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Analysis

30 best features of Windows 8

Posted on 11 May 2012 at 14:16

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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User comments

I can't seem to click on your link to the ten things you would like to see in Win8? It asks for a server username and password..

By Connor on 11 May 2012

So basically it offers very little to those of us using a desktop rather than poking at a tablet's 10" screen?

It doesn't say much for Windows 8 if you can't list 30 new features without including utterly trivial stuff like stretched background images.

Microsoft are lucky that they aren't facing more effective competition in the desktop OS market.

By davek99 on 12 May 2012

Broken link

Connor - apologies for the broken link. That's now been fixed.

Barry Collins
Editor

By Barry_Collins on 12 May 2012

Just a small point regarding feature 30, (stretching a single image across two screens) - I do that on my machine which still runs XP. In the Display Properties menu, Desktop tab, just choose 'tile'. Providing the image is the right size it will split across both screens evenly.

The screens don't even have to be identical size for it to work, as long as the dimensions of the picture are correct. I've been enjoying lovely landscapes for years!

As for the rest, I think there's more stuff putting me off Win 8 than enticing me, as it does seem overly tablet-orientated. I'm not writing it off yet, but I can't say I'm exactly looking forward to it...

By Mr_John_T on 12 May 2012

unwanted restarts with Windows Update.

Grow some balls and tell Windows 7 to download but not automatically install updates and Windows Update will never again restart without your permission.

Windows 8.. Patch Tuesday... Seriously ?

As to security updates from MS protecting you in real-time .. I dont think so. They are fixes to issues and vulnerabilities that have been known to the community for weeks if not months by the time MS rolls out a patch. You need something better than Windows update protecting your system so automatically installing gains you nothing.

By sminc on 13 May 2012

Windows Update Restarts not a problem.

Simnc, I've been using Windows 7 for over 2 years now and it NEVER restarts without permission. I get a dialog box asking for permission to restart. I then have the option to either accept the request or postpone it for a length of time. Or just let it sit there for as long as I want. You have something configured wrong. Better do more research.

By Big_Jojo on 14 May 2012

Windows Update Restarts not a problem.

Simnc, I've been using Windows 7 for over 2 years now and it NEVER restarts without permission. I get a dialog box asking for permission to restart. I then have the option to either accept the request or postpone it for a length of time. Or just let it sit there for as long as I want. You have something configured wrong. Better do more research.

By Big_Jojo on 14 May 2012

Windows Update Restarts not a problem.

Simnc, I've been using Windows 7 for over 2 years now and it NEVER restarts without permission. I get a dialog box asking for permission to restart. I then have the option to either accept the request or postpone it for a length of time. Or just let it sit there for as long as I want. You have something configured wrong. Better do more research.

By Big_Jojo on 14 May 2012

Playing DVD and CD

Oh wait...

By willy on 14 May 2012

Windows update

I only seem to get updates...and therfore install them, as I'm shutting the computer down. So this has never been a problem.

Am I doing something wrong?

By fingerbob69 on 14 May 2012

Windows update restarts

I don't have unwanted restarts in Windows 7, I was responding to 'Benefit No. 12 of Windows 8'

quote 'Desks across the country have fist-sized holes in them, caused solely by Windows’ habit of restarting to implement a security update, often losing unsaved work in the process. Windows 8 doesn’t promise to abandon forced restarts, but it’s much more considerate about them.'

The above can be very easily avoided in Windows 7 so it's hardly a world shaking benefit of Windows 8.

By sminc on 14 May 2012

Having used the CP I will not be 'upgrading' to Win8.

The OS is designed for a touch interface and is useless on a desktop.

As for the dropping of WMC and native DVD playback - big mistake.

By Coltch on 25 May 2012

Worse than Millennium

I made the mistake of firing up the evaluation of Windows 8 and from the get go I found nothing to recommend it. It is clearly designed for a touch screen and any other medium is going to suffer. I have used every version of Windows since Win 3.11, this, in my opinion, is the worst yet.

By SabreT on 28 Jun 2012

Is it going to work?

I just wish Microsoft would make a version of Windows that works. Why do we consumers tolerate slap dash programming? I have a PC with a version of Windows XP Professional SP2 customised by Red Submarine. It has never crashed in 5 years. I think Microsoft need to talk to them to work out what to dump to make a PC stable and reliable.

My new Windows 7 Ultimate [64-bit] crashes more than I would wish. Aero stops occasionally and it 'forgets' its internet settings. It's really annoying.

By BoredWithBeingAskedToChooseAnotherScreenName on 5 Jul 2012

@BoredWithBeingAskedToChooseAnotherScreenName

Maybe you need to learn to maintain a computer? I've had Win 7 since the pre-beta release and had one crash in all that time. Programmes can crash occasionally, but the OS has only ever done so once. I have 5 networked PCs and that is one crash only overall!

By cooloox on 12 Jul 2012

File copy revamp

Not just that: If you copy multiple files separately (separate copy/move session at the same time that on previous Windows OS would have progress windows each shown on your desktop and taskbar), now there will only be one window showing them all in a list with separate progress bars (and a scroll bar if it won't fit all in the window) and still can be paused/cancelled individually. And also, file overwrite window (that appears when a copy/move operation detects a duplicate file/s) also has an improved and detailed screen :)

By _no3L on 20 Sep 2012

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For more details about purchasing this feature and/or images for editorial usage, please contact Jasmine Samra on pictures@dennis.co.uk

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