Microsoft Windows 8 Feature List: Highlights Of The New Windows OS From BUILD 2011

As BUILD 2011 prepares to roll in to the second day, here’s an overview of all the features that we revealed from the first day. Windows 8, as you should know, is a complete overhaul of what Microsoft has done so far. Not since the historic Windows 95 have we seen this much change from one version of Windows to the next. So without further ado, let’s take a look at what to expect.

Before beginning on new features, let me put worried souls to rest by mentioning that Microsoft seems to have done a goo job so far of balancing the old and traditional with the new and revolutionary. So features that have become deeply entrenched in us, such as shortcuts like ctrl+F and Ctrl+Esc, have thankfully not been changed. So you will not have to re-learn most of your favorite keyboard shortcuts.

Applications

Microsoft assures us that all Windows 7 apps will run natively on Windows 8. Which means there’s no compatibility layer slowing down or hindering performance. That does not however, mean that you will get to use the Metro UI with your apps. Those will still be normal desktop apps.

Talking about apps, the online store that will come integrated in to the OS will be selling both Win32 and touch friendly Metro UI apps. Bundled apps like Mail, Calendar, Photos and People apps with Windows Live ID will receive the Metro upgrade and be one with the touch-friendly side of Windows 8. All apps written for Windows 8 can connect and exchange data between themselves natively. That is if their respective developers make them that way. The SkyDrive cloud storage is now the default storage for all cloud-based apps. As we reported earlier, Hyper-V is now a standard issue with Windows 8. It will however require specific hardware in order to run it properly.

Also, interestingly, Microsoft will be bundling an anti-virus with Windows 8 by default. It’s not clear whether it will be Microsoft made or third-party but I wonder what consumer security software companies like Norton will have to say about that. However, they will still make their coffers from the enterprise, so MSFT probably has not treaded on too many feet here. And it is a good feature for the average user; one that will enhance the overall user experience and satisfaction. Clever move.

A new task manager will automatically suspend all applications that are not on the screen. Thus speeding up the system and lowering power usage. Very much like phones and it will be very helpful for tablets and other ultraportables like the Ultrabooks (super thin and super light netbooks and notebooks) that are coming next year with Windows 8 in them.

If you want to try these out for your self, you should download the free developer preview from dev.windows.com. No serial numbers of problems like that. What’s more — this developer preview will be updated. There are two versions — one with developer tools and and one withouet. Both available in 32 and 64bit versions. If you do not intend to develop for Windows 8, you should download the one without the developer tools.

We’ve already reported about the native ISO and VHD support and the faster boot times.

User Interface

The biggest feature here is of course the Metro UI. Microsoft clarifies that the Metro UI is not an overlay on top of the usual interface; it is very much a core feature of the OS. Most of the bundled software will have Metro versions of their UI. Internet Explorer 10 will be able to seamlessly switch between Metro and Explorer UI. Accessibility options will include a thumb by thumb input and an advanced magnifier option for using the desktop.

A new restore and system wide data wipe feature called “Reset and Refresh PC” has been added that simplifies these tasks down to mere button pushes. Meanwhile, security update notifications will be minimized to the lower right corner of the login screen. And this login will be using a photo-based system. A settings roam feature will allow the user to migrate and sync all his personal setting across all his Windows 8 devices.

Hardware

 

With this version, Microsoft seems to have tried its best to maintain support for a wide range of system configuration. This has translated to Windows 8 being capable of running on an ancient Lenovo S10 that sports a first generation Atom chip with 1 GB RAM. To put things in to perspective — you would be hard pressed to run Windows 7 smoothly on it.

Devices equipped with an NFC chip will be able to utilize native support for them and access features like tap to share that will allow them to swap data between each other or access data on an NFC equipped card. NFX — the makers of NFC have confirmed that they have worked closely with Microsoft in order to develop the native support for them and they have also worked on the Windows 8 preview tablet that was given away to the attendees of BUILD 2011.

Multi-monitor setups are now even better. You can have a single background panning across all your displays and you can have individual Taskbars on each screen.

ARM support is missing in the developer preview but it will be in place for the final release.

USB 3.0

If you own a USB 3.0 device, you would be happy to know that Windows 8 will have native support for them. This will improve the overall stability and performance of all USB 3.0 devices and since this is native support, they will also become plug n play like the USB 2.0 and 1.0 devices are at the moment. This will be a welcome break from having to install third-party software every time you buy a new USB 3.0 device.

Another welcome addition is a native, class compliant driver support for mobile broadband dongles. These over-sized thumb-drive type devices are now increasingly commonplace. They allow you to access the internet through fast mobile connections. Needless to say that the portability and the speed make them really popular all over the world. Now with native support, you can simply plug them in and start using them. You will not have to install third-party drivers and  connection management software that is usually very badly designed and written.

One more thing to cherish is the presence of standard driver modules that look really good on the Metro style UI. Not only does it put on familiar grounds every time you plug in such a dongle, they also ensure that you are using a familiar connection manager to operate the device. In addition to this, Windows will monitor your usage and will warn you if you are approaching your preset data usage limit. Pretty handy I must say. All drivers will now be part of the settings ‘Charm’ that will be found on the right hand corner of the screen. A small unified place to configure all things Windows 8.

Windows 8 will also come with standard drivers for several different kinds of sensors that can detect — temperature, motion, pressure, current, motion and light. That does not however mean that your tablet will tell you to not press down on the touchscreen so hard, although technically it could be programmed to do so. These native sensor drivers seem to point to the fact that Microsoft might be encouraging developers to think of all kinds of systems running Windows 8 — like medical and endurance training devices and aids.

Microsoft will continue to partner with device manufacturer to give Windows Certified gadgetry to the world. In Windows 8, they will be class compliant and upon being plugged in, they will trigger relevant apps to open. It is more like an advanced version of the auto-play feature that was found as far back as XP.

The idea here is to merge hardware and software as seamlessly as possible and keep the UI workflow smooth, solid, polished and most important of all — unified. So you will not be taken by surprise and things will look familiar to you no matter what you have plugged in.

Entertainment

xbox-live-on-windows-8
Xbox Live On Windows 8

Microsoft has announced the Xbox Live will be available on Windows 8. Thus reconfirming that it will be coming to Windows. Simply called Xbox Live On Windows — the service will brings its usual fare of gaming, music, movies and TV content to the desktop and will sync up with your account. Microsoft has promised more details before the week is through. Also, there will be a special app development session for the devs in order to understand this new integration better.

Media Center as a separate edition is now dead. That is only because it is now an integral part of Windows 8. There will in fact be no separate version for tablets either. It will be one single OS. No word on how many ‘Editions’ (Home, Business, Ultimate) there will be though.

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That is more or less what you should know about the new Windows. If you want to know more, there’s the full list of features at Microsoft’s page for the BUILD event within their press center.