What’s New in Windows 8
There is no doubt that Windows 8 will be great on new tablets and touch based computers, but what about the average user who already owns a normal PC and will face the decision of whether to upgrade or not. A lot of emphasis has been placed on touch interfaces in Windows 8 which leaves the average keyboard and mouse user feeling a little left out in the cold. So for you users of older versions of Windows, I have compiled a partial list of 10 new features in Windows 8 which can enhance your computer experience.
1. It Will Work with What You’ve Already Got
My first impression of Windows 8 came during the install process. It checked compatibility issues and then installed the OS over top of Windows 7. What was so remarkable about this was the fact that it kept all my applications, settings, favorites, passwords, files, it just kept everything. There was not a single program that I had to reinstall and I wasted no time transferring files from my old computer, or even from Windows. Installing Windows 8 on a PC currently running Windows couldn’t be easier.
Of course, the install gives you options to only keep files you choose, or to keep nothing at all from your old Windows install in case you should want a clean install, but having the ability, and defaulted at that, to keep everything how you already have it is absolutely revolutionary to Windows, the install was so easy, no one will ever need to hire a tech to come upgrade their OS again.
On top of keeping all files, programs and settings, Windows 8 is designed to work on the hardware you have. If you can run Windows Vista – 7, you can run Windows 8. If you can run XP, chances are you can still run Windows 8.
One topic I know is on everyone’s mind is “but my computer doesn’t have a touch screen, Windows 8 won’t work or will be hard to use on my computer.” Let me put those worries to rest by saying that a Mouse and Keyboard will work just fine on Windows 8. If we are to compare the usability of Win8 on touch screen vs. Win8 on mouse and keyboard, yes the touch is going to be way more fun, and in many ways easier to use. However, if we are to compare mouse and keyboard on Windows 8 vs. mouse and keyboard on Windows 7, Windows 8 is just as easy if not easier to maneuver with a mouse and keyboard than Windows 7. I’m not going to lie, there are a few things that take some getting used to, it may take a day or two of use before it feels 100% natural, but the experience getting there is still pretty fluid and once you are naturalized, you will be way more productive, connected and up to date on Windows 8 than you ever could be on Windows 7. And the touch on Win8 vs. the touch on Win7; not even a competition, that is where Win8 excels.
2. Split Screen
With the new Metro style apps, Windows 8 gives you the ability to split your screen. This allows you to view one metro app in a minimalist view and view the other in full screen. It is easy to switch apps in either of the two panes and this gives you a whole new level of Window-ability.
When writing apps for Metro, developers have the ability to define what content will show in the minimalist side and how it will be displayed. This often gives you quick access to what’s most important. For example, the chat app lets you maintain conversation while you go about your normal business on the computer.
It is important to mention that the desktop along with all running applications is treated as a single Metro application.
In the image above, the desktop is on the right side with a preview of all the running applications you can find on the desktop. Click any of those icons and it will open up to that program.
An example of the People App on the left side with the desktop on the right.
You mix that spit screen with Windows snap controls that is carried over from Windows 8 and you get the ability to quickly, effectively and easily split your screen into three working panes, making it easier than ever to get stuff done.
3. XBOX Integration and Control
Last night I was sitting on the couch in my living room doing homework. Generally, I like to listen to music or watch TV as I work through my classes each night. It used to be that I either had to sacrifice some of my laptop screen to a TV show and work in the remaining space or go into the living room and use Kinect gestures or voice to get a TV show running. With Windows 8, there are some new controls to help out with that.
The XBOX Companion app that was recently released on Windows Phone 7 and then followed on other devices has now come to Windows 8. This allows you to search for videos, music, games or applications that you can then broadcast to your connected XBOX. Combine that with the split screen mentioned above and you get to continue working on your computer while you control the XBOX quite literally on the side
4. New Multiple Monitor Support
Windows has always exceled at multi monitor support, but in Windows 8 it makes even more improvements. The most noticeable and for me the best improvement is the extension of the start bar (app bar) all the way across all screens. Windows 8 not only lets you see the app bar on all screens but lets you customize what shows up on the bar.
My configuration is set so that I see pinned applications only on the main screen, and each app bar only shows the applications that are open on that screen, but many other configurations are possible.
5. New Task Manager
The Task manager has always been for the more experienced of PC users. Most people don’t dare mess around inside of it because it all looks like something only a hacker on TV would understand. Windows 8 has revamped the task manager for the first time since it was released on Windows 95, and it looks great now. I won’t go into too many details of what you can do, but hopefully you get the point.
6. Cloud Integration
Windows 8 just like most mobile platforms has as strong emphasis on cloud storage. It comes installed with a SkyDrive app that allows you to copy to and copy from your Microsoft SkyDrive account as well as including SkyDrive albums in your photo app. Windows 8 doesn’t stop there, in the photos app, you’ll have access to several cloud storage options for photos including SkyDrive, Facebook and Flickr with more to come in the final release.
Windows 8 also pulls all your contact lists from any email addresses you add to your computer, Facebook, your live account and many other sources and gives you a complete list of all your contacts in one easy to use place, just like it does on Windows Phone.
7. It Goes Where You Go
One of most exciting aspects of Windows for me is the ability to take it with you, and this happens in two ways. First off, when you sign into Windows using your Microsoft Account, all your settings and favorites are synced to the cloud. When you log into a secondary computer, say your work computer, using the same account, all those settings are then synced between your two computers. This gets rid of the necessity to set up each computer just the way you like it, now you can set up once and have it sync to all of your computers. For me this is immeasurably useful as I currently have my laptop that I use for work, a laptop I leave at my house as a media center and soon will have a Windows 8 tablet. I want my experience on those three devices to be as uniform as possible, and with Windows 8, that is more possible than ever.
The other way that Windows goes with you is through Windows Go, the ability to install Windows 8 to a flash drive. With a flash drive version of Windows 8, you can carry around all your files, settings and programs on a flash drive, plug into any PC, boot up and be running on your familiar computer. The potential here for Professionals and Enterprise users is amazing, the ability to have your computer with you everywhere, without lugging around the actual physical hard drive.
These two options make Windows more portable than ever and help to unify the user experience across devices.
8. Built In Anti-Virus
When I installed Windows 8 yesterday morning, the only program that it could not carry over from Windows 7 was Microsoft Security Essentials. Why could Microsoft’s Windows not run Microsoft’s own security software? Because it already has it built into the OS.
With windows 8, Windows Defender has been (re-)upgraded into a full fledged security suite. The reason this is great for the end user is that it eliminates the need to buy high-priced security software to protect your PC. It now comes standard and for free. Also, Microsoft has a tendency to update their Security Definitions nightly which means your computer will never be more than 23 hours behind on how to combat the latest threats.
Windows Defender runs quietly in the background, taking up little to no system resources and best of all, it is highly non-invasive. Many security platforms have a tendency to pop up every 30 seconds and try to be in your way as much as possible. Windows Defender simply does not.
9. Live Tiles
If you’ve heard about Metro on Windows Phone, or Metro on XBOX or even Metro on Media Center then you’re familiar with the concept of live tiles. Live tiles are large tile icons that give you up-to-date information as well as acting as a shortcut to open apps. Metro on Windows 8 has got them now too.
Now you will always be up to date on what matters most to you.
10. New File Management
For the most part, the file system and the file structure are the same, what has changed is the way that Explorer handles some of the everyday tasks it has been tasked with.
The new Windows Explorer ribbon is one of the first things you’ll notice when browsing your files. This ribbon gives access to many quick command such as delete, copy, move and paste as well as many advanced features that only experienced users knew how to find in Windows 7, such as Mapping Network Drives, viewing or not viewing hidden files, hiding or showing known file extensions and many more.
It may be a while, but eventually you are going to try copying several files at once, we all do it eventually. In older versions of Windows, you used get multiple file transfer boxes popping up all over the place if you tried to transfer more than one thing at a time, in Windows 8, it all shows up together.
You’ll notice that you also now have the ability to pause and resume transfers as well as cancel them easily. If you click on more details, you’ll see graphs showing current transfer speed and history.
Windows 8 is different and that will definitely take some getting used to. I have also found a few things I don’t like about Windows 8, (hopefully things that will be fixed by the time it goes live later this year,) but overall Windows 8 is a refreshing change and has already begun to make my job and my life easier and more convenient.
If you’d like to test it for yourself, and determine whether Windows 8 is the right fit for you, you can get the Consumer Preview here.
Have you already been testing Windows 8? Let us know what you think in the comments below.