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What Is Windows 8, and Why Are You Using It?

Created and sold by a company called Microsoft, Windows 8 isn’t like your usual software that lets you calculate income taxes or send angry e-mails to mail-order companies. No, Windows is an operating system, meaning it controls the way you work with your computer. It’s been around for nearly 30 years, and the latest incarnation is called Windows 8.

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The name Windows comes from all the little windows it places on your computer screen. Each window shows information, such as a picture, a program, or a baffling technical reprimand. You can place several windows onscreen simultaneously and jump from window to window, visiting different programs. Or, you can enlarge one window to fill the entire screen.

When you turn on your computer, Windows jumps onto the screen and begins supervising any running programs. When everything goes well, you don’t really notice Windows; you simply see your programs or your work. When things don’t go well, though, Windows often leaves you scratching your head over a perplexing error message.

In addition to controlling your computer and bossing around your programs, Windows 8 comes with a bunch of free programs and apps — mini-programs. These programs and apps let you do different things, such as write and print letters, browse the Internet, play music, and send your friends dimly lit photos of your latest meal.

And why are you using Windows 8? Well, you probably didn’t have much choice. Nearly every computer sold since late October 2012 comes with Windows 8 preinstalled. A few people escaped Windows by buying Apple computers (those nicer-looking computers that cost a lot more). But chances are good that you, your neighbors, your boss, and millions of other people around the world are using Windows.

  • Windows 8 introduces a radical new full-screen–sized Start menu that’s designed for touchscreens — displays controlled with your fingertips. Now called a Start screen, it also appears on desktop PCs, oddly enough. Be prepared for some initial mouse awkwardness as you try to mimic a fingertip with your mouse pointer.

  • The new automatic backup program in Windows 8, File History, greatly simplifies what you should have been doing all along: creating copies of your important files for safekeeping.

For more information about Windows 8 and its features, explore Windows 8 For Dummies, available online.

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