Windows 8 has been my primary operating system for about a week now, and it seems that every day a new feature or method of getting something done presents itself. Undoubtedly, the programmers at Microsoft have been working overtime since the launch of Windows 7 to create something that redefines the Windows experience.
Microsoft set out to do just this. By taking a traditional desktop environment and recreating it to work in the mobile space, Microsoft is taking a huge gamble on what it believes to be the future of computing. More and more, we’re seeing tablets beat out old-school computing hardware for more than just media consumption. The iPad, Android tablets, and now Windows 8 promise to bring productivity to the mobile world.
Of all the changes you’ve probably heard about over the past week since the Windows 8 Consumer Preview launched, there are five that stick out as being the most significant for desktop users. After all, even with these mobile initiatives, isn’t Windows still dependent on its desktop users to keep the ball rolling?
New Task Manager
The task manager features a much cleaner interface that’s easier to understand and work with. Immediate access to Startup settings, Performance, and Services gives the power user more ability to monitor and customize their experience. The Performance meter alone has undergone some serious plastic surgery, giving it significantly more robust functionality without confusing the user.
An App History tab allows you to see apps that have been launched recently, offering you some insight on how much CPU time, network resources, and other factors resulted from the running of that app. It’s a great way to keep tabs on what your system is up to, and troubleshoot any issues that arise. Developers might find this tool especially interesting as they attempt to refine how these applications utilize network resources.
The very nature of an app store enhances security, but making each program an island unto itself allows the user to avoid cross-contamination when a potentially malicious bit of code does find its way on their system.
In addition, baking proper virus detection and removal directly into the operating system may leave security software developers shaking their heads, but it is a huge win for the consumer. Lets face it, most users don’t do anything to update or maintain their system beyond turning it on, and it’s these usage cases that allows malicious code such as viruses and malware to thrive.
Improved Startup Times, Faster Performance
Windows 8 is built to make the mobile and desktop market happy. To accomplish this, it needs to be lightweight and quick to boot. Thankfully, Windows 8 is just that. Quick and snappy, even on older hardware, Windows 8 takes a new approach to computing over its traditional cousins.
Part of this is because Windows 8 Metro Apps don’t just sit in the background chewing up system resources when you’re not using them. Like iOS and Android, these apps are essentially put aside so the system can concentrate on the things it needs to worry about. Of course, this doesn’t happen with legacy programs, yet.
Enhancements to Aero Desktop and Dual Monitor Support
This is a small improvement, but one that I personally enjoy quite a bit. Windows 8 features an automatic Window color selection tool that customizes the Windows 8 desktop to complement your desktop wallpaper. This means that as your wallpaper cycles through various images, your desktop environment will adjust to keep things looking fairly good.
In addition, adjusting the settings of a second screen is actually remarkably easy. Just swipe your mouse along the right side of the desktop and select Devices This pulls up a menu including Second screen which enables you to select between using just the primary, secondary, duplicating the primary to the secondary, or extending the desktop to maximize your productivity space.
Even if you don’t take advantage of Metro apps, this makes it easier to attach a second monitor and get started. If anything, it’ll save you a lot of late-night calls from your parents when they try to hook up their laptop to the TV to show their neighbors photos of their last vacation. Not that it happens…often.
The Metro UI is perhaps the most controversial benefits on the list, though not so much for the many owners of all-in-one PCs such as the HP TouchSmart. These PCs have been ready and waiting for a proper touch UI to come around, and this has finally happened in Windows 8.
Further to that, being able to launch a program via keyboard and mouse with a swipe and a few taps of the keys is a big plus. Search works incredibly quickly on Windows 8, giving you more time with your apps and less time trying to find them. Perhaps with Windows 8, the days of having 1,000 icons on your desktop are finally coming to an end.
That said, Microsoft still has a long way to go towards making Windows 8 ready for desktop users. Feedback received during the Windows 8 Consumer Preview can either be accepted and utilized to create a better environment for users, or overlooked as another Windows Vista is born.
After using Metro for a while, I’ve actually become quite accustomed to it on the desktop, and enjoy swiping through applications on a laptop. It works quite well for many things, though it may not be the preferred environment for power users that enjoy having 30 applications running simultaneously while attempting to run both Metro and Aero programs. That experience is still quite a bit jarring.
What do you think? Are there any advantages that don’t appear in this list to using Windows 8 on a desktop computer? Do you agree and/or disagree with any of the suggestions listed above?