Windows 8 OS: 8 New Must-Know Facts
Microsoft continues to roll out tidbits of information about Windows 8, which might arrive as soon as the fall. Here's a look at some of the newest details.
The Explorer interface still will be an option for Windows 8 desktop users, but for tablets it will be all Metro, all the time. Here's a look at some key new features in Windows 8.
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1. Dolby support. Audiophiles and gamers will appreciate the fact that Microsoft has tapped Dolby Laboratories to provide immersive audio on Windows 8 PCs and tablets. Under a deal announced Thursday, Windows 8 systems--both x86 and ARM--will feature Dolby Digital Plus, which lets you play Dolby-enabled content. Among other things, it means Windows 8 systems will be able to output 5.1 channel audio to home theater systems from Blu-ray discs and other media.
[ Considering a Windows 8 ARM tablet? Here's what you need to know now: Windows 8 ARM Tablets: 8 Must-Know Facts. ]
2. No DVD Playback. Although Microsoft is boosting Windows 8 audio capabilities with Dolby, it's cutting other multimedia features by stripping DVD playback from Windows Media Player. The company says it's because most media is now consumed from online sources such as YouTube and Hulu, so the cost of supporting all the codecs needed for DVD playback is no longer worth it. Instead, users can turn to a number of Windows-compatible, third-party tools on the market.
3. Windows Media Center goes pay-to-play. Similarly, Windows Media Center, which lets you record and play back video and audio from broadcast TV and other sources, will no longer be offered as an included part of Windows. Users will have the option of purchasing either the Windows 8 Media Center Pack or the Windows 8 Pro Pack if they want access to Media Center. Microsoft has yet to announce pricing, but said it will be "in line with marginal costs."
4. SkyDrive included. With Windows 8, Microsoft taketh away (see above), but it also giveth. All Windows 8 devices, as well as future versions of Windows Phones, will automatically connect users to a free SkyDrive account as soon as they log in. Microsoft sees cloud storage as the backbone of a strategy under which it wants to deliver a consistent experience across PCs, tablets, and smartphones. The idea is to give users access to all their data and services, regardless of which device they are using, via the cloud.
5. Family Safety first. Microsoft's Family Safety app allows parents to monitor their kids' online usage, filter content, and block certain sites. Previously part of the Windows Live Essentials add-on pack, it had to be downloaded and installed manually. With Windows 8, Family Safety is now a built-in feature that will run automatically, based on parents' settings.
6. Nook e-Reader. With Microsoft's $300 million investment in a new Barnes & Noble digital spin-off, the bookseller has committed to producing an e-reader app for Windows 8 tablets. This will give Windows 8 tablet users access to BarnesandNoble.com's inventory of more than 1 million titles, as well as a large selection of Netflix movies, TV shows, and other content. There is also speculation that Microsoft's partnership with Barnes & Noble might eventually yield Nooks that run Windows 8 (currently they run the Android OS), although there's been no confirmation of that from either company.
7. Windows Live dead. Microsoft said it plans to discontinue Windows Live, a catch-all brand name that the company used to refer to a wide range of desktop and Internet services that it admitted was confusing to customers. Microsoft tacked the Live brand onto several disparate services, including authentication (Windows Live ID), storage (Live Mesh and Windows Live Mesh), and e-mail (Windows Live Mail). With Windows 8, authentication services will be known simply as Microsoft account; storage services will fall under the SkyDrive brand; e-mail will be called Mail; and contacts and messaging will fall under the People and messaging apps, respectively.
8. Windows 8 Release Preview. Microsoft has added some new nomenclature to its pre-release offerings. Past versions of Windows have seen Developer Previews and Public Betas. Windows 8, in addition to the previously released Consumer Preview, will be available as a "Release Preview" starting next month. Microsoft says it's a nearly finished version of the operating system, which suggests the final product might be ready to ship as early as this fall. The Windows 7 Release Candidate dropped in May 2009, and the final version of that OS was released in October 2009, so bet on Windows 8 to follow a similar cadence.
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