Top 10: New Features in Windows 8

At the inaugural BUILD 2011 conference in Anaheim this past September, Microsoft unveiled the first official look at its upcoming Windows 8 desktop OS. Recent critics have rallied against Windows for being long in the tooth, saying the PC is a dying form factor. The Windows 8 features that Microsoft showed at BUILD make these statements seem way off base. Windows 8 is so feature-packed that I can't come close to listing them all in a single column. However, here's what I think are the 10 coolest features in Windows 8.

1. Metro UI: Patterned after the Windows Phone interface, the tile-based Metro interface is the biggest UI change that Windows has ever seen. Groups of tiles populate the Start screen. Selecting a tile runs an app. An app toolbar slides up from the bottom of the screen and another toolbar containing Charms slides in from the right side of the screen. Charms let you change app-specific settings.

2. Multi-touch support: The Metro interface has a tile-based design, but the thing that really makes it exciting is the fact that it's multi-touch enabled. Multi-touch support lets the Windows 8 Metro UI run well on devices such as tablets and slates. Multi-touch, along with the Metro UI and a new generation of touch-enabled devices, could make Windows 8 an iPad killer.

3. Classic Aero interface: For backward compatibility, Windows 8 includes the soon-to-be classic Aero interface, which was introduced with Windows Vista. In these early builds, the Windows 8 Aero interface is essentially identical to Windows 7 with a few minor changes, such as a new Task Manager. The classic Aero interface runs side-by-side with the Metro interface. Switching between them is instantaneous. The x86 and x64 versions of Windows 8 will be fully backward compatible with Windows 7 applications.

4. Connected Standby power state: Windows 8 changes the way Windows power management works. With Connected Standby, programs that aren't being actively used are put into suspended state and no code is executed. This system enables Windows 8 to run more efficiently on low-powered hardware and reduces the power footprint.

5. Support for Hyper-V: Like Windows Server 8 and the earlier Windows Server 2008, Windows 8 will include support for Hyper-V virtualization out of the box -- there's no need for other virtualization programs such as Microsoft Virtual PC. Unlike Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V, the new Hyper-V 3.0 in Windows 8 is power-management friendly and will have the ability to suspend virtual machines (VMs) when the system goes to sleep or hibernates.

6. Reset to default: A new reset feature lets users reset their Windows 8 systems back to their default factory settings with one simple button click. Unlike the existing System Restore feature, the new reset option can remove all installed programs and user settings and it doesn't require that you perform any type of backup beforehand.

7. Built-in antivirus software: Another overdue feature is antivirus protection built in to the Windows 8 OS. Windows 8 will include the antivirus features from Microsoft Security Essentials. Additionally, if a compromised USB device is present at boot time, the system will refuse to start. These features might make antivirus vendors unhappy, but they'll go a long way toward making all Windows 8 systems more secure.

8. Support for ISO and VHD files: Because I work with both ISO and VHD file types frequently, this is one feature I'm particularly happy to see. Windows 8 can directly mount both ISO files and VHD files, letting you open and work with them directly by using Windows Explorer and other applications.

9. Windows To Go: Following in the footsteps of BitLocker To Go, Windows To Go will let you run a copy of Windows 8 that's booted from an external USB drive. Windows To Go is designed for use with flash drives having more than 32GB of storage. When you boot from a Windows To Go USB drive, the system's other physical drives are hidden.

10. ARM support: Another new feature in Windows 8 that's particularly important to running Windows 8 on tablets and other devices is support for ARM processors in addition to x86 and x64 processors. Support for ARM processors will open up an entirely new class of devices for Windows 8. However, existing x86 and x64 applications will need to be recompiled to run on the ARM platform.
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