In explaining the benefits and detriments of switching to Windows 8, I will not have a computer with Windows 8 in front of me. I'm going completely from memory and I won't be looking anything up. If you want more of a technical analysis... last I checked... Google is still a thing. I won't be throwing any pictures at you either as I haven't taken any and I don't want to borrow screen shots from another source.
When you first boot Windows 8, you will be taken to a home screen with interactive tiles. It looks a lot like what you see on an Android or Apple tablet, with the exception that the tiles are more customizable and they constantly update whatever they represent (the Facebook tile will cycle through your news feed, Pictures will cycle through your pictures, etc.). I do kind of like the ease of being able to see updates to your Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and whatever else on these tiles, but I don't like the idea of the home screen being full of tiles. When I turn on a Windows computer, I expect it to boot me to a desktop. I have stuff on my desktop that gets me to where I need to go so the most the tiles have saved me is a few seconds. Windows 8 feels like a tablet OS and not a computer OS. My iPad boots to a screen that looks more like the Windows 8 home screen than my Windows 7 desktop or laptop. That's kind of sad. I'm not resisting change just for the sake of resisting change (as many of you know, I have a real weakness for adapting to new technology as soon as it's available) and I really think the home screen is a downgrade from a legitimate computer OS.
To be fair, the home screen has brought some cool new benefits. As I said earlier, your entire social media is available to you, live, right on the home screen. Tiles can also be moved, customized, organized, and the live updates can be turned on or off. Dumbing down to a tile home screen and several of the other changes made with this version of Windows also makes it a lot harder for viruses to infiltrate your system and troubleshooting software issues is a lot less complicated now (as far as I know right now, uninstalling and reinstalling is the only solid option as it's supposed to fix whatever problem you have).
Windows 8 comes with built in touch screen gestures as Microsoft rightly decided that touch screen is starting to take over (another thing we started to see with Apple before everyone else jumped on board). Since Windows 8 leaves everything you have opened running, a swipe in from the left side allows you to cycle between applications. A swipe from the right side brings up the "charms" bar which has options to return to the home screen or to interact with whatever application / tool you are using. A swipe from top to bottom closes the current application (which is good to remember - I'll give them props for adding this gesture as I get really annoyed when an OS just keeps crap running in the background. I don't think big companies realize that 90% of their customers have no idea how to kill processes, tweak startup items, or close running applications).
Don't worry if you want to use Windows 8 with a mouse because you still can. Every touch gesture has an equivalent mouse click / swipe. I'm sure we will start to see a lot more PCs coming with touch screen though since Windows 8 is the first major OS I've dealt with that incorporates it fully (I mean specifically on computers).
Yes, you can still get to a desktop. You have to hold down the Windows key and press D (Windows + D). The fact that there is now a Windows key on the keyboard that is used for shortcuts screams Apple (as Apple has a command key, a.k.a. an Apple key, used for shortcuts). To be fair, Microsoft has always had shortcut combinations that are similar to Apple's and who knows who came up with it first? Switching shortcuts from the control key to a Windows key just seems like a copycat move to me. I don't remember many of the Windows key shortcuts but you can find them if you're using a Windows 8 computer. Just hold down the Windows key, hit lettered keys, and see what each command does (one of them locks the screen, just be aware of that).
Again, a Windows OS that doesn't boot to a desktop bothers me. I know it's just a shortcut away, but I want a desktop to be what I see when I start a computer. I have an iPad (and it's the only Apple product in my house... don't think I'm a huge Apple fan because I'm not) and when I sit at my desktop computer, I'm looking to have a completely different experience.
Applications on the home screen are downloaded from the Windows store. Some are free, some cost money, it's basically just an app store. The cool thing is that Windows 8 does allow for integration with other Microsoft products like the XBox and some games will be available on both Windows 8 and XBox 360. Applications, once downloaded, can be downloaded up to 5x.
This is Microsoft's way of finally cashing in on apps. They've watched Google and Apple do it for years now and I guess they wanted their hand in the cookie jar as well. I do like the idea that you can download the app more than once as it is always a pain to deal with single license software on anything (tablet, computer, phone, whatever). They're behind though, programmers already have a lot of experience working with Google and Apple systems so I don't see a huge crowd of indie programmers moving to Windows 8. We'll obviously see the standard move of large companies supporting Windows 8 with apps early on (Skype, Netflix, YouTube, etc) but I wonder how far beyond that it will go.
SkyDrive / Accounts
So here's something I am actually excited for in Windows 8. Windows 8 accounts when attached to a Microsoft account will receive 7 GB of cloud storage. Kind of cool. There are two account types: local and Microsoft. Microsoft accounts have SkyDrive storage and you can sync all the apps and info from a Microsoft account between devices. Really cool. I like that if you have a Windows 8 PC, you can log in to that same home screen from a Windows 8 tablet. Local accounts only work on the device they are on but they can be upgraded later to Microsoft accounts.
The first account created on a Windows 8 PC will automatically be the admin. All accounts that follow are standard (though I seem to remember being able to upgrade them to admin but they are, by default, created as standard).
So another thing that I found pretty cool is the ability to sync between apps. If you're looking at some information in Internet Explorer or a picture or whatever that you want to share, you can bring up the charms. The charms bar will allow you to print, tweet, throw the info on Facebook, e-mail, etc. It brings up basically a social bar that gives you the option of doing whatever you want with it. Worth mentioning because it was a feature I consider to be uniquely Windows 8.
Removed Things and Changed Things
Some things have been modified or completely removed. Msconfig still works for the startup manager. Task manager gives you a LOT more information under the performance tab (that's ctrl + alt + del). Safe mode isn't an option via F8 anymore. The computer will boot into safe mode if it fails to boot twice (I think). I'm not 100% sure on this but I think Windows Media Player and the accompanying codecs have been completely removed. Also Windows 8 uses a UEFI instead of a BIOS and I'm pretty sure I don't want to try to explain what that means. If you care enough to want to know more, please google "BIOS vs. UEFI" or something like that.
All in all, I think there are a lot less diagnostic options which worries me. I really don't care if Windows 8 claims it's much more immune to viruses and problems... as a Geek Squad agent I would like the option to tweak, modify, and remove whatever the hell I want to. It's kind of disappointing to see a lot of my old diagnostic tools removed.
How do I learn more?
Are you about to be forced into Windows 8 or are you considering upgrading (you can upgrade from XP, Vista, or 7 if the computer meets the requirements)? Are you worried? Yes, Windows 8 does take a while to figure out. It didn't take me very long to get to what I wanted to because I try things until I find them. Too many people are scared of computers and are unwilling to give things a shot until they figure it out. If I end up with a misstep or an error, I backtrack or google whatever error I'm getting. I wasn't born with some technology gene that just integrates the computer with my DNA and lets me do whatever the hell I want like some people seem to believe. The best advice I can give you is don't fear Windows 8 and don't become so reliant on someone else that you never learn how to do anything. Computers don't come with self-destruct buttons that you might accidentally press. If you mess up, everything can be undone.
I couldn't put everything I know about Windows 8 in here because that would be boring and I think everyone should learn a little by exploring. What I wrote above is a basic overview that I hope presents enough information to let everyone feel basically familiar with it. I still think Windows 7 is the most functional OS for a computer to date and I won't be upgrading anything that is currently in my house to Windows 8. That beings said, Microsoft will be sending me a free copy of Windows 8 soon because I completed their Best Buy sponsored training. If I decide to frankenstein another computer together, I might put Windows 8 on it just to play around on a new OS.