The future is unavoidable – Windows 8 is coming and Microsoft’s desktop operating system will never be the same again. Designed to run on tablets, as well as computers with the same hardware as Windows 7, Windows 8 is jam-packed full of great new features that you simply cannot afford to miss if you want to stay ahead of the curve.
1. Windows to Go
The move towards portable apps and settings has progressed apace in the world of open source computing over the past few years, with a few forward-thinking developers providing similar solutions for Windows.
With the advent of hot-desking and mobile working it makes perfect sense that Windows 8 should feature both roaming profiles – personal data synced to a Hotmail account – and the enterprise-only Windows to Go, basically the local install of Windows 8 including all of your apps and settings stored on a USB thumb drive which can be plugged into any computer.
2. Zune/Media Playback
Windows Media Player is old hat. Microsoft has a much better solution already available. Set to be integrated into Windows 8, Zune offers seamless full screen video playback that can be effortlessly resized either via the mouse or by fingers on a tablet device.
Dynamic HD video playback and the ability to resize the window to display other apps from the Metro UI are additional features, along with management of audio and video files, podcasts, photos and more.
3. Windows Store
Since Apple launched the App Store on Mac OS X 10.6, Microsoft was always going to follow suit. A combination of the Windows Phone Marketplace and Games for Windows, the Windows Store provides easy access to must-have app downloads, both free and premium. It will save you time browsing the web looking for the right apps.
Featuring software geared for use with the Metro UI – complete with live tiles – this tool will enable Microsoft to ensure that apps are safe and suitable for the devices they’re installed on, thereby reducing errors and crashes.
4. Kinect Compatibility
Not too much is known about this feature at present. Microsoft has released a developer’s kit for Windows and previewed laptops with built-in Kinect sensors to lucky journalists but how this will play out isn’t completely clear just yet.
The obvious conclusion to draw is that any Windows 8 computer with a Kinect device will offer Minority Report-style interaction with the Metro UI. A simple hand wave might scroll left or right through the displayed tiles, while pointing might launch the corresponding application, bringing a truly futuristic feel to the new user interface.
5. Refresh and Reset
If you’ve never had to prepare backups of your vital data and documents, email messages and temporary files in advance of reinstalling Windows, then you’re very fortunate. The lack of competent restore and backup tools in previous versions of the operating system is well documented.
Fortunately Windows 8 features the new Refresh and Reset tool. The first option allows you to reload the original system files without losing your personal data, pictures and music, while the second is ideal for deleting everything in advance of selling or giving the computer to someone else.
6. Windows Live & SkyDrive Integration
Although you can create a local account, Windows 8 allows users to sign-in via Windows Live, enabling considerable integration with the service and SkyDrive’s cloud storage. Along with the roaming profiles described earlier, this will enable users to store their photos and documents in the cloud and summon them via Windows Explorer rather than having to launch a separate browser.
7. Wireless Communication
Windows 7 was notorious for poor Wireless G compatibility, resulting in users being forced to establish insecure Wi-Fi connections. Fortunately Windows 8 has been designed to connect to devices in a more dynamic manner. Additionally near field communication (NFC) has been added. Currently NFC is used on mobile phones to pay for goods, but it has potential as a successor to Bluetooth. Meanwhile Wi-Fi Direct can be used for file-sharing or establishing direct connections to other hardware such as mobile phones or TVs.
8. Metro UI
There is very little that can be said about Windows 8 that doesn’t mention or refer to the stunning new Metro user interface. Available elsewhere on Windows Phone and Xbox 360, Metro is a tile-based system that enables easy access to information from applications running in the background. The end result of this, for example, might be to display stocks and share information or the duration of a Skype call.
While the interface can be accessed via mouse and keyboard it is at its best when used with a touch-sensitive device such as a tablet display. Beyond the tiles, Metro is the Segoe-inspired font, the ability to run multiple apps alongside each other, and the integration of services such as Twitter and Skype.
Are You Ready for Windows 8?
When it hits the shelves later this year, Windows 8 looks set to be the most stunning version of the operating system since Windows 95. It’s effectively a new starting point, the beginning of an exciting new age in business and domestic computing where wireless technologies and user-focused tools can finally converge to deliver the type of experience that electronics consumers have been calling out for.
The proof – as always – will be in the using. But with a minimum hardware spec that is believed to be the same as Windows 7 there is little chance of Windows 8 being ignored and every chance that our lives are about to change.