First, let's get something out of the way. Most of what's really new in Windows 8 relates to the Metro touch interface, which is Microsoft's biggest bet on this OS generation -- a bet that's risky but necessary given the company's lack of presence in the growing tablet market. This is also how the folks at Redmond have figured could give a needed boost to its smartphone business (“Windows everywhere”), which is well behind market leaders, iOS and Android.

This review is based on my experience with Windows 8 using a desktop, so I've been treating Windows 8 like most computer enthusiasts will: as a direct upgrade from Windows 7 on my custom-built machine, just like I did with Vista, XP, 2k, and other previous Windows releases.

As you've heard repeatedly in the past year, the new Windows Start screen replaces the Start menu, and that's a radical shift for the platform. A few months ago, we wrote an editorial about using the Start screen as a Start menu replacement. Feedback was overwhelming and evidently divided. I don't feel the Start screen is perfect on a desktop, nor is it a fully competent replacement, but once you settle on the idea and spend time configuring the screen to your liking, it's a viable solution for quickly accessing programs.

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