Windows 8 features we know about so far

The Microsoft BUILD conference will reveal more Windows 8 details, but Greg Shultz explores the features we know about so far.

At the time I am writing this, tomorrow is September 13, 2011, and it will be a notable day for Microsoft. It is the first day of the new BUILD conference -- a developer event that replaces The Professional Developers Conference -- where the company promises to unveil more details about Windows 8. In fact, the slogan on the BUILD web site is:

"In 1995, Windows changed the PC. BUILD will show you that Windows 8 changes everything."

Of course this conference is geared specifically toward developers who will be building applications for the new operating system. But the information that will be revealed during this three-day conference portends to provide all of us with details that have not yet been publicly discussed before, as well as more detailed information on what has already been revealed.

With that in mind, in this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I examine some of the new Windows 8 features that we already know about from Steven Sinofsky's MSDN blog Building Windows 8.

The touch factor

One of the first things Microsoft revealed about Windows 8 is the new Metro-style touch user interface, which will be the center of attention at BUILD. As I discussed in a June blog post, "Should There Be Separate Tablet and Desktop Editions of Windows 8?" there will be only one version of Windows 8, which will run on tablet, desktop, and laptop PCs, and the main UI will be Metro with its tiles, as shown in Figure A, while the standard Windows desktop with the Start Menu will also be available. Therefore, you will be able to use Windows with the touch interface as well as with a mouse and keyboard.

Figure A

The Metro UI with its tiles will be the center of attention.

In keeping with this scheme, in addition to developing the new touch interface for Windows 8, Microsoft will continue to enhance and fine-tune the standard Windows desktop.

Windows Explorer Ribbon

We were first introduced to the Ribbon toolbar in Office 2007. Then, when Windows 7 was released, we found the Ribbon in WordPad and Paint, two applets whose UIs remained virtually unchanged for 14 years. The Ribbon then appeared in Windows Live applets such as Movie Maker and Photo Gallery. Now in Windows 8, Windows Explorer is going to be endowed with the Ribbon.

While Windows Explorer has had several minor tweaks over the years, the team in charge of this integral part of Windows decided on three goals for the new version of Windows Explorer:

  • Optimize Explorer for file management tasks. Return Explorer to its roots as an efficient file manager and expose some hidden gems; those file management commands already in Explorer that many customers might not even know exist.
  • Create a streamlined command experience. Put the most-used commands in the most prominent parts of the UI so that they are easy to find, in places that make sense and are reliable. Organize the commands in predictable places and logical groupings according to context and present relevant information right where you need it.
  • Respect Windows Explorer's heritage. Maintain the power and richness of Explorer and bring back the most relevant and requested features from the Windows XP era when the current architecture and security model of Windows permits.
With these goals in mind they determined that the Ribbon, as shown in Figure B, would be the best way to go. Another benefit of using a Ribbon for Windows Explorer is that it lends itself well to a touch interface. Microsoft is also promising this new version of Windows Explorer will provide a level of customization like we had in Windows XP's version of Windows Explorer with the Customize Toolbar feature.

Figure B

Windows Explorer will get the Ribbon in Windows 8.

New File Copy Confirmation dialog box

Along with the improvements in Windows Explorer comes an improvement in one of the most-used file management tasks -- copying files. The new Copy File dialog box has several new features that are designed to make life easier. First, the copy dialog box will now show you individual progress bars when you have multiple copy operations occurring simultaneously. You can even pause a copy operation, as shown in Figure C, if you want to give preference to another operation.

Figure C

In Windows 8 you will be able to pause a copy operation.
When a conflict occurs while copying files, Windows 8 will display a new conflict resolution dialog box, shown in Figure D, that is designed to make it easier to decide how you want to handle the situation.

Figure D

The conflict resolution dialog box is easier to understand.

Support for USB 3.0

Still on the horizon, USB 3.0 will offer throughput up to 10 times faster than USB 2.0 and much better power management. When USB 3.0 devices begin arriving, Windows 8 will be ready. In the meantime, it will continue to support USB 2.0 devices -- and I would assume USB 1.0 devices.

Native Hyper-V support

If you will be running the 64-bit version of Windows 8 and your system will have at least 4GB of RAM, then you'll be able to take advantage of the Hyper-V virtualization technology that will be available in Windows 8. This will allow you to run both 64-bit and 32-bit operating systems from the virtual machines.

Native support for mounting VHD and ISO disc images

In Windows 8's new Windows Explorer, you'll be able to select an ISO image and access its contents via a drive letter. To make this possible, in the background Windows 8 will instantly create a virtual CDROM or DVD drive and assign it to the next available drive letter to the new removable drive.

For VHD, the process works pretty much the same, except a VHD will appear as a new hard drive, rather than a removable drive. You just select the VHD in Windows Explorer, and you can immediately access its contents.

Faster boot time

If you've used the Hibernate feature in Windows before, you know that a system wakes up from hibernation much faster than it takes to cold boot the system. In order to improve boot times, the engineers at Microsoft have developed a way of integrating the Hibernate system into the shutdown/startup operation.

In Windows 8, when you shut down a system, the operating system will shut down the user sessions as normal, but it will hibernate the kernel session instead of shutting it down. Hibernating just the kernel session is much faster than hibernating the whole system and results in a much smaller (hiberfil.sys) file. As such, when you turn on the system, the operating system will be able to boot up much faster since it has to resume only the kernel session rather than do a full system initialization.

What's your take?

What's your take on the Windows 8 features that I have mentioned in this post? I don't know about you, but I am already excited about Windows 8 just based on what we know so far and am definitely anxiously awaiting the new Windows 8 features that will be revealed at the BUILD conference this week. How about you? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

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