From SkyDrive integration to picture passwords and Office apps, significant changes to Microsoft's new OS make it barely recognizable compared to predecessors.
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Win8 Picture Passwords
5. Metro Office
Windows 8 on ARM tablets will include versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote that have been redesigned to support touch. While Microsoft has not said that these will be full-on Metro apps, it has confirmed that Office 15, as the suite has been codenamed, will be well-suited to tablets as well as desktops.
"The new Office applications for WoA [Windows on ARM] have been significantly architected for both touch and minimized power/resource consumption," said Windows chief Steven Sinofsky. "These are not simply recompilations or ports, but significant reworking of the products with a complete and consistent user experience and fidelity with their new x86/64 counterparts."
6. Sensor Support
With Microsoft serious about making Windows 8 a player in the tablet market, it needed to add capabilities that allow the OS to enable location and orientation-aware apps. It's done that by building in support for sensors like GPS units, accelerometers, and magnetometers. That will help make Windows 8 tablets suitable platforms for gaming, navigation, enhanced reality, and other apps that need to be aware of their surroundings.
Also, expect Windows 8 to include built-in support for Kinect, the hands-free control system first developed for Xbox. "Advances in sensor technology are catalysts for the acceleration and evolution of our experiences on PCs," notes Sinofsky.
7. Picture Passwords
Microsoft is looking to develop security features that will be less vulnerable to hacking and social engineering. One of those is picture password--support for which will be part of Windows 8. Picture passwords are touch-based and allow a user to log in by swiping or drawing circles or lines on pre-specified areas of a designated image.
"A numeric combination often presents a problem for people because the sequences easiest to remember are typically the least secure," notes Microsoft program manager Zach Pace. "We set out to change the paradigm here." Users will have the option to use alphanumeric passwords if they wish, however.
8. Large-Capacity Disks
Hard disks are getting bigger and bigger, as computer users store more digital media in the form of movies, music, and photos. And that's a problem. Older versions of Windows do not handle large-capacity disk drives, those in excess of a couple of terabytes, particularly well--particularly when it comes to addressing all of the available capacity.
Windows 8's ability to substantially increase addressability starts at the boot stage with support for unified extensible firmware interface (UEFI), which in turn supports the GUID partition table (GPT). GPT overcomes partitioning limits in older, master boot record (MBR) disks, enabling Windows to work efficiently with large-capacity disks. "The combination of UEFI firmware + GPT Partitioning + LBA [logical block address] allows Windows to fully address very large capacity disks with ease," said Microsoft program manager Bryan Matthew.
Stay tuned for more news on Windows 8 features as they become available. Microsoft has not formally released a ship date for the OS, but many analysts expect it to be released in time for the 2012 holiday season.