What are the differences between Windows 7 and Windows 8?

If you have bought a new computer recently, the chances are that you are now trying to get to grips with Windows 8. This is the latest Microsoft operating system which has been installed on all new Windows computers since the latter part of 2012.

Windows 8 looks quite different from Windows 7. This is because it is designed to also work with touchscreen computers and tablets.
Windows 8
The main differences:
  • When you log in to Windows 8, the first screen you see is the new ‘Start Screen’, also known as ‘Metro’. It still has the familiar ‘Desktop’ as well but we’ll come to that in a minute.
  • Instead of Icons, the new Start screen has ‘Tiles’. You click these to open your ‘Apps’ (short for Applications). If you can’t find a particular tile, do a right mouse click in the space at the bottom of the screen and click All Apps.
Windows 8 tiles
  • In Windows 8 we can use apps and programs. Apps open full screen in Metro; programs open on the Desktop just as they did in Windows 7.
  • Additional apps can be downloaded from the Windows Store.
Windows Store
  • Windows 8 comes with an antivirus program called ‘Defender’.
  • Apps don’t have to be closed by clicking a X in the corner – instead, just press the Windows key on your keyboard to return to the Start Screen. Optionally, an app can be closed by dragging it down from the top of the screen with your mouse, with the left button held down – or with your finger if you are using a touchscreen.
  • Windows 8 doesn’t have a Start Menu. Instead, it has a ‘Charms Bar’ (see right) which is where you go to shut down and use other tools such as ‘Search’.
  • Whereas in Windows 7 you might have used Windows Live Mail for your email, Windows 8 has a new ‘Mail’ app.
Windows 8 mail app
  • Instead of having separate contacts for email, Skype and social networking e.g. Facebook, you will find all your contacts together in the new 'People' app.
Windows 8 people app
  • As mentioned above, Windows 8 does still have a Desktop similar to Windows 7. To find this, click the Desktop tile. Traditional programs such as Microsoft Word open on the desktop in the normal way and still have to be closed using the X in the top right hand corner. 
Windows 8 desktop
  • Windows 8 includes two versions of Internet Explorer 10, one which opens from a tile on the Start screen and also one which looks more like version 9 and opens from an icon on the Desktop. Programs can still be pinned to the taskbar by right clicking your mouse on an icon in the taskbar and choosing Pin this program to taskbar.
Windows 8 taskbar



sheila's picture

By sheila on 8th April 2013

DU Community Manager's picture

By DU Community Manager on 8th April 2013

That's a shame, Sheila. Perhaps you could find one secondhand?
David Gething's picture

By David Gething on 8th April 2013

This page has slightly misleading info on closing Apps. You can (and should) close an App by clicking near the top, and dragging down to the bottom.
DU Community Manager's picture

By DU Community Manager on 9th April 2013

Thank you for your feedback, David. Apps don't have to be closed on Windows 8, much like they don't need to be closed on a smartphone or tablet. But it is possible to close them in the way you describe, so we have added a line to explain this. Many thanks again.
CompuGirl's picture

By CompuGirl on 21st June 2013

Options: Being designed to work with touch screens and hand motions, Apps can be closed by moving the cursor to the top center of the screen and holding it down as you drag it to the bottom of the page. Notice the cursor changes from arrow to hand when it reaches the top center point. Leaving an App by returning to the Start screen allows the App to continue running in the background while we do other things. Because they're not seen, some think they've closed all by themselves. But they're just hiding. Want to know which Apps are still open? Just point the cursor at the top left of the screen and as you bring the cursor down the left side, you will see all open Apps. Right clicking on any App here will give you the option to close it without moving from your current program or App. This is a nice choice for those who prefer using a mouse.
Steve's picture

By Steve on 21st April 2013

I like helping folks get on with computers. I know you don't want to confuse people but to say that Windows 8 has been installed on all new computers since late 2012 is just wrong. And of course the implication that a traditional desktop or laptop is the only computer misses the fact that many will do very nicely indeed with a tablet pc, almost all of which use Android or iOS.
DU Community Manager's picture

By DU Community Manager on 21st April 2013

Dear Steve, Thank you for your comment, we have now added the word 'Windows' to the opening paragraph, to make it clear that we are talking about all new windows computers. The vast majority of our beginners do still use desktops or laptops, however we do have some guides relating to tablets (and smartphones) and plan to develop more guides that cater for handheld device users. Thanks again.
CompuGirl's picture

By CompuGirl on 21st June 2013

I love how simply you've explained the basics of using Windows 8! I haven't seen anyone else do it so well. Is it possible to explain how the OS's are different underneath - what makes some software incompatible with Windows 8, even though it's compatible with Windows 7?
tjmanj's picture

By tjmanj on 9th October 2013

Awesome features!! I love the way windows 8 looks..