There's a lot more to Windows 8 than a new touch-based interface, argues Firebrand Training's Marcus Austin
Windows 8 has attracted a lot of talk over its new touch-based user interface and apps. However there’s more to the new operating system than that.
Microsoft’s made hundreds of improvements and added plenty of new features to help business users do more, work faster and more securely. To read about them all would take all day so here are our top ten Windows 8 features.
Greater security from malware and viruses
Security is central to Windows 8 from protection when starting up to protecting users when they’re browsing online. The new version of Windows takes advantage of the Secure Boot protocol provided in BIOS replacement UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface). With Secure Boot only software signed by authorised certificates can boot up, which prevents BIOS- or kernel-level malware from sneaking in.
Windows 8 is now effective against malware, spyware and viruses straight out of the box with the new Windows Defender application, plus the Integration with Internet Explorer means files are scanned as they download, protecting you from accidentally downloading malicious software.
Windows 8 boots significantly quicker than Windows 7 and runs applications faster. In tests the times to start up, hibernate and shutdown between Windows 7 and Windows 8 were all reduced by as much as 50 percent and applications run faster on Windows 8 – up to 15-20 percent faster.
Better battery life
If you have a number of laptop users then a move to Windows 8 will give your teams more time between charges. By moving your legacy mobile devices to Windows 8 you should get around 6-12 percent more battery life, which may not sound a lot, but if you need to send that email urgently and your laptop is running on empty, then every second counts.
More space and better disk protection
The Windows 8 Storage Space feature lets you expand your storage without needing to add new drive letters or moving applications and data across drives.
Storage Spaces works by letting you create a pool of storage that can span internal and external drives and is viewed by Windows 8 as one large drive. The technology also has built-in data mirroring across the drives so that, even if one of the drives in the pool crashes, the data will remain available.
Direct access to the corporate network
One of the key pain points for executives on the road is connecting via a VPN, it’s time consuming and tricky to setup. However by combining Windows Server 2012, Windows 8 Enterprise and a new feature Direct Access together mobile users can now securely and seamlessly access the corporate network without having to establish a VPN connection. Additionally Microsoft has also redesigned Direct Access so it’s much easier to deploy and no longer requires a move to IPv6.
Reducing your mobile bills
Connecting to the corporate network while on the road can be an expensive business however Windows 8 has a few features to help reduce the cost. Windows 8 allows you to track your data usage, and automatically switch from Broadband to Wi-Fi to help manage your broadband spend. Windows 8 can also detect what type of SIM card has been inserted (3G or 4G) and what carrier is being used to automatically apply the right driver.
Encrypt your data faster
Windows 8 includes Data Only Encryption, which allows BitLocker to encrypt just the portions of the disk that contain data, reducing encryption times from hours to minutes. In addition if you use a new Self-Encrypting Drive (SED), then the BitLocker takes just a few seconds to encrypt and decrypt your data, as all the number-crunching work is distributed to the hardware on the drive.
Windows To Go
Windows To Go combines all the benefits of a remote cloud solution, no lugging around laptops or being tied to a single PC, but it’s accessible no matter where you are, and you don’t need the internet to make it work. Windows To Go – which is only supplied with the Windows 8 Enterprise version of Windows 8 – lets you put an entire bootable PC environment loaded with all your apps, settings, and files on to a USB key. Just plug it in to any Windows 7 compatible device and that device becomes your PC with all your apps and files. Additionally Windows To Go USB sticks can be encrypted with BitLocker technology, so all data and apps are protected, even if the USB stick is lost or stolen.
Test new features and apps and share computers
With Windows 8, Microsoft offers a number of different virtualisation options that let you create multiple versions of the system on the same device.
With Microsoft Server 2012 and a technology called User Experience Virtualization, employees can access a remote, server-side and virtual copy of their Windows 8 desktop, even if the local machine runs Windows 7.
The Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) allows you to create multiple versions of the system so computers can be shared between several users, each with their own distinct virtual desktop complete with their own applications, settings and personal setups.
Windows XP hasn’t got long to go
Finally for those putting off the move from Win XP there’s not a lot of time to delay. Microsoft announced it will only support Windows XP until April 2014, and since the move to a new desktop can typically take 12 months from decision to completed deployment, then there’s not a lot of time available.
Marcus Austin works for Firebrand Training as a technical author. He has more than 25 years’ experience in the technology and business sector. His recent work includes constructing a mobile strategy for the Guardian Media Group, together with writing and editing for magazines and websites including TechRadar, Internet Retailing, IT Perspectives, and Santander Breakthrough.