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What’s the difference between Windows 8 and 10?

As it has quickly become the new Windows standard, like XP before it, Windows 10 gets better and better with each major update. At its core, Windows 10 combines the best features of Windows 7 and 8 while ditching some controversial features, like the full-screen Start menu.

Released in 2015, Windows 10 aimed to create a fresh and understated operating system experience and comes standard on virtually every PC. Whether you’re leery of making the jump to Windows 10 or want to know exactly how they compare, let’s dig into some significant differences between Windows 8 and Windows 10.

Note that as of 2023, Microsoft will no longer be offering updates or support for Windows 8, so users should plan accordingly.

The Start menu is back and better than ever

One of the most common complaints about Windows 8 was that Microsoft abandoned those who loved the classic desktop and Start menu, which makes up most of the Windows user base. With Windows 10, they wanted users from XP up through 8.1 to feel at home.

A big part of that campaign is rooted in the return of the Start menu. The Windows 10 Start menu works much as previous versions did while adding Windows 8’s tiles to the mix.

Windows 10 start menu
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The tiles are movable and resizable, and the Start menu is highly customizable overall. The tiles in the new Start menu function a lot like the tiles from Windows 8. Windows 10 also carries over live tiles from Windows 8, which display personalized information.

The search bar in the Start menu is much more robust than in previous versions of Windows. As soon as you begin typing, the OS will start trying to find search results for your topic on the internet and your local machine.

Classic versus universal apps

In Windows 8 and 8.1, apps from the Windows Store took up the whole screen, making multitasking more difficult. While Microsoft tried to force the mobile-centric Start screen on people, many users felt like the classic desktop had been stripped of essential components. Windows 8 offered two distinct experiences, neither of which appealed to its target audience.

Windows 10 classic and universal apps
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In Windows 10, apps downloaded from the Windows Store are usable in Windows. Combined with the ability to run multiple virtual desktops simultaneously, working in Windows is much easier this time around. The same Windows Store apps are already available in the Windows 10 Technical Preview. Inevitably, as the OS evolves, there will be new additions and improvements that make multitasking even more effortless.

Find more at the Windows Store

The Windows Store houses many useful applications explicitly designed for the Windows 8 Start screen, but that left Windows 7 users out in the cold. Microsoft has made the Windows 10 Store a tool that all users will appreciate, bringing the functionality of Windows 8 together with the feel of Windows 7, which a lot of users missed with the upgrade to 8.

Make it your own

In Windows 8, big icons and simple choices were at the forefront. The Start screen allowed you to quickly arrange and resize live tiles, increasing their functionality and ease of use.

With Windows 10, the classic desktop and tiled UI are no longer distinct interfaces — instead, elements of both are present and highly configurable. Live tiles are now integrated into the Start menu rather than in their interface, where they can be moved, customized, set to show quick information, and launch programs. Applications can also be pinned or moved to the taskbar for easy access.

One OS to rule them all

Between Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10, RT, and Windows Phone, there are many Windows iterations, which can be confusing. Windows 8 was closer to RT and Windows Phone than previous versions, making it easier to create cross-platform apps and utilize features like live tiles. They were still distinct operating systems, however, and required separate apps and programming to function correctly.

Windows10VS one platform
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Rather than creating an entirely separate OS for touch and classic keyboard and mouse controls, Microsoft is focusing on creating a user experience that is satisfying and useful across all platforms. While Windows 10 doesn’t look the same on your laptop, tablet, or Windows Phone as it does on your desktop, it has much of the same functionality and shared applications.

The big buttons that provide quick shortcuts are sure to please anyone who uses the touchscreen with their Windows device. The whole idea was to make Windows 10 feel like one OS that’s just responding to whatever device and environment you use it in.

Multiple virtual desktop configurations

While Linux and Mac OS X have explored the world of multiple desktops already, Microsoft had declined to support a desktop OS feature until Windows 10. The introduction of the Start screen in Windows 8 seemed to confirm that the Windows organizational strategy was focused on better single desktop management.

Windows 10 multiple desktops
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In Windows 10, you can add or remove new desktop environments and open programs in them when you do. The functionality is easily accessible from any screen, including from within Windows Store applications.

Get the full picture with Task View.

Task View spreads out all your processes and running applications, even those across multiple desktops, so you can quickly move between active programs. In Windows 8, the reliance on full-screen Windows Store apps limited the number of ways to organize your applications, and tools that let you do so quickly fell by the wayside.

Windows 10 Snap View
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Task View seemingly combines OS X’s Expose feature and a more sophisticated version of the current Windows-tab option. Along with Task View, Windows 10 features a snap assist feature that pulls up previews of all your other windows when you snap an app to either side of the screen. You can easily select the paired application, making it easier to organize your workspace, close unresponsive programs, and view data usage info.

Improved Command Prompt

It’s not all about improving functionality for every PC owner — Microsoft still has a place in its heart for the power user. Among the developer and power user tools that were updated in Windows 10 was the Command Prompt. If you haven’t used it before, you probably won’t be impressed to know that functionality like copy and paste was added.

However, if you’re a seasoned Command Prompt veteran, you’ll be glad to see that it received some love, too. The plentiful new options and hotkeys make it even easier to execute commands and launch programs.

Hello, Cortana

One major difference between Windows 8 and 10 is the inclusion of Cortana, which is basically Window’s version of voice assistant programs like Siri and Alexa. However, Cortana is designed to use data and machine-learning techniques to learn your preferences and respond to your needs more accurately, and efficiently the more you use it.

With Cortana, users can find files and launch programs locally, and search for data on the internet via voice commands. Setting up or disabling Cortana is quick and easy to do, offers excellent options to improve your machine’s accessibility, and can make mundane tasks much easier.

File Explorer improvements

Another boon for Windows 10 users is the streamlined and improved File Explorer. In addition to searching and accessing all your PC’s folders, the Quick Access section lets you easily locate recently updated files so you can stay productive.

Change programs with a Snap

Windows 8 users will likely be familiar with the frustration of only running apps next to each other or using full-screen. In Windows 10, each app and program window can be automatically resized by dragging up, down, left, or right with the Snap Assist feature. This allows Windows 10 users to snap four apps per screen. When combined with Windows 10’s ability to create virtual desktops, users can create four-app productivity setups to improve efficiency without wasting valuable screen space.

Xbox connectivity

Microsoft jumped on board with the recent increase in cloud-based gaming. The company wanted a way to link Xbox with Windows. They included Xbox apps, including Minecraft, for free on Windows 10, letting players stream games to a PC. However, Windows 8 users can’t take advantage. 

Experienced players rely on Windows OS and Microsoft, so customer feedback is vital. Microsoft used customer comments to optimize Windows 10. They eliminated the Start screen and now have a user-friendly Start menu. Windows 10 also features more classic layout features. 

Windows 10 has a nostalgic feel to what gamers enjoyed from older versions. They love the outstanding performance and accessibility. Though pretty much anything is better than Windows 8, Windows 10 rates highly across the entire board.

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Brad Bourque
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Brad Bourque is a native Portlander, devout nerd, and craft beer enthusiast. He studied creative writing at Willamette…
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