Switching made easy: From Windows 7 to Windows 8

These upgrade and basic navigation tips will ease the move to Windows 8

Some of us move from one OS to another with ease. But others find it a bit more difficult, especially when the new OS is a huge navigation and UI leap from what they've been using for nearly two decades -- as in the case of Windows 8. I've been teaching people at the local Microsoft Store how to make the leap from Windows 7 to Windows 8, as well as to the Windows RT-based Surface RT tablet. Based on their real-world questions and issues, let me share with you how to make the move from Windows 7 to Windows 8 as smooth as possible.

Before you upgrade to Windows 8, I recommend you run the Upgrade Assistant, a free download from Microsoft that scans your system and tells you if it's ready for the Windows 8 upgrade. It's a very useful step, as it will identify issues that could haunt you later if you proceed with your upgrade blindly. Keep in mind that if you upgrade to Windows 8 Pro, you have until Jan. 31, 2013, to get it for a significant discount from Microsoft: $40 for the download and $70 for the DVD, versus its normal price of $200. The upgrade will install Windows 8 over your existing copy of Windows 7, retaining your apps and data. (If you're running Windows XP, you'll need to wipe out your PC and start from scratch. It's probably better to buy a new PC instead.)

[ Get more Windows 8 tips from InfoWorld's J. Peter Bruzzese: Windows 8: 8 tips and tricks, 8 cool new features. | Stay abreast of key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

The Upgrade Assistant will let you know if you really need to buy a new PC instead of upgrading your own. (You might want a new PC anyhow, such as to get a touchscreen or simply faster, better hardware.) If you get a new PC with Windows 8, you can easily move your files -- documents, pictures, music, videos, settings -- from your old PC to your new one. Built into both Windows 7 and Windows 8 is the Windows Easy Transfer application, which makes the process very straightforward. You'll need to have both PCs on the same network, or you can use an external hard disk or USB flash drive as the transfer medium. You can also get a transfer cable, but why bother?

Once Windows 8 is up and running, here's what you need to know to make the mental transition to the new Windows 8 user interface:

  • The Start screen is where you access your apps and go to the traditional Windows Desktop. The fastest way to get to the Start screen is to press the Windows key. But you can also get to it through the Charms bar, a tray of icons that opens on the right side of the screen when you click in the upper-right or lower-right corner of the screen or swipe in from the right edge of the screen. (Even easier: Press Windows-C to open the Charms bar.) One of the Charms bar's icons is the Start button, which looks just like the Windows key.
  • To get to the Windows Desktop, find the desktop's tile on the Start screen and click or tap it. Or even easier, press Windows-D.
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