NEW YORK -- Be ready for a learning curve when Windows 8 comes out this Friday.
The Windows system you're used to has been replaced by a completely different one that will force you to learn new ways of getting things done.
Windows 8, which can also run on tablets and smartphones, will be standard on practically all PCs from now on.
Instead of the familiar Start menu and icons, Windows 8 displays applications as a colorful array of tiles. For instance, the "Photos" tile shows an image from the user's collection, and the "People" tile shows images from the user's social-media contacts.
The tiles are big and easy to hit with a finger — convenient for a touch screen. Applications fill the whole screen by default — convenient for a tablet screen, which is usually smaller than a PC's. The little buttons that surround Windows 7 applications, for functions like controlling the speaker volume, are hidden, giving a clean, uncluttered view. When you need those little buttons, you can bring them out, but users have to figure out on their own how to do it.
"There are many things that are hidden," said Raluca Budiu, a user experience specialist with Nielsen Norman Group. "Once users discover them, they have to remember where they are. People will have to work hard and use this system on a regular basis."
The familiar Windows Desktop is still available through one of the tiles, and most programs will open up in that environment. But since the Start button is gone, users will have to flip back and forth between the desktop and the tile screen.
There's additional potential for confusion because there's one version of Windows 8, called "Windows RT," that looks like the PC version but doesn't run regular Windows programs. It's intended for tablets and lightweight tablet-laptop hybrids.
Several YouTube videos have been posted of first-time users, including one of a three-year-old toddler.