8 Features That Could Make Windows 8 Great
Microsoft's next OS is loaded with features like eight-second boot times and better file management that could make it the best version of Windows since XP--if the company can pull it off.
Windows 8 represents the biggest redesign of the Windows operating system since Microsoft gave the OS a big overhaul with Windows 95. That effort introduced the Start button, Taskbar, and other now standard icons. Windows 8 goes even further.
Users will have the option to ditch the long familiar Explorer interface and work in Metro mode, which effectively turns a PC into a tablet or big smartphone. There are lots of other big changes in store--here's a look at some of the more significant ones that Microsoft has confirmed to date.
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1. Live Tiles.
The most notable change in Windows 8 is the addition of Live Tiles, the cornerstone of the Metro interface. Borrowed directly from Windows Phone, Live Tiles are blocks of screen real estate that display real-time information, such as the number of new messages, from content sources like social networks, e-mail, and news feeds. Metro was built with touch in mind, and it's an indication of how serious Microsoft is about making Windows 8 as at home on tablets as it is on the desktop.
[ How sound is Microsoft's strategy in bringing Windows Phone features to Windows 8? Read Microsoft Windows 8 Unification Plan: Grand, But Risky. ]
2. Faster, Prettier Boot Ups.
Microsoft knows that Metro and Live Tiles alone won't be enough to make Windows 8 a player in tablets. It needs to be a lot faster than its predecessors when it comes to booting up. Microsoft promises that Windows 8 systems will fully boot in just eight seconds or less.
To display more advanced graphics during the boot cycle, Windows 8 relies on new technology called the unified extensible firmware interface (UEFI) for BIOS. UEFI lets Windows work in concert with PC makers' firmware to render visually consistent graphics, such as artwork or vendor logos, through the entire boot cycle. Gone are the DOS characters that appeared during the boot cycle of earlier Windows versions.
3. Fewer Restarts.
Windows 7 gave users a number of options for update notifications and installation. Users could elect to have updates installed automatically or opt for notification when an update was available and choose to be notified only before installation. Those who chose to have updates installed automatically could elect to have the update occur at a predetermined time, or installed as soon as it was available.
Most of those options will remain in Windows 8, with one big difference. Users will only be asked to restart their PCs so that an update can take effect once per month--on patch Tuesday. That's usually the second Tuesday of each month. There's one exception--critical security patches will trigger an update request immediately.
4. Secure Boot.
In the age of highly organized attacks by hackers and privacy thieves, booting doesn't only need to be fast, it must be secure. With that in mind, Microsoft developed a boot process called Secure Boot, which is designed to prevent malware from infecting computers during startup, before Windows and all of its built-in security features are launched.
Secure Boot works by confirming that all components contain the appropriate security certificates before they are allowed to launch. To meet Microsoft's Windows Certification requirements, PCs and tablets must ship with Secure Boot enabled. It can be turned off by the end user in PCs, but not in tablets.