Microsoft Surface and Windows 8: What You Need To Know

Microsoft announced two big launches recently – the new Windows 8 operating system and its new Surface tablets. With all of the chatter about Surface and Windows 8, it can get confusing to figure out exactly what’s happening. Let’s break down what you need to know about these new product lines.

Windows 8

Windows 8 is simply the newest version of Windows.  It’s an important one because Windows 8’s interface is quite a bit different from the normal Windows interfaces you’ve likely been using for years and years.  It’s been designed to work with both traditional mouse/keyboard setups as well as touch screen devices.

The new Start screen is almost unrecognizable from previous versions of Windows. Now, all the tools and apps that are most important to you can be customized on this main screen.  Whether it is email, your Facebook feed, photos or weather, the Start screen is truly your own.

Another new addition to Windows 8 is the Windows App Store. You’ll be able to download Windows apps to work with Windows 8, much like you do on your smartphone today. Windows 8 will come pre-loaded with apps like Mail, Photos, Skype, Music and Messaging. One feature is that apps like Mail will let you view mail from multiple different accounts and email providers in one place.

How do you get Windows 8?

Through the end of January, consumers currently running PCs with Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7 are qualified to download an upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for an estimated retail price of US$39.99. And eligible Windows 7 PCs purchased between June 2, 2012, and Jan. 31, 2013, in more than 140 markets can download an upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for an estimated retail price of US$14.99 with the Windows Upgrade Offer, available at http://www.windowsupgradeoffer.com.

Many retailers are also offering trade-in or trade-up programs if you bring in an old PC or device and want to upgrade to a new Windows 8 device. You can read more about it here at the Microsoft Windows blog.

What Is Surface?

Surface is the name of Microsoft's new PC line. The current series of Surface tablets runs Windows RT, a new version of Windows that runs exclusively on apps from the Windows Store. That means you can't run old Windows 7 apps on it. A version of Surface that will run both Windows 7 apps and Windows 8 apps is coming soon. Microsoft's main selling point for Surface? You can work and play on the same device.

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A combination of a tablet and a traditional PC, Surface tablets have features that you might not see on other tablets – the most notable being a USB port and a micro SD card slot. Surface tablets have two cameras and a built-in kickstand. The kickstand lets you prop Surface up for easier viewing or taking video.

Then there’s the Touch Cover. This cover is multi-functional – serving both as a protector and a keyboard. When the cover is closed, the display turns off. When it’s open, it’s a working keyboard with trackpad built-in.  The Touch Cover is spill-resistant and has pressure-sensitive keys. It’s not cheap at $119, but definitely makes Surface more like a PC than a tablet.

You can pick up a Surface tablet with either 32 GB ($499) or 64 GB of storage ($699; includes touch cover). The devices come pre-loaded with Microsoft Office, too – which is a huge plus if you use those applications on a regular basis.

Other manufacturers are selling Windows 8 devices too, so Surface is not the only game in town if you’re looking to buy. From ultrabooks to all-in-one PCs to tablets to everything in between, there will be lots of choice when it comes to finding the right device that meets your needs.

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Microsoft Surface and Windows 8: What You Need To Know

Gigi Ross is a wife, mom of two, fumbling foodie, social media geek, Jason Mraz groupie, reality TV show addict, tech lover, freelance writer and wine drinker - not necessarily in that order. Gigi has been involved in all things internet since 1997 - from running e-commerce sites for Fortune 500 companies, to starting parenting forums, to writing her personal blog - if it's online, Gigi wants to know about it! Gigi's personal blog is KludgyMom, a snappish take on parenting, pop culture, techn ... More

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