 8. This has been true for all 64-bit versions of Windows.

To purchase the 64-bit version online you can run the Upgrade Assistant on any PC running 64-bit Windows. The downloaded version can then be written to DVD and installed on your PC. This is the cheapest option for getting one edition of Windows 8.

Otherwise buy the retail upgrade which has both 32-bit and 64-bit disks. If you think you might need both then this will be cheaper than buying two licenses to download.

For further info on upgrading see:
http://winsupersite.com/article/windows8/windows-8-upgrade-32bit-64bit-1...

by Remah on 10. November 2012 - 0:06  (102087)

I've put this info here to help anyone else who has the same problems that I've had trying determining Windows 8 compatibility on paper. So here's more specific info for each of the required processor features:

PAE, introduced 1995, is used to access more than 4Gb of memory on 32-bit processors. 64-bit processors can automatically access more than 4Gb of memory.

SSE2 was first implemented on the Pentium 4 in 2001. The following link is to two lists of CPUs that support SSE2 and CPUs that do not:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sse2#CPUs_supporting_SSE2

The NX bit (or XD bit as Intel name it) uses PAE on 32-bit processors. It is also required to enable other security features like DEP and ASLR:
From 2003 on AMD64.
From 2004 on the Intel 64 Pentium 4, starting with the E0 revision of the Prescott core.

by Anupam on 10. November 2012 - 6:52  (102106)

Thanks Remah for the information :).

by v.laurie on 10. November 2012 - 0:18  (102088)

Thanks, Remah, for the supplementary information.

by des (not verified) on 9. November 2012 - 14:24  (102069)

It should be known that you cannot upgrade from Windows XP 64 bit as the upgrade assistant insists that SP3 is required and of course there is no SP3 for Win XP 64 bit.
Upgrade fro 32 bit is smooth as silk.
UAC is a pain. I resent saving a file only to be told two minutes later I don't have permission to access the file or even being told I cannot save the file because the folder is read only. Otherwise, great system.

by Yogiko (not verified) on 9. November 2012 - 9:08  (102060)

Thanks for the summary. There seems to be no obvious reason to upgrade. I hate that M$ forces everyone to relearn the operating system all the time, without even providing any kind of benefit. After 2 years on Windows 7 I still miss my XP...

by Vilinha (not verified) on 9. November 2012 - 13:52  (102064)

really? I hate XP everytime I work with it again! At work I have Vista and god does it suck! I had windows 7 at home and now I have windows 8 and I am truly madly deeply in love! It's crazy fast! my slow laptop boot's up in 20 seconds with a 5400RPM's WD blue HDD =O! the only thing that's wrong a bit is UAC, they need to work on that. okok its diferent! But XP was way diferent than windows 98 and stuff and it still rocked! If you try it out withou the preconception that it probably suck's and really try to get used to it, after a while its like butter, very good work from microsoft!

by Avalok (not verified) on 9. November 2012 - 7:58  (102059)

Upgrading to Windows 8 shoild be considered by all who have a compatible system, IMHO.
I had a HP touchsmart notebook with Vista Home premium running on it and over the years it slowed down and took more than 4 minutes to just boot up. W8 boots in seconds!
People who are already using smartphones and tabs will find it a breeze to learn working with Windows 8. Installing W8 is a breeze with the upgrade assistant provided by Microsoft. And what more, they are offering the W8 pro version at a dirt cheap rate now - the offer ends in January.
Here are the main reasons to consider upgrading:
1. Faster in all aspects, be it boot time,launching apps.websites or searching
2. In-built antivirus and firewall. No need to purchase a 3rd party program.
3. Comes with IE10 which is terrific
4. Sharing and social networking is also very easy.
5. As of now more than 10,000 apps are available and 100s are added daily
6. Syncing with Skydrive (25gb) is also inbuilt if you have a windows ID
7. No nagging "update now" messages as W8 does most of it in the background
8. Installing and uninstalling programs are also easy and W8 doesn't ask you to restart
9. For those who love start menu, lots of apps are available free
10. Lots of cool features like picture password , start screens,themes etc
11. Basic configuration like network,syncing, wifibetc are easily done via, 'Settings"

by simsan (not verified) on 9. November 2012 - 16:42  (102073)

hi Avalok, my Sony laptop (circa 2007) w/ windows vista is crashing big time lately. Do you think I can buy a new copy of win8 and can be OK? Where did you buy the Windows 8 pro copy w/ its service assistant? locally or amzn? Do i need to change any hardware here? my wife just uses the laptop for movie series watching. pls. advice. much thnaks- sim.

by Avalok (not verified) on 10. November 2012 - 3:35  (102096)

Hi, to know if your machine is compatible or not just download and run the upgrade assistant here:
http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-8/upgrade-to-windows-8
Also a compatiblibility checklist can be found here:
http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-8/system-requirements
My guees is you would be able to upgrade. I bought W8 through the upgrade assistant app by using my credit card. You can also buy through Paypal account,if you have one.

And as for those who were uncharitable to me in the comments column all i can say is " Give respect first, argue later"

by Anyoldmouse (not verified) on 9. November 2012 - 14:09  (102067)

Sounds like someone works for Microsoft!

by Avalok (not verified) on 10. November 2012 - 3:42  (102097)

Respect, bro! Just Google 'avalok arts' and you will find all out about me. Happy weekend!

by Anupam on 10. November 2012 - 6:52  (102105)

You can just ignore such worthless comments... these are what we often term as troll comments. Don't even deserve a reply. Thanks for posting your comment :).

by Anyoldmouse (not verified) on 9. November 2012 - 14:16  (102068)

There is something wrong on this site, or perhaps it's deliberate. I wouldn't have posted essentially the same comment as gwhskip if I'd seen it. But I only saw Yogiko and Avalok's comments. Once I posted mine I saw down to droslovinia's. I tested this on two other machines, same thing - comment box opens under Avalok's. Why is this? That comment is just the same as pure, uncritical advertising anyway.

by Remah on 9. November 2012 - 22:04  (102083)

I don't agree that the "comment is just the same as pure, uncritical advertising." Avalok is simply describing the benefits that he has noticed.

As far as I can see, it hasn't been cut and pasted from anything Microsoft produces. I've found much the same benefits as Avalok. I'd also add:
12. The Upgrade Assistant is very helpful and reliable inidientifying exactly where you might have problems.
13. The Setup program makes installs very easy and they've run smoothly for me everytime.

I've installed Windows 8, as Avalok did, over Vista. I've also installed both 32-bit and 64-bit versions on PCs at the minimum system requirements and had no problems. I've been trying out different upgrade options so I've run the Upgrade assistant and Setup many times.

by Anyoldmouse (not verified) on 9. November 2012 - 14:27  (102070)

First two machines browser was Chrome. Tried again on a totally unmodified IE on another machine, same result only those two comments, but on Firefox all comments show.

by Jojo Yee on 10. November 2012 - 2:31  (102094)

Have you tried to refresh the web pages Anyoldmouse? I find this is one of the easy ways which sometimes will help.

by Remah on 9. November 2012 - 22:06  (102085)

I can't reproduce your problem on any of Firefox, Waterfox, Pale Moon, Chrome, Opera, IE 64, and IE 32.

by gwhskip (not verified) on 9. November 2012 - 14:06  (102066)

Sounds like an MS employee to me; I trust Gizmo more!

by jgregozinho (not verified) on 9. November 2012 - 13:59  (102065)

Avalok, I cound't describe the main advantages better.

Yet I think that Gizmo is pretty right when stressing that older PCs sometimes may not benefit from this new OS.

One thing I found very interesting is that even less tech persons find W8 a bit more user friendly and even easy to learn, due to the similarity with smartphones.

But in my view the real deal will come with the new Windows RT based tablets!

by droslovinia (not verified) on 9. November 2012 - 13:52  (102063)

It's better than Vista!? That doesn't sound like much of a recommendation.

Are there any reasons other than those churned out by the Micro$oft marketing department? It's kind of logically inconsistent to ballyhoo something for offering features that you easily get via 3rd party apps, such as social networking and a web browser, then come back and claim, as a plus, that you can get a "start" menu via third party apps. You either need 3rd party software to get the functionality you need or you don't.

I'm not saying that Win8 is necessarily a bust, it might be great, but we probably need a lot more evidence from the end-users and a lot less of the hype that has been pushed since the OS was first announced.

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