Windows 8, the next version of Windows, has a lot of improvements and enhancements like every new Windows release, but what makes it really different is that many things have been changed.
The first and the most important change is the introduction of a new kind of apps called Metro apps/Windows Store apps. The Start menu has been removed - it can only be added by downloading and installing third-party softwares.
In place of the Start menu, the new Start Screen is used to go to the Desktop, open Metro Apps and desktop apps and searching for files and settings. (though the desktop search is still there when you are in Desktop mode).The Start Screen from Windows 8 RTM Enterprise edition
One thing to note is that you cannot launch Metro apps on screen resolutions lower than 1024 x 768. While that is fine for most computers, many netbooks are locked to a maximum resolution of 1024 x 600. So if a Windows 8 user wants to use Metro apps on a 1024 x 600 resolution netbook, then the user needs to do a hack to enable a 1024 x 768 resolution option. (setting the value of Display1_DownScalingSupported registry entry from 0 to 1 in the registry by searching for it).
The Charms Bar is used to access power options (like Shutdown, Restart and Sleep), and other settings like Wireless, Display Brightness and the Metro Control Panel. In case of Metro Apps, it is used to access important functions like printing and settings.
Windows Aero Glass, the interface introduced with Windows Vista and also used in Windows 7 has been removed. The Aero Glass transparency is no longer present in Windows 8.File Explorer windows from Windows 8 RTM Enterprise
As you see in the above screenshot, Windows Explorer (renamed to File Explorer in Windows 8) now has the Ribbon UI.Finding uses for Metro apps
Metro apps can serve many useful purposes too. Most apps included by default in Windows 8 RTM are quite useful. Well if you take a look at the Metro Apps shown in the Start Screen image shown in the starting of this post, there is a Mail app, People app, Messaging app, Calender app, Photos app, Weather app, Maps app, News app and Skydrive app. There are some other apps also like Windows Reader, Videos app, Games app, Finance app, Music app, Bing search app, Camera app, Travel app and more. There is also a Metro version of Internet Explorer included by default, which does not support plug-ins.
According to me, Mail and Reader are the apps that will be useful for almost everybody. The Mail app is a mail client that downloads the e-mails for last two weeks (an update for the Mail, Calender, People and Messaging app suite, released in October, the two weeks setting can be changed, the update also adds full IMAP support) and Reader is an app for reading PDFs, XPS and OXPS (OpenXPS). Both are extremely light on memory and CPU.The Mail app, showing mails from my My Opera Mail account and the Add Accounts menu on right.
And ofcourse, there are hundreds (and should be in thousands a few weeks after Windows 8 general availability on October 26 this year) of Metro apps to download and install from the Store - paid and free, in many categories such as Games, Productivity, Tools, Sports, Books and Reference, News and more.Features and enhancementsThe improved Task Manager
Task Manager has been vastly improved in Windows 8. When Task Manager is started for the first time, it starts with a small window showing the running applications and allowing you to terminate them (the Applications tab of Task Manager in previous versions of Windows).
Clicking the 'More details' button opens the complete Task Manager which opens with the Processes tab by default. The running processes are shown by their names (descriptions), grouped into three categories: Apps, Background Processes and Windows processes. CPU, Memory, Disk and Network utilization for each process is displayed.
The next tab is the Performance tab. It shows CPU, Disk, Memory, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi utilization. There are many details in each category.
The App history tab shows the resource usage for all Metro apps since the date of user account creation. The Startup tab can be used to view and disable startup programs. The Users and the Services tab are almost similar to Task Manager in old Windows versions, except that the Users tab also displays the CPU, Memory, Disk and Network utilization for each user. The Details tab is exactly similar to the Processes tab in previous versions of Task Manager.Improved file transfer and filename collision experience
In Windows 8, the file copy/move/delete operation progress dialogs have been updated, providing a graph view of the file transfer speed. Windows 8 also brings the ability to pause file transfers and resume them later.
The filename collision dialog, has also been updated.
Clicking "Compare info for both files" shows the details of the files in the source and destination.
Also, when a multiple file operations are in progress, the same window shows all the copy/delete operations, in comparison to separate windows for each copy/delete operation.Mount ISO and VHD files
Windows 7 added the ability to burn ISO files to discs. But what was missing was the ability to mount ISO files as virtual CD drives. USB Flash drives are extensively replacing the use of CDs and DVDs, so people mostly mount ISO files and copy them to hard disks or USB Flash drive. Windows 8 finally brings built-in ISO image mounting.
Similarly, mounting VHD files as hard disks is also made quite easy.Windows To Go
Windows To Go is a feature exclusive to the Windows 8 Enterprise edition. Windows To Go is a copy of Windows 8 on a USB drive which can be used to boot to Windows 8 from the USB drive. It requires a 32 GB USB Flash drive. USB 2.0 drives are supported and provide fine performance, however for excellent performance, USB 3.0 drives should be used.
One thing to note is that not all all USB drives can be used to create Windows To Go workspaces. Use of uncertified USB drives can result in errors during creation. Recovery options - Reset and Refresh
Windows 8 adds two recovery options - making Windows recovery faster and quite easier. The options are called Reset and Refresh. Both Reset and Refresh options boot into Windows Recovery Environment, format the Windows partition, and install a fresh copy of Windows 8, but the Refresh option allows you to preserve your personal data, important OS settings and Metro Apps.
The options can be accessed by through the Metro Control Panel (in the General category), or when the PC is not able to boot, the options can also be accessed via Windows Recovery Environment. Other features and enhancements
Windows 8 system requirements
- Native USB 3.0 support
- Windows Live ID/Microsoft account integration
- Better multi-monitor support (including the ability to set different wallpapers for each display)
- File History - creates automatic backups of files located in specified locations to external storage devices (replaces Previous Versions)
- Hyper-V (available on 64-bit Windows 8 Pro and Enterprise)
- Storage Spaces (Organization of physical disks into storage pools, and use these virtual drives like any other drives)
- DirectX 11.1 and WDDM 1.2
- Default Included games now replaced with Metro app versions along with XBox Live integration (not all games have replacements yet)
- Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster with support for PAE, NX, and SSE2 (more info)
- RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit)
- Hard disk space: 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
- Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver
- Client Hyper-V requires a 64-bit system with second level address translation (SLAT) capabilities and additional 2 GB of RAM (Windows 8 Pro only)
- To access the Windows Store and to download and run apps, you need a screen resolution of at least 1024 x 768.
- To snap apps, you need a screen resolution of at least 1366 x 768
- Secure boot requires firmware that supports UEFI v2.3.1 Errata B and has the Microsoft Windows Certification Authority in the UEFI signature database
While Windows 8's system requirements are similar to that of Windows 7, one thing to note is that the processor must support NX bit and PAE - which is a new requirement for Windows 8.
Windows 8 Editions
Windows 8 is available in 4 main editions.
Windows 8 is the basic edition, and includes all the standard features.
Windows 8 Pro includes all features found in Windows 8 (referring to the basic edition), and also provides Hyper-V, BitLocker, Boot from VHD, Domain Join, Encrypting File System, Group Policy and Remote Desktop (host).
Windows 8 Enterprise, as usual available only via Volume Licensing, has all the features of Windows 8 Pro, and includes some more Enterprise targeted features such as Windows To Go, AppLocker and DirectAccess.
Windows 8 RT, a special edition, is available only as pre-installed on devices with ARM processors such as tablets. It does not support the desktop applications and only runs Metro Apps/WinRT apps. Office 2013 Home and Student is included, which does not include a few features such as Macros, add-ins, searching and recording audio/video files in OneNote.
Windows 8 Pro with Media Center
DVD playback and Windows Media Center are not included in any edition of Windows 8. Instead, they can be installed in Windows 8 Pro (only in Windows 8 Pro, and even NOT in Enterprise edition) by installing a "media pack" add-on. It is available free till January 2013 but after that users will have to pay for it.
Windows 8 (basic edition) users can upgrade to Windows 8 Pro AND get Windows Media Center by purchasing the Windows 8 Pro Pack for $69.99.
Till January 2013, Windows XP SP3, Windows Vista and Windows 7 can be upgraded to Windows 8 Pro for $39.99. New Windows 7 PCs bought till January 2013 can upgrade to Windows 8 for just $14.99.
Windows 8 is a great upgrade (faster, uses less RAM and has great features) and it's just a matter of few hours and Windows 8 would hit general availability. The removal of Start menu and the accessing of power options might confuse average users. Let's see how it goes.