Guest blogger Karl Newark writes:
It seems that everyone who knows about it has decided they don’t like Windows 8 already. More often than not, people are saying that it will be the next Vista. Although I have had my doubts at times and I must admit that some features don’t appeal to me, you don’t have to be a Windows fanboy or an employee to know there are actually some really nice features coming with Windows 8 and Microsoft is making a few consumer-friendly movements as a business. Here are a few things I’m looking forward to.
Microsoft has made Windows 8 faster; we all saw it running on ridiculously old hardware back when the first test build was released, but this isn’t just a novelty. Microsoft is said to have been working very hard on performance. Microsoft has ditched Aero — that glassy effect that you see on your taskbar and around desktop windows — on the desktop. It didn’t suit Microsoft’s new Metro UI design trends, so the company scrapped it and, instead, developed a simpler, more solid-looking theme. I’m sure it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but Aero was notorious for putting a strain on some weaker graphics chipsets. Love or hate the look of the new theme; I’m sure everyone will agree that better graphics performance is always a good thing. Aero was also a throwback to Vista, which I’m sure Microsoft is trying its hardest to help us forget!
Windows 8 is also better optimized for AMD’s Bulldozer chips. Also, Windows 8 supports CMT (Cluster-based Multithreading), which gives users a 10% performance boost and significantly more FPS in games. From these points, I think it’s clear that Microsoft is definitely making moves to increase performance for all users — not just tablet users.
Microsoft Windows 8 also supports UEFI boot, which benefits the average PC user significantly. This is a technology that Apple has been using for a long time that replaces the old BIOS system (legacy BIOS) that is normally used in PCs now. It supports larger hard drives, significantly increases security, and has the ability to provide the user with a much nicer UI for boot up options. Best of all, it boosts startup time significantly. There is some controversy surrounding UEFI, however, as it gives Microsoft and OEMs the power to lock out any other operating systems, such as those that are Linux-based.
The Windows Task Manager is a tool that has always been used frequently by Windows power users, but it has remained majorly unchanged for quite a long time. In Windows 8, the Task Manager has been completely taken to pieces and built from the ground up, with cool, new features included in the process.
In its new version, when the Task Manager is first opened, it is extremely simplified, giving a straightforward list of all of the system’s open applications. Upon opening the advanced options, we are greeted with the more familiar Task Manager from Windows past.
Processes are now grouped and ordered in a more orderly fashion. There is a tab allowing you to change your bootup apps (there’s no more msconfig for that), and there are now a lot more details on system resources so it’s easier to see what is taxing a system. One of my favorite new features is “friendly names,” which gives processes much more understandable names. An example given by Microsoft is “Fast user switching utility service,” which, in a previous version of Windows, would show as FSSVC.exe. If a user still doesn’t know what this is, they can right click to use a direct Web search option.
Check out this video to learn more about the Windows 8 Task Manager:
Windows Explorer is the default file managing app in Windows. File managing is never fun, but we all have to do it from time to time whether we’re a graphic designer looking for font, a mechanic opening a diagnostic report for a vehicle, or just someone attaching a picture to an email for the grandparents. In such cases, if you’re on Windows, you are probably using Windows Explorer. So it is important that Microsoft gets it right.
Microsoft has updated Explorer with the ribbon style toolbar. This is best described as a normal toolbar, but with different functions available on different tabs. It is loved by some and hated by others, but what’s important is that it gives the average user easy access to the most commonly used functions. Those that are frequently used get a large icon on a main tab, while other features may get a smaller icon or be placed on another tab.
Within Windows Explorer, Microsoft has also added a lot more keyboard shortcuts — which should please any power user — as well as adding features such as “copy path,” which adds a selected file’s path to the clipboard, which is great for people on a large network with shared storage and files. Pictures now display metadata more dynamically and you can now launch a command prompt with one click from Explorer.
Xbox Integration and the Death of Zune
Just as Apple is using the success and momentum of iOS to innovate upon OS X, Microsoft is trying to focus on making people see the Xbox 360 and Windows as a more unified experience. Microsoft’s success with the Xbox 360 has been outstanding; in a short space of time the company has entered the console gaming industry and provided people with a great product and service. People are spending money willingly and are eager for more. (We have been hearing rumors about the “Xbox 720″ for years!)
However Microsoft didn’t do much to make Windows 7 feel like a member of the same product family. This changed with Windows Phone 7; Xbox integration was focused as a main selling point for these devices, and Windows 8 should have even more integration.
Both devices will use the Metro interface, which I think is a good thing as it will come as less of a shock to a lot of people when they try Windows 8 for the first time. But more specifically, Microsoft is implementing Xbox apps into Windows 8 that will let you buy games and check gamer scores and other information much like xbox.com, but this will, it is hoped, provide a more consistent and functional experience than visiting the website.
Zune is now being phased out and replaced by Xbox Music, a rebranded and reworked service to provide music to Windows users. It’s great to see Microsoft ditching the Zune brand as it was mostly just another reminder of the infamous failed iPod competitor.
People who use multiple monitors with Windows generally agree that this is a functionality that has been neglected for some time. This is clear by the popularity of third-party apps that let you tweak how multiple monitors work within Windows 7.
Windows 8 adds several features for those using more than one screen. For one, that age-old problem, the Task Bar, can finally be duplicated to both monitors. But that’s not all. There are now more options with wallpaper: wallpapers can span across monitors, or individual monitors can have their own wallpapers; this is cool. It’s also worth noting that a lot of the Metro features such as Charms and Hot Corners can all be customized, as well!
Windows 8 App Store
We all know how these digital app stores work as they are extremely popular and seem to be the future of software distribution. It’s a step in the right direction for Microsoft to finally bring its own digital app store to Windows 8. This should be great for users as it will minimize the risk of downloading viruses, help install and uninstall apps, and give consumers a peace of mind when paying for apps. A digital app store is also great for developers as it will help consumers discover apps.
Microsoft has had great success selling software (in the form of games) on the Xbox over the few years that it has done so. It has expanded and adapted its strategies for the better — I hope the company can carry what it has learned from this to the Windows 8 App Store.
The Future of Microsoft for the Consumer
With the announcement of the Microsoft Surface tablet and new leaked images of what could be official Microsoft peripherals for Windows 8, I think it’s clear that Microsoft is taking some control of hardware. Also, Microsoft has official Microsoft Stores all over the world; this brings me to believe that Microsoft will make a lot more of the Signature line of machines.
Microsoft Signature PCs are devices that not only fit Microsoft’s technical expectations for certain class of PC, but also contain no bloatware. At the moment, they are only available through Microsoft Stores and online, but I personally cannot order one of these online as there are no Microsoft stores in the UK. This is set to change as there is a store opening very soon in London; I believe that many people will be in this position around the world, and soon Microsoft Signature products will be very significant for anyone buying a PC.
I also believe that Microsoft Stores will help consumers learn about and understand Windows 8. Everyone will be able to try it in store on a variety of devices and ask Windows experts any questions that they might have.
Getting Along with Metro (on a Desktop OS)
Back to my point at the beginning: Everyone seems to have a problem with Windows 8, but most people haven’t even tried it. It’s important to understand that, even though all of Microsoft’s emphasis seems to be behind the Metro interface, it is also developing on the classic desktop UI. The Metro UI itself is essentially a new Start menu that can start full-screen, tablet-oriented apps, but this is optional. Desktop apps still exist and will do so for the foreseeable future.
As for the problems with replacement of the Start menu, this is not an issue for someone who uses the desktop UI at all. Keystroke launching still works as in Windows 7, but even better. When the Metro UI is first launched, all a user needs to do to start searching is type. As soon as a keystroke is detected, Windows starts to quickly search through apps and files and displays them all in a grid format; I find this a lot more efficient than searching from the Windows 7 Start menu, as Metro is much larger and clearer.
All a desktop user needs to do to launch installed software is hit the Windows key on the keyboard, enter the first few letters of the software’s name, and press enter. This is an extremely fast way to access an app and the user will only see the Metro UI for a couple of seconds.
I hope I have presented you with some information that you were not previously aware of; I think it’s important to realize that Microsoft has developed this version of Windows for everyone — not just the tablet user.
Here’s more information about Windows 8′s improved compatibility with AMD Bulldozer CPUs, and below is a video about UEFI vs. legacy BIOS.