02:13 PM
Paul McDougall
Paul McDougall

8 More Ways Windows 8 Could Be Great

From SkyDrive integration to picture passwords and Office apps, significant changes to Microsoft's new OS make it barely recognizable compared to predecessors.

Earlier this month, I wrote about some of the more talked about features that Windows 8 brings to Microsoft's OS environment.

Things like the Windows Store and ARM tablets are highly visible examples of how Redmond is radically reimagining its core franchise. However, there is much more going on under the hood that's equally noteworthy. Here's a look at 8 more cool facts about Windows 8.

1. Multilingual PCs

With Windows 8, Windows will, for the first time, give users the ability to work in any language they want, regardless of where they bought their PC or which model they chose. That's because, in addition to languages that come preinstalled, Microsoft will offer language packs that users can download to enhance linguistic capabilities. For instance, French could be added to an English PC.

Also, Windows 8 will allow systems to run more than one language, giving users the capability to switch back and forth. That could be a boon to families in which the children speak, for instance, English and Spanish, but the parents are only fluent in the latter.

[ Microsoft's upcoming tablet OS is unlike any Windows you've seen before. Learn more: Windows 8 ARM Tablets: 8 Must-Know Facts. ]

2. SkyDrive Integration

Microsoft says it wants its SkyDrive cloud storage service to be "the world's hard drive." To boost adoption, Windows 8 will make it easier than ever for users to back up files to the service. Most Metro apps will offer a direct link to data stored in SkyDrive.

"This will bring a file cloud to every Metro-style app, allowing you to open files in your SkyDrive and save them right back to your SkyDrive just like you would on your local hard drive," said SkyDrive program managers Mike Torres and Omar Shahine, in a blog post. In the traditional desktop, Windows 8 will provide a direct link to SkyDrive through Windows Explorer.

3. Accessibility

Microsoft has added a number of features to Windows 8 to make computing more accessible for those with visual, hearing, ergonomic, or cognitive impairments. Among other things, Microsoft has enhanced the Narrator feature in Windows so that it reads highlighted text more quickly.

More languages have also been added to Narrator. Accessibility enhancements also extend to Windows 8 tablets. Magnifier, which enlarges what's on the screen, can now be activated through touch input. Microsoft is also working with assistive technology software developers to give them the tools they need to create Metro apps.

4. Battery Life

Microsoft is building Windows 8 with mobile devices in mind. As such, it's key that the OS enables apps to work as efficiently as possible and not unnecessarily draw on system resources. To that end, Windows 8 tablets that use ARM chips will be capable of entering a state Microsoft calls Connected Standby Mode. CSM will put tablets into a smartphone-like slumber in which key apps for messaging--and other services that need to be always on--can maintain sentience while the device sleeps.

Microsoft also is engineering Metro apps so that they only use CPU cycles if they are active and in the foreground. "The app is not using the CPU, and it is possible for the CPU to drop into lower power states," according to Microsoft program managers Sharif Farag and Ben Srour.

Win8 Picture Passwords
(click image for larger view)
Win8 Picture Passwords
5. Metro Office

Windows 8 on ARM tablets will include versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote that have been redesigned to support touch. While Microsoft has not said that these will be full-on Metro apps, it has confirmed that Office 15, as the suite has been codenamed, will be well-suited to tablets as well as desktops.

"The new Office applications for WoA [Windows on ARM] have been significantly architected for both touch and minimized power/resource consumption," said Windows chief Steven Sinofsky. "These are not simply recompilations or ports, but significant reworking of the products with a complete and consistent user experience and fidelity with their new x86/64 counterparts."

6. Sensor Support

With Microsoft serious about making Windows 8 a player in the tablet market, it needed to add capabilities that allow the OS to enable location and orientation-aware apps. It's done that by building in support for sensors like GPS units, accelerometers, and magnetometers. That will help make Windows 8 tablets suitable platforms for gaming, navigation, enhanced reality, and other apps that need to be aware of their surroundings.

Also, expect Windows 8 to include built-in support for Kinect, the hands-free control system first developed for Xbox. "Advances in sensor technology are catalysts for the acceleration and evolution of our experiences on PCs," notes Sinofsky.

7. Picture Passwords

Microsoft is looking to develop security features that will be less vulnerable to hacking and social engineering. One of those is picture password--support for which will be part of Windows 8. Picture passwords are touch-based and allow a user to log in by swiping or drawing circles or lines on pre-specified areas of a designated image.

"A numeric combination often presents a problem for people because the sequences easiest to remember are typically the least secure," notes Microsoft program manager Zach Pace. "We set out to change the paradigm here." Users will have the option to use alphanumeric passwords if they wish, however.

8. Large-Capacity Disks

Hard disks are getting bigger and bigger, as computer users store more digital media in the form of movies, music, and photos. And that's a problem. Older versions of Windows do not handle large-capacity disk drives, those in excess of a couple of terabytes, particularly well--particularly when it comes to addressing all of the available capacity.

Windows 8's ability to substantially increase addressability starts at the boot stage with support for unified extensible firmware interface (UEFI), which in turn supports the GUID partition table (GPT). GPT overcomes partitioning limits in older, master boot record (MBR) disks, enabling Windows to work efficiently with large-capacity disks. "The combination of UEFI firmware + GPT Partitioning + LBA [logical block address] allows Windows to fully address very large capacity disks with ease," said Microsoft program manager Bryan Matthew.

Stay tuned for more news on Windows 8 features as they become available. Microsoft has not formally released a ship date for the OS, but many analysts expect it to be released in time for the 2012 holiday season.

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