10 things I love about Windows 8 (Release Preview)

This follows on from my post earlier this week titled 5 Little things that are annoying me about Windows 8 (Release Preview).

So for balance I am talking positive and talking about the features and options in Windows 8 that really make that upgrade worthwhile (or at least things where you go .. “cool!”).

I am very much ignoring features like “file history” as this is really an existing feature (Previous Versions) with a different name. So .. in no particular order … here are my top 10 ..

#1 Updated Task Manager

This is one area of Windows needing a facelift for quite some time now, and this version has several improvements.

The most noticeable part is that the standard “Process” screen has been uplifted. The columns are simplified and show a colour-coded representation of how much strain they are putting on your system (they turn yellow, orange and eventually red if they start causing a bottleneck and maxing out your system).

The “Performance” screen looks pretty similar, but the graphs have been given a bit of a facelift and now show a neat real-time graph for each component, while showing the detailed view in the main window.

Equally cool is the network information which shows you traffic (upload / download) for your network connections.

There is also a very cool “App History” tab which shows you how much CPU time (hours / minutes / seconds) and how much network resources your apps have consumed.

This not only gives you an insight to how much you use your apps (useful for those you have paid for!) but also which ones are using your all important network bandwidth (which will be incredibly useful for those on 3G or tariff network connections).

#2 Updated file transfer dialog

Windows explorer has also had a facelift, but the one I like the most is the file transfer dialog. The main change here is a graph showing you the history of the file transfer speed. These also stack so if you have multiple files being transferred they are all docked into the same window!

#3 Natively mount ISO images

This is one I’ve been waiting for, and always used to end up installing some third party ISO app (such as “MagicISO”.

Now you can just right-click on your ISO image and select “Mount” at which point it appears as a drive letter. This is great for downloading and installing tools and apps from MSDN or digital download sites. Most of my VMs use mounted ISOs as well so I can use the same ISO for both! 🙂

Easily right click on an ISO to mount it

And it appears as a new Drive Letter 🙂

#4 Hyper-V and Native VHD Mounting

Another brilliant add on (and “finally” moment). Virtual PC really was terrible and I have always stuck to VMware Workstation.

Now they have brought together the full Server 2012 Hyper-V experience to Windows 8 and much missed it has been (you simply have to add “Hyper -V” as one of the selectable “Windows Features” and off you go!)

Along with this you also get VHD (Virtual Hard Disk) mounting too, which is the native format used for Hyper-V. This works in the same way as ISO images described above. I love this feature as it means you can check the contents of your VM even if the machine is turned off (so you don’t need to waste CPU / RAM / boot time to get a couple of files from it).

#5 Storage Spaces .. hot expandable software RAID?

This is a great alternative to using RAID setup. It basically creates a mirrored array using a new distributed file system where you have two or more physical drives. They don’t have to be identical drives (although similar performance will certainly help matters!).

Windows will then split files across both drives so it can recover the contents when one of your drives fails, a particular gotcha it seems for people with a history of failing HDD or SSD (Chris O’Brien .. I really hope you are reading this!)

The best thing about this “Storage Pool” is that you can expand it on-the-fly with additional drive storage, so if you get another hard drive you just plug in your partition and off it goes.

Mainly I can see this being useful for full desktop workstations (with multiple drive bays) or people using Windows 8 for their home entertainment / NAS replacement. When your storage gets a little low just slap in another drive and off it goes 🙂

Note – it was a bit hard to find, right-click on the bottom right to get to Control Panel, and its under “System and Security”

#6 Lock Screen and Live Tiles

Well lets face it, I couldn’t really get away without mentioned the Lock Screen and the Live Tiles functionality. I’ve had a Windows Phone for a couple of years now and I do really like the Lock Screen notifications (although I admit I don’t really use Live Tiles on Windows 8 .. but I can see this being awesome for people who live in Metro, especially touch-screen tablets and Windows 8 RT environments).

The lock screen in particular, showing up Metro Apps (and you can configure which ones can post updates .. if any!). In particular I have two Mail accounts (Hotmail and Exchange) so I can see “at a glance” without even logging back in whether or not I have any new emails or messages.

#7 Fully Integrated Search

Another item that some of us have been crying out for. You can now search pretty much everything from one place. Can’t find it in your Apps? check the App Store, or check your file system, or even check.

The search has a nice internet-driven auto-complete, and switching from one search to another is a breeze. If the app you are using also has search capabilities then that filter will be automatically selected for you.

Search loads from the right-pinned “Charms” bar so your main window is still visible

#8 Login using Microsoft Account

I have to admit I was a little sceptical about this first off, but the more I’ve been using it the better I have found it. This basically allows you to login to your machine using a “Microsoft Account” (which for most of you will be a Live account which you use for Hotmail or SkyDrive).

The most obvious benefits when you first login is that it automatically configures a bunch of stuff for you:

  • Account picture automatically pulled from your online Live profile
  • Mail App automatically includes your Hotmail Account
  • SkyDrive app is pre-configured for your online SkyDrive folders
  • People and Messaging hubs automatically sync with any “Live Connected” accounts such as Twitter and Facebook
  • Photo app automatically pulls content from SkyDrive / Facebook / etc

So a lot of the initial setup pain is already taken care of. This gets even better though when you look at “Sync Settings”  .. which seamlessly syncs to “the cloud”.

This includes a whole bunch of stuff such as:

  • Colours, backgrounds and themes
  • Browser settings, favourites and history
  • Language, Keyboard and input preferences
  • App settings and purchase history

It can even sync your passwords, although it does limit you to only doing this from a “Trusted PC” (which requires you to setup your “Trusted Device” using Live Essentials and configuring it through your Live Account settings).

#9 “Save to Microsoft Account” for BitLocker keys

For those who don’t know BitLocker is a drive encryption tool (which through recent enhancement now rivals TrueCrypt for performance and encryption capabilities). The premise is that your drive contents are encrypted, requiring a password for key token to “unlock” the drive on boot. This stops people from booting to another OS using a memory stick, or simply taking out your hard drive and putting it in another computer (thus bypassing any of the Operating System or NTFS permissions).

The main issue with BitLocker is if you need to move your hard drive or re-install Windows you can’t access the drive without a Recovery Key (a complex long-text string). Normally you would put this on a backup drive or memory stick to keep safe, but this always seemed a little “amateur” for me.

Well, Windows 8 now supports automatically backing up your key using your Microsoft Account! 🙂

This was a nice surprise which I really wasn’t expecting. I ended up removing BitLocker from my Windows 8 machine because the Release Preview clearly has some bugs in it and the disk performance was about 50% lower when turned on (and hardly noticeable at all in Windows 7) so a few IO issues to iron out, but definitely showing promise!

#10 Metered Network Support and Airplane Mode

To be honest, this was a must for any truly “mobile” device and I’m including both laptops and tablets here. Airplane mode is a simple one (instantly disables ALL wireless connectivity, including 3G/4G and Bluetooth). You can access this from the Network Connections side-bar (by clicking on your network icon in the system tray in Desktop Mode, or accessing the “Network” option from the Settings “Charms” menu.

This is a great companion for “Metered Connections” which allows Windows 8 to know if you are on a connection for which you get charged “per MB”.

This has several angles. First, when you setup a new connection (such as a WiFi hotspot) you can mark it as being a “Metered Connection”.

Once the connection is known as being “Metered” then all sorts of options start coming into play. There have been some telling signs in some of the other screenshots, but I’ve noticed this in a bunch of places which I will list out here:

  • Task Manager’s “App History” shows you how much network traffic has been sent over metered connections by each app you have installed
  • Sync Settings allows you to control whether you sync “over metered connections” to try and limit traffic when you are on a limited network connection (default no)
  • Device Manager allows you to configure whether to download “Device Software and Drivers” over metered connections or not (default no)

I’m sure there will be others (and I’ve probably missed a few) but the good news is that Metered Connections are front and centre!

..

So that’s all for now .. bear in mind this is just the Release Preview (build 8400) of Windows 8 so some things are bound to change and get switched about by the time the final commercial release comes around.

Anything you love about Windows 8 which I’ve not mentioned?? Please let me know in the comments 🙂

  • Richard

    "Windows to go" is a great feature – which allows you to boot Windows 8 from a USB stick onto a non-Windows 8 host machine. This brings the benefit of creating standardised, corporate Windows desktops that can be truly portable. Saw this in action recently – nice to see also that if someone pulls the plug – quite literally the USB out of the port, you have 60 seconds to pop it back in and everything still "just works"