Windows 8's Unexpected Features (Part 1)

9/10/2012 3:52:39 AM

Mark Pickavance looks at some of the features Windows 8 will have that we weren't expecting or ones that you may be surprised to find are unavailable.

With the previews that Microsoft has already offered, many in the tech industry have been scratching their heads about what Microsoft has put in Windows 8. The feature set isn't complete yet, as we've yet to see the release version, but if the last preview is anything to go by, some might be shocked by what Windows 8 actually delivers. There's good stuff, bad things and plain old missing-in-action items.

Description:  Windows 8’s Unexpected Features

Windows 8’s Unexpected Features

What surprises does Windows 8 include and what have we yet to discover about Microsoft's latest operating system?

It doesn't run Windows applications

Eh? Surely some mistake Mr Pickavance? Well, yes, and then again, no. The version of Windows 8 that most people will deploy or upgrade on their PC will run Windows applications, presumably as well as Windows 7 did at the very least.

But like the pigs in Animal Farm, not all Windows installations are truly equal, and those who buy a Surface device or a notebook with Windows RT installed will soon discover that their most cherished Windows tools and applications are just a thing of the past, because they won't run on these ARM CPU powered computers.

Description: It doesn't run Windows applications

It doesn't run Windows applications

Is there a possibility of x86 emulation? Theoretically, yes that could be done. But in practical terms they're not built to do this job, and therefore even if it is possible, performance would be poor and it would take up lots of the limited storage space. The best possibility for those that really must run some special software on their Metro- only equipment is the possibility of a remote desktop client, where they can take over another desktop PC running the x86 version of Windows 8 (or 7) and then access the tool by that mechanism. That might not seem ideal, but it's a balance between providing a low- power Windows 8 experience and a full Intel x86 PC. Those who can't do without PC games and applications need to avoid Windows RT and go with the full Windows 8 x86 versions, and the Intel compatible hardware that it requires.

What's interesting about this move by Microsoft is that it's effectively testing the waters for a jump where all the legacy components of Windows are washed away in a great digital deluge. They want to know if we can live without all those Windows applications and if Microsoft's reliance on Intel and the PC architecture can end.

It's a slightly odd question to ask, because if the answer is an emphatic yes, then logically people won't inherently need Microsoft either.

No overclocking please

One of the dubious pleasures of owning a PC system is the often fruitless pastime of tweaking some extra performance out of your system. At first, Intel frowned on this practice and would get very shirty with anyone who asked just how fast one of their chips might really go if given half a chance.

Times change, though, and realising the sales potential of those who like tweaking their systems, both Intel and AMD have embraced overclocking as a means to stimulate the enthusiast market. However, Microsoft has other plans.

Description: Windows 8 – No overclocking please

Windows 8 – No overclocking please

It's been hinting that Windows 8 does its own overclocking and tweaks and, as such, if you want your system to remain stable you shouldn't attempt any personal enhancements that the system might then conflict with.

Quite how this one will play out is difficult to see, but I can't see it would endear Microsoft to either Intel or AMD, and with the advent of the ARM support, it's on rocky ground already with the former.

Depending on how you look at this, it might be that Microsoft doesn't want Windows 8 to be labelled as unstable on tweaked platforms, or it genuinely fears that the OS is more likely to fall over because of the way it uses the computer.

Portability for some

Not all the surprises in Windows 8 are nasty ones; some are actually quite pleasant. One of these is the hardly mentioned Windows To Go, which incidentally doesn't come with a skinny latte and a bran muffin.

What it does, however, is take an entire Windows installation and boils it down onto a USB stick, which will then boot on another PC and allow you to use all your applications and data, as you would on your desktop PC. That PC must have Windows 7 or 8 installed, and the first time you use it, drivers are downloaded from the internet to interface to your Go installation.

Description: Windows 8 To Go could be the best feature of the new operating system, if home users can use it, and if it can handle the changes moving from one PC to another.

Windows 8 To Go could be the best feature of the new operating system, if home users can use it, and if it can handle the changes moving from one PC to another.

This does bring up a number of interesting licensing issues, and the problem of resynchronisation with the desktop system that spawned the Go installation, but the thinking behind it seems remarkably good.

The only catch we've detected so far is that it is a feature of Windows 8 Enterprise Edition and not the retail model. As such, it might only be available to sites that are 'Software Assurance' customers, so it might only work on computers that are covered by that scheme.

This might go some way to explaining why Microsoft isn't promoting this feature more, given how useful it is and the large number of people who would like to use it. If this was included in the standard release of Windows 8, it could encourage lots of people to upgrade, but if it's an Enterprise exclusive, far fewer will be able to use it.

Also, given that the USB stick doesn't contain all of Windows 8 and the host PC can have Windows 7 on it, it does beg the question how much of Windows has actually changed?

Those who want to try this feature out will need a 32GB or larger USB drive, the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) and a Windows 8 DVD or .iso file. Those using it are told not to install applications that bind to specific hardware features, as these may crash when you boot up the system elsewhere.

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