Bill Gates wasn't speaking lightly when he called Microsoft Windows 8 the next big step in computing. Indeed, Microsoft Windows' latest version -- which is launching today -- steps away from many of the familiar conventions of work personal computers.
Translation: Upgrading to Windows 8 will be confusing. For instance, the familiar "Start" button is gone. And the interactive desktop where most files and applications rest has been minimalized. Plus, there are different versions of the software depending on the device you're using.
Here's a look at three of the most confusing new features and how to navigate them, based on our testing of the new software:
1. Problem: There's no Start button. One of the most bizarre features of Windows 8 is the lack of the Start button and menu in the lower left of the screen. Instead, the new design places many control functions in a large menu on the right.
Solution: Install a Start Button/Menu app. Third-party developers have rushed to offer plugins that put the Start menu back into Windows 8. Vistart 8 and ClassicShell are both free. Start8 is available for $5. All offer traditional start button and menu functionality.
Remember, these apps come from smaller developers so support will be spotty. Be sure to back your material up before you install it.
2. Problem: The tile-based interface. Windows 8 uses what's called the "Metro" interface, a group of touch-screen tiles, to control the PC. Instead of working from familiar menus, users must remember where a tile is located and what it is called to find their work.
Solution: Find the touch screen-friendly tasks in your business. The trick to using Metro is to match it to chores that lend themselves to touch-based control. Instead of using a PC to check inventory, consider using a Windows 8-powered tablet that you can easily carry around a stockroom or sales floor. Check the updated templates page for touch-oriented content for Word and Excel files.
3. Problem: There's a different Windows 8 for different devices. Microsoft has launched its new OS in three major pieces: The PC-based Windows 8, the mobile-based version called Windows Phone 8 and a hybrid called Windows RT that functions on its new Surface line of mobile tablet devices. This can create compatibility problems for programs that do not run on all platforms.
Solution: Become familiar with the improved security options. The Windows 8 cross-platform strategy is complex, but it is the most secure platform Microsoft has created. It comes with features -- such as advanced malware protection and improved identity management, among other things -- that provide an integrated, enterprise-grade security solution, keeping safer than in traditional web-based apps. Microsoft even offers a series of tutorials about its new security features.
Will you upgrade to the new Windows 8? Let us know why -- or why not -- in the comments.