Windows 8 will replace the Start Menu with a Start Screen (with tiles that contain shortcuts to applications) similar to the Metro interface seen on its Windows Phone 7 OS.
It will also be introducing the Ribbon interface (first seen in Office 2007) to Windows Explorer. It will launch a store for the new Metro-style apps that Windows 8 will support.
Windows 8 has been designed ground-up to support ARM processors (the chips used in tablets) apart from the X86 processors from Intel and AMD. This means the same operating system will be available on desktops, laptops and slates/tablets.
And regardless of the machine’s form factor, whether tablet or PC, this new OS promises a slew of brand new features that seem just as compelling to power users as they are enticing to newbies.
It can be rather cumbersome to enter long, complex passwords on touchscreen devices such as tablets. Yet, having a strong passcode is important, especially on portable devices.
To allow for better security, Windows 8 utilizes a new system that incorporates pictures and gestures in user authentication. It’s a simple concept: Users will first need to select an image on which to perform a gesture.
The gestures could be tapping on something in the picture, encircling something, or drawing a line between two points.
A “password” would then comprise any combination of these three. Since you can pick any photo to perform the gesture on, these actions could be based on the image, such as tapping someone’s nose, encircling a book, or drawing a line along the edge of an object.
Portable applications are a growing trend. Already, you can run software such as web browsers, word processors, image editors etc from a pen drive (so you can carry your favourite software to use on almost any computer).
With Windows 8, you will even be able to take the entire operating system with you. Enterprise versions of the OS will be capable of running off a flash drive or portable hard drive. Since your Windows environment pretty much makes your computer yours, you will, in effect, be carrying your entire PC
After an extended period of using Windows, you will often find a noticeable decrease in performance – as applications are installed, and then uninstalled, remnants of these programs start to build up and cause performance issues.
The best solution in such cases is to reinstall the OS and migrate your data to the new copy. But this solution has been needlessly difficult till now – and usually, only expert users resort to it. Windows 8 will change all that…
The new OS will have two options, Refresh and Reset, to tackle this problem. Reset, as its name suggests, resets your installation to its initial state. It deletes all your personal data and software, leaving a fresh Windows 8 computer that you can even hand over to someone else.
Refresh is a less drastic measure. It retains your personal data, customisations and settings, and reinstalls Windows in-place.
After this procedure you can log into the same old account, and see all your documents intact. Your desktop apps will be gone, but a list of those will be saved so you can remember which ones you need to reinstall.
If you want to refresh Windows to a customised state (instead of a blank slate), you can do that as well.
With Windows 8, you will no longer be harassed by those frequent 15-minute warnings that inform you that your system has been updated and needs to be restarted. With the new OS, Windows Update (WU) will consolidate all the restarts in a month into one single restart.
With this new feature, it will not matter when the updates are released, since these restarts will wait till the month’s security release. In case of a critical update, however, WU will download, install and restart automatically.
But this will happen only when the security threat is dire enough – and there is no chance of losing the user’s data. That means the restarts will not happen if you are not at your PC, if you have applications running in the background, or if there is potentially unsaved work.
Windows 8 boot process will support a new built-in mechanism called Secure Boot, which will ensure that the system being booted has not been tampered by malware. Another anti-malware feature in Windows 8 is a technology it borrows from Internet Explorer (IE), called SmartScreen.
SmartScreen checks URLs entered in the browser against a database of malware links, and in IE9 this feature was extended to downloaded files.
The browser checks the “reputation” of the file you download and warns you if the file is unknown and downloaded by very few people. Now instead of being an IE-only feature, this technology is baked into Windows, and it will check files downloaded
The copying mechanisms that Windows currently uses can be quite inefficient. Not only are the ‘copy time’ estimates frustratingly erroneous, but even basic features such as pausing a transfer are absent.
Windows 8 rectifies this and a number of other issues with improvements in its file management system.
First of all, if you are running multiple file operations on Windows 8, it consolidates them all into a single window showing all transfers. Secondly, individual operations can be paused or cancelled. And while the basic Copy operation window is simplified, there is a new detailed view that offers a lot more, including the current speed, and a graph of how that speed has changed over time.
Conflicts while copying are also managed better. If while copying from one folder to another Windows detects multiple conflicting files, it can show you a detailed list of files in both the folders and the differences between them, along with the option to skip files that are exactly the same on both sides.
Windows 8 also makes it possible for you to access files in an ISO file without burning it to a disc.
A Windows Live ID gives you access to Microsoft cloud services such as Hotmail for email, Office Web for online document creation and collaboration, SkyDrive for online file storage, Live messenger for chat etc. In Windows 8, Microsoft will let you log into your computer with this ID.
It might seem odd to log into your own PC with an online account, however, Microsoft offers a number of advantages for such users. First, such accounts will automatically be synchronised with Microsoft’s servers. Many of your settings such as your wallpaper, mouse settings, Explorer settings, Internet Explorer history and favourites, spell-check dictionaries and a number of other settings will be available on any computer, you log into with this account – and if you make a change on one computer it will be reflected to all other computers.
Metro-style applications purchased from the Windows Store will also be available on all your computers, along with their settings. An eBook reader, for instance, could let you start reading a book on one Windows 8 device and continue on another. IE10 already supports this feature and will keep browsing sessions in sync across computers.