Windows 10 Vs Windows 8 Vs Windows 7: What's The Difference?

Windows 10 Vs Windows 8 Vs Windows 7: What's The Difference?

Windows 10 launched on July 29th and has already been downloaded over 14 million times. But why? Microsoft MSFT +0.28%’s decision to make Windows 10 free plays a big part (especially given warnings to wait) but it is also just the tip of the iceberg.
So let’s weigh up the main differences between Windows 10, Windows 7 and Windows 8. There are a large number of pros but also some significant cons, including a few potential deal breakers.
1. What Makes Windows 10 Worth The Upgrade
Cost – While some Windows 7 and Windows 8 users will not get Windows 10 free, for the vast majority there is no cost to upgrading whatsoever. On paper this is a great deal because Windows 10 is not cheap and ‘Windows 10 Home’ and ‘Windows 10 Pro’ editions retail for $119 and $199 respectively.
By contrast Windows 7 and Windows 8 have not been made free by Microsoft following Windows 10’s release and the company has no plans to make them so. Consequently even if you revert back to Windows 7 or Windows 8 in time, it would seem to make sense to take your free Windows 10 upgrade while it lasts.
Longer Support -Another key reason for getting the latest edition of Windows is Microsoft will support it for longer than both Windows 7 and Windows 8. The Windows Lifecycle page
 (screen grab below) breaks this down into two sections: Mainstream Support and Extended Support.
Mainstream Support is the deadline for adding new features and functionality which makes it less crucial, but Extended Support is when Microsoft will stop supporting the platform with security updates. As you will see Windows 10 gives five more years Extended Support over Windows 7 and two more years over Windows 8:
Windows Lifecycles - Image credit Microsoft
Windows Lifecycles – Image credit Microsoft
Flexibility And Universal Apps -Where Microsoft deserves a lot of credit with Windows 10 is its ambition because the OS will run across all future Microsoft devices from desktops and laptops, to hybrids, tablets and smartphones.
The biggest benefits of this are:
  1. Apps in the new Windows Store will run on any device which means a single version of Angry Birds works everywhere.
  2. Microsoft’s ‘Continuum’ feature allows you to potentially connect a phone or tablet to a monitor and keyboard and use it like a PC. Yes Windows 10 really does run through every device and the user interface can adapt to its environment – be that phone, tablet or PC and touch, mouse or keyboard interaction.
Gaming -Windows 10 brings with it DirectX 12 and for serious gamers this is a must have. Initial reports suggested DX12 would bring a 30-40% performance gain over DX11 and whereas the reality is closer to 10-20% that’s still money for old rope. Windows 7 and Windows 8 will never get access to DX12.
In addition Windows 10 supports streaming games from an Xbox One. Controllers for the Xbox One are compatible with Windows 10 PCs and you can be playing The Witcher 3 on your desktop or laptop in minutes. Best of all, Xbox One streaming is fast and responsive and again it will not come to Windows 7 or Windows 8 at a later date.
Windows 10 is the single operating system working across all Microsoft desktops, laptops, tablets and phones
Windows 10 is the single operating system working across all Microsoft desktops, laptops, tablets and phones
Search / Cortana – Windows 8 offers fairly decent online search baked into its controversial Start Screen and Windows 7 only offers local searches (what is on the computer itself), Windows 10 easily trumps them both.
The secret to its success is Cortana, a voice assistant ported over from Windows Phone and whose name comes from the Halo video game franchise. Like Siri on iOS and Google GOOGL +0.59% Voice Search on Android, Cortana can respond to voice commands and perform everything from quick Internet searches to core tasks around Windows 10 like opening a new email, creating calendar entries and much more.
Cortana isn’t perfect, but she/it works pretty well out the gate and will only get better with time.
Edge Browser and Virtual Desktops - I’ve listed these both together as they are catch up features. The Edge browser (which is still feature limited at launch) is Microsoft’s attempt to claw back momentum from Chrome. Edge works significantly faster than Internet Explorer and is only available on Windows 10.
In addition to this Windows 10 finally adds Virtual Desktops like those long seen on Linux and Mac OS X. These allow users without multi-monitor setups to create multiple virtual desktops which are handy for splitting usage between work and leisure, work into projects or whatever you require. It’s a great feature.
Minimum Requirements - Technically Windows 10 doesn’t win this category, but in requiring a PC with no greater minimum specifications than both two year old Windows 8 and five year old Windows 7 Microsoft deserves great credit. Those specifications:
  • RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) for 32-bit or 2GB for 64-bit
  • Hard disk space: 16 GB for 32-bit OS 20GB for 64-bit OS
  • Graphics card: DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver
  • Display: 800 x 600
I suspect a major motivator for Microsoft here was that Windows 10 needs to run smoothly on both phones and tablets as well as PCs. That should make it efficient enough to run on most PCs these days, with the exception of some very old Windows XP machines.
Read more – When ‘Free’ Windows 10 Becomes Expensive, You Must Know This
Security - While both Windows 7 and Windows 8 do a pretty good job of keeping users secure, Windows 10 ups its game with several new features. First is ‘Device Guard’ which blocks zero-day attacks by vetting unsigned software programs and apps. Device Guard can also operate virtually so even if it is compromised a remote version can recognise and neutralise malicious software.
Windows 10 is the single operating system working across all Microsoft desktops, laptops, tablets and phones
Windows 10 is the single operating system working across all Microsoft desktops, laptops, tablets and phones
Next is ‘Windows Hello’ which is enhanced biometric support designed to reduce reliance on passwords by using your face, iris, or fingerprint. You’ll need hardware support for this on your device (webcam, fingerprint reader, etc) but initial feedback is it works well and again should improve over the lifetime of Windows 10.
Lastly in Windows 10 Microsoft now delivers security patches outside Windows Update so they go straight to your computer the moment they are available. In theory this means Windows 10 computers are always up-to-date which gives hackers a much harder time, even if there are also some notable downsides.
In fact, while this list may make upgrades to Windows 10 sound like a no brainer, there are actually serious pitfalls in moving to Microsoft’s latest OS.
So now here are all the reasons you should stay put on Windows 7 or  Windows 
2. What Makes It Worth Staying On Windows 7 Or Windows 8
Great as a free price tag, longer support, better apps and gaming, searches and security may sound unfortunately the list where Windows 7 and Windows 8 current beat out Windows 10 is just as strong.
These are my main concerns:
Stability – Right now Windows 10 is brand new and it has launched with asurprisingly large number of bugs which you won’t find in Windows 7 or Windows 8. Among these are disappearing icons from the taskbar, Start Menu lock-ups, Windows Store download bugs, copy and paste errors, problems with audio and more.
In fact Microsoft is about to release a massive one gigabyte download of bug fixes, which gives you an idea of the scale. The trouble is such numerous patches always bring new bugs of their own. Consequently this isn’t so much a reason never to upgrade to Windows 10, but a good reason not to upgrade to Windows 10 right now.
By contrast Windows 7 and Windows 8 (despite the latter’s bumpy start) are pretty much rock solid these days.
Mandatory Updates – Windows 10 may be more secure and up-to-date because of this, but Microsoft’s decision to force updates upon users also has significant downsides. This has included automatically installing a broken graphics driver which crashed displays, a security patch which crashed Windows Explorer and more.
By contrast Windows 8 and Windows 7 make all updates optional and you’re alerted to install them. I believe the ideal solution lies halfway between the two: make all updates automatic by default, but give users the option to stop or delay any update categories or individual updates they like. Right now this lack of flexibility makes Windows 10 a deal breaker for some.
Windows Update's Nvidia driver update clashes with Nvidia's own GeForce Experience update software leading to system instability and these contradictory notifications - Image credit Paul Monckton
Windows Update’s Nvidia driver update clashes with Nvidia’s own GeForce Experience update software leading to system instability and these contradictory notifications – Image credit Paul Monckton
Brutal Enforcement Policies - Of course mandatory updates have led to many users devising elabourate ways to sidestep Windows 10 patches, but there’s little point in this. Microsoft requires users to accept these terms in its Windows 10 EULA (end user licence agreement) and security updates now sidestep Windows Update and are installed to all versions of Windows 10 without warning.
Meanwhile driver and feature updates through Windows Update can be delayed up to one month by Windows 10 Home users (the vast majority of consumers) and eight months by Windows 10 Pro customers (most businesses), but after that time Microsoft will cut off the next round of updates (including security patches) from users until they accept the previous ones.
Windows 7 and Windows 8 have had similar policies for major updates in the past (Service Packs in Windows 7, and the Windows 8.1 update) but a user doesn’t face a ticking clock for every single update – big or small – as with Windows 10.
Interestingly Microsoft recently released a tool for uninstalling bad updates on Windows 10 which suggests its stance may be softening, but the tool only works after updates are installed which isn’t much use if a bad one stops your PC from booting.
Privacy -If the enforcement policies were tough, however, they have nothing on the privacy violations Microsoft requests in the Windows 10 EULA. A notable section reads:
“We will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary.”
Needless to say “necessary” is a crucial qualifier and this should mean Microsoft won’t violate your privacy for no reason, but that all comes down to trust – and there’s not a great deal of that going around in a post-Snowden world.
Windows 10 is a smart mix of the new and the familiar
Windows 10 is a smart mix of the new and the familiar
Ease of Use - In fairness Windows 7 is so ubiquitous that Windows 10 was never going to be more intuitive to use than its much loved forebear. That said Windows 10 is more intuitive than Windows 8 and much of that comes down to the return of the Start Menu. Consequently Windows 10 is a great blend of the advancements of Windows 8 and the familiarity of Windows 7, but sight of Windows 8 elements (and there are many) will still be too much for some.
Windows 10 also needs greater consistency across its user interface as there is still a jarring transition between traditional desktop settings like the Control Panel and settings pushed into the Modern UI. Microsoft really needs to get this sorted out and it should’ve been by now.
Lost Features - This won’t affect too many users, but the fact is Windows 10 does kill some features Windows 7 and Windows 8 users consider essential.
The big one is Windows Media Center which is a mainstay in some home media setups, while there’s also no native DVD playback (Microsoft is reconsidering this), no desktop gadgets and no floppy drive support. Meanwhile games like Solitaire have been removed and are now ad supported from the Windows Store with payment required to remove them.
Broadband Hog – While Windows 10’s mandatory update policy has split opinions, a far less widely reported issue is also taking place: the new OS uses a peer-to-peer (p2p) update distribution system called ‘Windows Update Delivery Optimization’ (WUDO).
The benefit of WUDO is that once one Windows 10 device has downloaded the latest updates it will automatically distribute them to other PCs on your network, saving time. The problem is your PC will also start to share this update with other PCs around the world that still need it. This takes the pressure off Microsoft’s servers but also means Windows 10 will consume more of your bandwidth than Windows 7 or Windows 8, neither of which do this.
The good news for those on metered connections is this can be changed by going to:
  • Settings > Update & Security > the Windows Update section > Advanced options
  • Select PCs on my local network only for WUDO to only be used for your PCs, or
  • Switch it off so each PC has to get their own downloads
While the option to disable is nice, WUDO is another example of where Microsoft should be more transparent with Windows 10 and let them know upfront what their devices will be doing behind their backs by default.
Windows 7 and 8 users are now prompted to get Windows 10
Windows 7 and 8 users are now prompted to get Windows 10
Given the way Windows operating systems evolve over their lifecycles, it is impossible right now to overly praise or damn Windows 10 but we can start drawing conclusions compared to the differences between it and its predecessors.
My personal feeling is that Windows 10 is an improvement on both Windows 7 and Windows 8 and in time it will be considered one of the great Microsoft releases. That said Windows 10 launches with more bugs than it should and (while Microsoft has crafted a super OS) it is also the most controlling and invasive version of Windows the company has ever released and a compromise does need to be found long term.
All of which means Windows 10 is both the best and most troubling Windows version I’ve used. Those determined to be on the cutting edge will upgrade and love it, but those more wedded to Windows 7 and Windows 8 should wait a little longer. The Windows 10 free purchase period lasts until July 29th 2016 for eligible users so there is time to see whether Microsoft can address the differences which make Windows 10 worse than its predecessors compared to those that make it shine.
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