Knowledge Base

What is New in Windows 8 – Part 2

Microsoft is gearing up for the release of Windows 8 on October 26th of 2012. As a promotion for the new OS, they will be selling upgrades for as little as $40 that will work for users of Windows XP, Vista, or 7. Compared to many previous releases, that is an almost absurdly low price. That in mind, what do customers really get that’s new in Windows 8 compared to previous releases?

The most obvious change is the move to the Metro UI. Metro is a tile-based interface previously seen on Windows Phone 7. It can be considered the new face of the operating system. The Start Menu has been replaced by a Metro-style Start Screen and Microsoft will now be running their own App Store specifically for programs designed with Metro in mind.

The Start Screen shows off your installed applications. Rather than giving just an icon, however, all programs designed for Metro can be made to display Live Tiles. This means that you can get updates from your various apps simply by hitting the Start button. Live Tiles are handy for all the little things like weather reports and appointment reminders that are useful to glance at but don’t normally require significant attention. Tiles on the Start Screen can be arranged according to user preference and are available in two sizes. There’s a great deal of potential personalization as a result.

Windows 8 is backward compatible, unlike the offshoot Windows RT that runs on ARM-based tablet PCs. That raises the question of why one would bother with apps designed for the new interface when older programs run just fine the way they are. Fortunately Live Tiles are not the only thing that Metro offers.

The biggest appeal will likely come from the functionality provided by what is called the Charm Bar. This bar, which can be accessed from the right side of the screen, can be opened at any time when using Windows 8. It ties things together by allowing apps to link common functions to the default interface rather than forcing developers to create their own solutions.

Consider basic search functions. Using the Charm Bar you can search for an installed application, an item in the store, or a recipe in your favorite cookbook and the process is always the same. You open the bar, select “Search”, and type what you want to find. There’s no confusion.

The same sort of shared functionality is provided for social functions. It is possible to share information to the program of your choice from pretty much anywhere. Sending a webpage to a note-taking app is the same as sending a news article to your Facebook page. A few such options are available by default, but more are added depending on what each user has installed. I might like the ability to send things to a Twitter feed but have no use for anything else, in which case sharing information via Twitter will be one of the only options presented to me.

This sort of interface unity provides a far more cohesive experience than Windows users are generally accustomed to. While it will be a major adjustment in many ways, the advantages are obvious. There’s more to a Windows 8 move than just interface improvements, though. Some of the most exciting changes are happening in less obvious places.

Windows 8 is putting an emphasis on Cloud presence, for example. Every user has the option of making their system account a universal account. This means that it’s possible to sign in via another computer and have all of your system settings saved and waiting for you already. Users will also have access to SkyDrive by default, which provides 7GB of Cloud storage for free. Office 2013 is heavily integrated with that storage option, so it’s useful to have around.

Safety features have been improved greatly. Windows 8 is perhaps the most secure operating system to come out of Microsoft so far. Metro apps are curated and Windows 8 computers will have precautions in place to prevent some of the more difficult to remove types of malware from ever getting a foothold in the system.

If a computer does manage to get infected, however, there is also a new alternative to reinstalling Windows. The System Refresh option will change all system files back to their factory default state, eliminating a great deal of damage. The System Reset will return the entire computer to its original state, effectively accomplishing a reinstallation without the hassle of actually reinstalling the operating system manually. Both options are surprisingly fast.

In terms of performance, Windows 8 is generally a step up. Boot time has been greatly improved. Microsoft’s earliest information about the development of this project involved a lot of bragging about booting in as little as 8 seconds on a fairly good computer. Performance has generally been stepped up in other areas as well, with attention being given to speeding up graphics rendering by improving DirectX and pushing more of the load onto the GPU when the option is available. Everything runs more smoothly as a result.

While there is certainly a lot of irritation being expressed by people unhappy with the introduction of Metro, both because its app store is a Microsoft-controlled system and because it is tablet-friendly, there is little aside from that to complain about. Improvements are present in every area you might hope for and all of your existing programs are likely to run just fine. The Windows 8 upgrade is an easy decision.

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