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TechnologyAug 24, 2012

7 Features You Should Know in Windows 8

Mike Moore

Windows 8 has flipped the Windows operating system on its head. Case-in-point, they removed the start menu.  If you haven’t seen the buzz going around on the Internet on that move, you are missing some fun reading.  In reality, Microsoft is beginning to drive users to a more mobile environment.  The start menu isn’t actually gone, it is now a full “mobile/tile – like” page that allows you to see all of your “Apps.”  Note: Get used to the word “Apps” because “Programs” will become a thing of the past in the new environment.

Minus the start menu change, there are a ton of subtle changes with Windows 8.  These changes are based mostly on cloud computing and mobile advancements.  There will also be a new version of Office released and it will also integrate with SkyDrive.  That being said, given the years of touch phone training we have already had as a user base, the changes become intuitive after some training and using the gestures a few times.

Here, then, are seven main features I found interesting when using Windows 8:

1.  Control Panel and Settings:  Many folks rarely go to their control panel except when they can’t get connected to the Internet or if they need to remove a program.  Personally, that was the first thing I wanted to know.  What I found out is the new operating system allows the user to pull in menu items from the side of the screen much like you would with your phone.  If you are on a tablet running Windows 8 you can swipe your finger from the far right towards the center of the screen and you will see the menu that includes the Control Panel.  You can also use your mouse to click, drag down and then to the left to pull this menu out as well.  These gestures will be consistent and will become easy to use once you have spent some time experimenting.

2.  Apps: Now that the start menu has been replaced with tiles and you can build mobile apps using Visual Studio templates (that will have to wait until another article), you can have your mobile applications and use them within your Windows 8 operating system.  This allows developers to target, not only your desktop or internal portal environment, but also add value from a mobility perspective.  Traditionally, Microsoft has concentrated solely on one of these mediums at any one time, but now you can have a line of business application with a mobile “companion” application that can surface information from that line of business application and be downloadable from your internal portal and useable on your PC, phone or tablet.

3.  Integration Between My Desktop and Apps: Although there are some things you can do with apps, full integration to your Windows operating system will not be one of them.  An app will not be able to directly access your file system.  What this means is that a malicious programmer cannot develop an application that can delete files from your operating system that could affect functionality or plant viruses on your system.  This leaves the developer with a need to be more creative when interacting with general applications such as Office or custom desktop applications, but it protects users from unstable systems.

4.  Search: Microsoft has vastly improved their search capability in Windows 8.  By typing anything or swiping to see your settings menu, you can access search and find anything on your PC with remarkable speed, including files, apps, folders, internet content, and even within apps!  If you want to search in your outlook inbox for an email, you can simply choose the outlook app that comes with the operating system and type in the contact, subject or email contact you are looking for.

5.  Live Synching: Windows Live Synching allows a user to login on any Windows 8 PC with their Windows Live ID to return to their personalized settings, files and desktop configuration.  Now users can truly incorporate a roaming enterprise.  For example, if I work in New York and travel to Denver to train some users on a new system and forgot or broke my laptop, I could feasibly log into a local company laptop and have all of my training materials available to me for the class as well as my PC configuration settings.

6.  Windows To Go: Microsoft added functionality to Windows 8 that allows you to save all your Windows OS settings, including wallpapers, files, apps and more to a USB thumb drive.  When you boot up the PC it will look exactly like the original PC from the thumb drive you created.  Have you every dropped your phone in water and destroyed it?  How about broken your screen and had to replace it?  Wasn’t it great to get your new phone, plug it into your PC or connect to a cloud based clone and have all your contacts, settings, apps and look and feel right back on the phone in a couple minutes? This is what will be possible with Windows To Go and Live Synching, but with your PC instead of your phone.

7.  Direct WIFI Device Connection__s:__ A lesser known feature that will come with new laptops for Windows 8 will be the ability for your PC to search for devices on the wireless network/domain you are on and connect with them directly.  Imagine walking into your house and being able to connect with your printer, smart tv or other devices merely by connecting to your wireless network.  Although you can do this now with some things, it requires setup via a printer installation disk or configuration pains.  In the future, if your device has the correct hardware, your PC will find it just by being on the same network.  This functionality requires an upgrade in hardware, but the capability has been built into Windows 8 and will only get better in future releases.

Final Take-Aways:

The changes you will experience with the new Windows 8 operating system will be some of the biggest leaps you may have made in quite a while, but change does not have to be a bad thing.  The overall direction Microsoft is taking is in direct response to the current market direction, which is cloud based and mobile capable.  Users are becoming more mobile than ever and they need solutions that integrate and enable them to work effectively.  Although this first step by Microsoft may be a tough one for users to follow, utilizing features like Windows To Go and Direct WIFI Device Connections make the prospect changing pretty exciting.

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