What’s the 411 on Windows 8?

Microsoft is giving its 25 year old Operating System (OS) a MAJOR overhaul. Why such a dramatic change? Microsoft’s primary goal with this redesign is an OS that runs equally well, on an 8 inch tablet as it does on a powerful desktop PC attached to a huge monitor. The goal; as Windows President Steven Sinofsky puts it is “no compromise.” This consistency Sinofsky speaks of is the catalyst for this very involved transformation of Windows. Now don’t go thinking that Windows has thrown all of their money into looking like another iPad, because they haven’t. The difference in what Microsoft is trying to accomplish is implementing post-PC touch interface to a desktop operating system. Thus, attempting a feat that both Apple and Google have yet to achieve; successfully eliminate the need for the desktop PC. Although that is a topic for another day, as today we are looking at what the new Windows 8 OS has in it and what’s different. Besides, I don’t think Windows will accomplish that either, at least no this go round. Let’s look at some features and changes.

The Start Screen

The centerpiece of the Windows 8 platform is the new start screen, which looks nothing like Windows start screens of the past. The new start screen is heavily influenced by the tile based system that Windows employed with its Windows Phone 7. This layout allows the user to access all of their programs as a tile that can be opened with a touch of the finger. To the user, the entire process will feel more like a Smartphone than a desktop PC. Even down to the lock screen you will be presented with when you leave your computer, or tablet, idle too long. Say goodbye to the start screen we’ve all grown accustomed to using since the inception of Windows 95 – or Windows XP for some I suppose…man, that just made me feel old…anyway…moving on! On the other hand, if you’re one of the 14 people that own a Zune or Windows phone, you will be instantly familiar with this “metro” interface.

Instead of having a desktop with the familiar start button; Windows 8 will sport a Start screen with tiles that are linked to applications that update automatically. Instead of scrolling though a small window, you will swipe through screens of apps just like the iPad, or any other tablet for that matter. Now here’s the rub, there are going to be literally hundreds of thousands of people that will balk at this new design. In fact, this design has already raised such a Doo Doo storm, that Windows has enabled a feature to turn off touch and just use the keyboard and mouse. However, look for that to be as far as they truly go with it. Microsoft has offered a way to get a classic start screen, but it is very unstable. There has been no talk from Microsoft on whether it will release a true classic start screen that users are accustomed to, and I don’t expect there will be. Microsoft is convinced this is the way to go and plans to force the issue no matter what. This development will be interesting to watch as Windows 8 draws nearer.

The Task Manager and Control Panel

The Windows 8 Desktop Control Panel is still a labyrinth maze of endless, and obscure, options. However, the mobile version sports a more stripped down, bare bones control panel. The desktop environment control panel is virtually identical to Windows 7, with the exception of a few minor tweaks that we will overlook in this comprehensive view. But of all of the redesign, one thing Windows got right is the task manager. The task manager in Windows 8, at first glance, appears to be basically a simple list of running and suspended apps that you can disable with just one click. However, one click of the “more details” option at the bottom of the screen displays the brilliance of the new task manager. Brilliant because on one screen the user is presented with the most commonly used feature in the task manager “end process” that is incorporated with a ton of data in one screen. The data and options you now have are things like: Parent/Child task grouping, Web search for meaning of processes, friendly names (e.g. Internet Explorer instead of ieexplore.exe) and more.

“Refresh” and “Reset”

This is another feature that is quite amazing, and – at times- could be a real lifesaver. How often have you been faced with a major PC failure that required you – depending on your skill set – to either spend hours to restore the system back to the way it was, or pay somebody to perform the before mentioned task? This is something most of us could do without; enter the refresh and reset features. The refresh feature allows you to restore your PC to a working state, while leaving all of your documents, files, settings and apps intact. If your PC isn’t running well, you can reload Windows without affecting your media and other personal files. Then there is the reset option which will restore Windows to its factory state. Essentially, one click reformats the system, and if you’ve ever reformatted one you know just how sweet this is. As a side note, there is also the ability to pause apps as well, if you need resources for something.

Living in the Cloud

In much the same way that Apple has a vision of a post PC era. The cloud will bind the desktop and mobile versions of Windows. You will be asked to create a Windows Live account
(Microsoft’s Cloud entry) when you first log onto the device. You will be able to store files on Windows SkyDrive, and manage all of your social media content in a central location; meaning, you will be able to access photos stored on Facebook, Flickr and SkyDrive as if they were stored locally. This feature will also combine instant message, contacts and calendars across multiple devices.

Built-In Antivirus

Windows has had built in antimalware (Defender) for a while now, and has offered a free AV solution (Security Essentials). However, the AV component will be built-in and rollout as a native program with the coming Windows 8 release. This is a solid feature that will remove the AV payment to MacAfee, if you so choose. Security Essentials is rock solid, but Windows has promised Security Essentials will take a back seat to any 3rd party AV you prefer. Isn’t that nice?

Well there you have it a comprehensive look at Windows 8. I know each feature could be an article by itself, but today’s post was meant to be an aerial view of the OS. If you want to know more about a specific feature leave a question in the comments, email me at techcornertopics@gmail.com or ask your question via twitter to @Ray_TechCorner. As always, keep it saucy…


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