30 best features of Windows 8

11 May 2012

We reveal the pick of the hundreds of new features in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, and a guide to the controversial new Metro UI

As Windows 8 creeps ever closer to completion, we now have a firm idea of what is and isn’t going to be in the most ambitious new version of Windows in almost 20 years.

This feature highlights the 30 best features we’ve discovered in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview – and ten features that we hope Microsoft finds time to add to its operating system before its expected launch at the end of this year.

We’ve also dived into the Metro interface, with an annotated guide to the striking new Start screen and where to find all of Windows 8’s sometimes hidden features.

Of course, being a “Consumer Preview”, the software is available to download for free to try all these new features for yourself. Read our guide to safely installing Windows 8 on your PC, and benefit from our experience of installing it on our own machines.

1. Interactive tiles

The Metro start screen may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it does have undeniable benefits, chief of which is the interactive tiles.

The Metro start screen may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it does have undeniable benefits

Unlike certain other mobile operating systems – yes, we’re looking at you iOS – the icons in Metro do more than just open the app. They also turn the Start screen into a dashboard teeming with live data.

The interactive tile for the Mail application provides snippets from unread messages in your inbox, the Music tile shows which track is currently playing, and the Calendar app displays forthcoming appointments in your diary.

It’s great for getting an overview of what’s going on when you fire up your PC or tablet first thing in the morning.
There are limitations, however. It’s possible, for example, to create a Metro tile for old-school Windows applications such as Outlook 2010, but the tile won’t be interactive.

Presumably, the forthcoming Metro versions of Office will solve this particular issue, but it isn’t clear whether old, non-Metro applications will ever receive interactive tiles.

There’s also (so far, at least) little scope for users to tailor the data that appears in the interactive tiles; instead, this is determined by the app developers.

2. Task Manager

Nobody really wants to spend any time in Task Manager, but should you be forced to manually terminate a program or a task, the new-look utility makes it much easier to find the guilty, resource-hogging culprits.

Entries in the Task Manager are now heat-mapped, so it’s simple to see at a glance which application is chomping through CPU cycles or memory.

There’s also a column of attractive new graphs under the Performance tab, allowing you to see at a glance if the CPU, memory or network connection (either Ethernet or Wi-Fi) is taking an unexpected hit.

Task manager

The App History tab, meanwhile, allows you to keep an eye on Metro Style apps. Especially handy is the data counter, which shows how many megabytes of data individual apps have swallowed. It’s a shame traditional desktop apps are excluded from this view.

Finally, Task Manager now also plays home to the Startup settings, allowing you to determine which programs are allowed to run automatically on boot, without having to dive into msconfig. The revamped tool also reveals what impact that each app has on startup times; Adobe Reader is, for example, a “high-impact” application.

3. Run ISOs and VHDs natively

Windows 8 throws a meaty bone to power users – namely, the ability to run ISO and virtual hard disk (VHD) images natively. It’s possible, for example, to download the ISO of a Linux distribution or another piece of software to the desktop, double-click to “mount” the file, and run the setup executable without having to physically burn the ISO to disc.

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