At the time of this writing, Microsoft is getting ready to release the Windows 8 Release Candidate preview. This is a very important release because it gives the consumers a chance to play with an almost-complete version of their newest operating system. Of course, there still could be changes made and features added/removed but for the most part, its going to be very identical to the final product. One of the most interesting places on the web to learn more about this new operating system is Microsoft’s Building Windows 8 blog. Here, many of the product managers on Microsoft’s team talk about the various new features in the upcoming OS. They also go into great lengths explaining the design decisions that were made for various interfaces and how it is it came to be. They made a similar style blog for Windows 7 but I admit I hadn’t followed it that much. Just recently, I’ve spent many hours this past week going through the many posts of this excellent blog trying to learn about what is new in Windows 8. I felt this is a great time to go over some of the things that caught my attention so far.
Windows Explorer ImprovementsThe related article can be read here.
One of the most noticeable improvement (or not) to Windows Explorer is the addition of the Ribbon interface. If you’ve used Office 2007 applications before, then you’ll notice the same interface at the very top. This Ribbon interface gives the user a common and easily accessible location to perform many of the commands available to them for file manipulation and file management. It’s interesting to note from Microsoft’s studies that most users only rely on the right-click context menu to access commands. Keyboard shortcuts is a good way to perform file maintenance tasks but many users just can’t seem to remember all those shortcut combinations. I once remember having to teach a user many times over and over again the simple keyboard shortcut for Cut, Copy and Paste! The Ribbon interface puts many of the most used commands right at the top so users can quickly get access to them. It also introduces many of the other available commands that most users didn’t even know existed!
I personally love the Ribbon interface. Like so many users, I initially didn’t really like it but I just can’t think of a better way to help regular users perform file and folder maintenance tasks than giving them a full visual Ribbon interface. I actually find myself using the interface a lot rather than relying on the context menu and keyboard shortcuts. The good news is that for users who think the interface is ugly and useless, they can hide it with a simple click of a button.
Accessing Data in ISO and VHD FilesThe related article can be read here.
Finally, users get a feature they have been asking for. The ability to natively mount ISO and VHD files is a huge benefit for users who work with these types of files. Windows 7 actually provided the ability to burn (not mount) ISO files and VHD files were also mountable via the Disk Management snapin. With Windows 8, Microsoft made these features more accessible. The ability to mount ISO files is huge because as we move towards more thin laptops (Ultrabooks), users don’t get the ability to access a physical DVD drive. Once a ISO has been mounted, the computer will behave just as if the actual DVD was inserted. The one disappointment is Microsoft not giving us the ability to create ISO images from folders and files natively. This feature would have completely sealed the deal. VHD files, as we move towards a more virtualized environment, can help in many ways as well. Hopefully, as more users learn about virtualization, they will realize the huge benefit it comes with it as well and learning about VHD type files is a good start.
Bringing Hyper-V to Windows 8The related article can be read here.
This feature is huge. Like I mean megabomb huge. I’m a big, big fan of virtualization because of the various benefits it gives not just to enterprise customers but to casual home users as well. It’s weird seeing the feature of “Hyper-V” get incorporated into a client operating system but like I said, almost everyone can benefit from virtualization and so kudos to Microsoft for providing it. Of course, there are a myriad of ways to utilize virtualization as of right now using other utilities but baking it in directly into the Windows 8 OS makes it that much more easy for consumers of all types. I’ve written some articles on virtualization and how it can benefit you so please feel free to go over them to get a head start.
Delivering Fast Boot Times in Windows 8The related article can be read here.
Being able to boot Windows 8 from a complete shutdown in less then 10 seconds is amazing and its hard to argue why this wouldn’t be beneficial to everyone. How they accomplished this is pretty amazing. The other amazing part is how even older hardware we have now can still benefit from this feature even though the hardware was created prior to this happening. Not only will Windows 8 boot faster but with UEFI, the boot process is also much more secure than before. This helps prevent rootkits and other malware from infecting the boot process.
Signing in to Windows 8 with a Windows Live IDThe related article can be read here.
Starting with Windows 8, home users can now roam their settings and Metro apps from PC to PC. This means that after configuring a PC to their liking, they will be able to retain/sync them to another device that they own. This can save a lot of time as the user will only have to configure everything once and be done with it. Syncing Metro style apps is also very cool. For example, you might have downloaded a game and completed levels 1 and 2. On your other PC, you can instantly begin playing level 3 all without having to start from scratch. There is a lot of potential to this.
Evolving the Start ScreenThe related article can be read here.
The new start screen is quite frankly the biggest user complaint with Windows 8. Microsoft’s decision to remove the traditional Start menu and opt for a Start “screen” is based on their telemetry data showing that many users don’t even use the Start menu at all and instead rely on the taskbar for launching their applications and files. Personally, I admit that I am in that crowd where I use my taskbar for nearly everything and use the Start menu only for finding other stuff. However, I can also agree with the others that just flat out getting rid of the Start menu will leave many old timers bewildered. Will the removal of this one feature really bring down the entire operating system as some are suggesting?
Designing the Start ScreenThe related article can be read here.
Another blog post detailing the new Start screen and why it is better than the Start menu. Again, there is a really big debate concerning this issue and I can’t wait to see how it will all turn out. It’s really hard to not agree that the Start screen in Windows 8 does bring in some advantages compared with the traditional Start menu. Users are just begging Microsoft to give them a choice of using either interface but unfortunately, I really don’t see this happening. In order to really drive Metro and the new PC generation forward, Microsoft have to take a firm stand and continue with their vision even though there will be many rough patches in the beginning. Time will tell how this will all turn out!
Reducing Runtime Memory in Windows 8The related article can be read here.
This is a very necessary feature in helping to keep a system running stable and efficient. Another often overlooked fact is that better memory management will also result in less power usage. Although many new computers bought today have a ton of memory, I still like the fact that Microsoft is putting so much effort into making sure that Windows 8 will manage memory better than ever before. They did a very good job explaining things over without being too technical. Below are two screenshots of Task Manager. The first is from a Windows 7 system and the second is from a Windows 8 system after having run a number of identical applications.
Reflecting on Your Comments on the Start ScreenThe related article can be read here.
The Windows 8 Task ManagerThe related article can be read here.
This is another very awesome and welcome improvement in Windows 8. The heat map feature is very nice. Rather than looking at numbers and sorting columns to see the most used resources, the heat map allows you to quickly see “at-a-glance” what processes is utilizing the most resource. The other very welcome addition is adding the Disk and Network resource column right next to CPU and Memory. By doing so, you get a more complete overview of how each process is consuming resources without having to open Resource Monitor. Another cool feature is adding more friendly names to processes and grouping related processes. It is a blessing now that we can finally see exactly what services svchost.exe is hosting without having to use Process Explorer!
Designing Search for the Start ScreenThe related article can be read here.
As much as I hate relying on search to find my files, I can’t deny that as users obtain more and more data on their PCs, along with the addition of Metro apps, we will need a more efficient way of finding things that we don’t normally use or pin to our desktop. Search in the new Start screen is divided into three main categories: Settings, Files and Apps. The last is especially interesting in that by using the built-in Search feature in Windows 8, users are also able to search “within” a Metro style app (provided the developer included this access) all without having to actually open that app first! This is very handy indeed. For example, you can download a dictionary app and when you need to look up a definition, you can instantly look it up on the Start screen.
Updating Live Tiles without Draining your BatteryThe related article can be read here.
Live Metro tiles bring a whole new dimension to a “connected” Start screen. Rather than just staring at boring static icons over and over again, live tiles (should the developer implement this feature) will give your apps a much more dynamic feel to it because it can be updated with content without you ever having to actually open that app! Think of this as gadgets. This blog post by Microsoft is awesome because they explain how they are able to do this without draining your devices battery life. This is very important because I’ve always valued battery life in any mobile device I use. A device can give me many cool features and capabilities but if it has poor battery life, it’s going to be a real shame. I’m really hoping Microsoft gets this right.
Building a Power-Smart General-Purpose WindowsThe related article can be read here.
Another blog post on how Microsoft is planning on maintaining power efficiency for Windows 8. Many users consider this a boring topic but I for one am so glad that Microsoft is putting so much effort into this area. While it’s true that some users only think about this area for tablet devices, desktops and especially laptops can benefit heavily as well. The latter is quite self-explanatory. The longer a battery lasts for a laptop, the longer a user can stay powered up doing their work while on the road. With a desktop, it still needs electricity, obviously. However, where I live at, electricity costs are very high and so any help in reducing the power footprint of my desktop/laptop is definitely welcomed.
Minimizing Restarts After Automatic Updating in Windows UpdateThe related article can be read here.
I’m sure there are a lot of stories about the horrors of a PC automatically restarting after Windows has been updated. This of course led to lost work. Even Microsoft admits this error and in Windows 8 they have another chance to redeem themselves. Their whole new take on this is to notify users of update notifications in the log on screen. Essentially, they give users 3 whole days to manually restart their PC. If not, Windows 8 will restart the computer for you. However, if it detects that there is a potential for data loss because of currently opened applications, it will postpone the restart until you log in again in which you will then have 15 minutes to save all your work before the restart will happen. I really like this idea but whether or not it will actually work as expected we’ll have to see.
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