Windows 8 Features You Should Know About

The underlying core of the Windows 8 operating system is polishing the code from its predecessors. Microsoft advises that legacy devices and applications should migrate fairly easily to Windows 8 and, in fact, a lot of them will simply work as-is, without an update. With all that being said, what is really new in Windows 8?

I suggest that you also read Microsoft’s “What’s New in Windows 8” documents with a degree of caution. Some of the features listed as “new” – AppLocker, DirectAccess, BranchCache – are actually present in Windows 7, but they could be considered new if you’re coming from Windows XP.

Based on the beta software, we’ll begin discussing a few of the new features to look for in Windows 8:

  1. Start Screen: The Start screen has a look and feel very different from the old Start menu. It uses tiles rather than text entries and icons. The tiles are customizable in various ways and can indicate “live” content if desired (something more useful for some apps than others). If you configure the Start screen to show some traditional Windows apps, they’ll show up with homogeneously square and non-“live” tiles. When you “pin” an application, you have the choice of pinning it to the taskbar, the Start screen, or both.
  2. Charms Bar: This is where Microsoft wants you to go to do just about everything that doesn’t involve running an application. You can get to it by mousing to the top right or bottom right, or typing Windows+C.
    • Search. Microsoft tells us that this search facility will communicate with new apps that have a search “contract” capability. Searching in Windows Explorer seemed to function more or less as it does in Windows 7.
    • Share. It was difficult to test this feature, as sharing data between apps does not seem to have been enabled yet except in a very few cases, but the intention is to permit the user to select an object (via a right-click!) and share that object with another app (e.g., share a photo with the Mail app).
    • Devices. Is used to show connected hardware.
    • Settings has icons pertaining to network information, notification preferences, power (here’s where you can shut down – is that really a setting?), and a “More Settings” link that takes you to, well, more settings.
  3. Major Navigation Changes: One of the things that will likely strike any Windows 8 user who has prior experience with earlier versions of Windows is how thoroughly Microsoft has abandoned “old” ways of getting around Windows and, in some cases, done a complete 180º and reversed how GUI actions used to behave. For a few examples:
    • Right-clicking to invoke a context menu – the default behavior that Microsoft has taught us to use when we want to do something with a desktop object – often does not do anything in the Windows 8 user interface.
    • Links to get from one place to another have been reduced, perhaps in Microsoft’s zeal to present a less cluttered work environment, perhaps out of deference to the touch-oriented interface.
    • Keyboard shortcuts seem to be making a comeback. In particular, the Windows key, which you could take or leave in Windows 7, has become huge in Windows 8. It’s the quickest way to bounce between the Start screen and the desktop.
    • Going back. In the Start screen environment, if you want to take a step back or undo some action (such as opening a Charm), sometimes there’s a back-arrow, but often, no obvious mechanism exists.
  4. Metro Apps: The tablet-oriented design paradigm finds its expression in what Microsoft calls “Metro” applications, i.e., apps with the following characteristics:
    • They are designed to run from the Start screen with a customized “tile” that optionally can reflect live data (“live tile”).
    • They are built to run in two states: “immersive,” in which the app takes over the screen, and “minimal” or “snapped.”
    • They take advantage of “contracts” to integrate with other apps and with operating system features such as Search and Share.

In the next post we will cover the changes to some advanced features that Windows 8 will bring us, including Hyper-V and Group Policy.

Image used with permission from

Reprinted from Top Eight Features of Windows 8 Client

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