By: Matthew Dean
Today (Thursday, October 25) is the official launch of Windows 8, and general availability is tomorrow. The Windows 8 launch is just part of the largest set of launches in Microsoft’s history. This includes Windows Server 2012, SQL Server 2012, Office 2013, Windows RT, Windows Phone 8, Visual Studio 2012, and many others. Not to mention, Microsoft just launched a new logo as well.
With today’s launch the web is going to be flooded with reviews of Windows 8, so instead of doing just another review, I just want to cover a few of my favorite new Windows 8 features. I began using Windows 8 heavily when the Release Preview was made available and it has been my primary OS since the availability of the RTM version on MSDN. In my time with Windows 8, I have really come to enjoy it. There was somewhat of a learning curve, but it wasn’t so much that you are going to lose productivity or that would cause me to not recommend it. So, without further ado, here are my top five favorite new features of Windows 8, in no particular order.
It’s a feature that I didn’t think I would use very much, but it really has surprised me. I love having my Twitter application pinned to the left side of the screen. With dual monitors on my desk, it hardly takes up any space and provides me quick access without being obtrusive. Below is a screenshot of my desktop (just one monitor) as I am writing this blog post.
As you can see in the screen shot, I am running Windows 8 with the Office 2013 preview. The application you see docked on the left is one of the Windows 8 Twitter clients available in the Windows store, Tweetro. I am looking forward to other great uses of application docking, perhaps a Yammer client.
An often overlooked new feature of Windows 8 is Hyper-V. Working for a consulting and custom software development firm means that we have lots of virtual machines floating around. Which virtualization solution we use (Virtual Box, VMWare, Hyper-V) has always been cause for debate. Hyper-V rarely came out on top because many people didn’t want to deal with running Windows Server as their primary OS, dual boot, or boot to VHD. Now, with Hyper-V built into Windows 8, I hope that this debate can end as we standardize.
Hyper-V isn’t enabled by default, you will need to use the “Turn Windows features on or off” capability to install and enable it.
Windows Key + X
Perhaps there was a similar shortcut key in Windows 7 and I just never knew about it. Regardless, power users rejoice, this shortcut key puts pretty much everything you need in one easy to access menu.
While not necessarily a feature, the decision by Microsoft to implement a common architecture upon which Windows 8, Windows RT, and Windows Phone 8 all run is a major investment in the platform. We will see how well this decision plays out, but we are already seeing some of the advantages such as the following:
- Microsoft Surface tablet has a highly functional USB port, whereas competing tablets that provide USB functionality only do so in limited capacity.
- The Windows Phone 8 device, while not officially launched yet, is already showing the benefits of getting away from the legacy Windows CE core, such as a significantly more capable (versus Windows Phone 7.5) Bluetooth stack.
I apologize for the poor quality of the image, but this is a picture I snapped of a Microsoft keynote presentation at the Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) earlier this year.
While the new Start screen may take some time to grow on many of you, it was quite familiar to me as a Windows Phone user. The ability to simply start typing when on the Start screen, or even in a Windows UI application, and have the Search charm instantly provide me with results is fantastic. As I have gotten used to the capability, I have found that the new Start screen when combined with the Search charm allows me to find and launch applications faster than I have ever been able to. If you ever used the search box on the Windows 7 start menu, think of that, but it works, and it is blazingly fast. I even had a colleague who, after first installing Windows 8, told me that he wasn’t quite sold on the new start menu, but he could forgive it because it was so fast.
Bonus Item – Speed
I know I said this would be my top five favorite, but my list wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk about my favorite thing about Windows 8, the speed. To use the term I constantly heard from Microsoft at WPC, it really is “buttery smooth.” I am running an older Dell Latitude E6510, it has a i7 Q720 1.6 GHz processor, 8 GB of RAM, a 256 GB SSD, and (my weak link) an NVidia NVS 3100M graphics chip. Below is a screenshot of my “Windows Experience Index” which has been updated in Windows 8 to use a scale from 1.0 to 9.9. You can clearly see that my graphics card is the weak link, but despite my aging hardware and marginal scores, Windows 8 still screams. This score is on my current hardware, with Windows 8 installed on the SSD as the primary operating system. However, it is worth pointing out that even before I was running Windows 8 on the SSD, I had it installed using boot to VHD on a traditional 7200 RPM hard drive and it was still very quick.
I know I said this wouldn’t be a review, but I have to wrap up with a few comments. Windows 8 is a great upgrade, I really look forward to getting my hands on a tablet device (Surface Pro?) and the new Windows Phone 8. Yes, there will be some learning curve, perhaps most of all to those not familiar with Windows Phone, but it is worth the investment as once you are over the curve, you will find that the OS just gets out of your way and lets you be productive.