5 Windows 8 features IT pros will love

At Microsoft TechEd 2012 Europe, Bill Karagounis, Group Program Manager, Windows Performance, took the stage and explained why not just businesses or developers will love Windows 8, but why IT pros will go wild for it.

Here are 5 key takeaways from the Microsoft demo:

Performance

Microsoft boasts yet again about Windows 8's performance and the improvements they've made in the Release Preview build 8400. According to Karagounis, a freshly installed Windows 8 machine consumes a total of 330 MB of memory -- and that includes the Windows Defender antimalware solution. In comparison, a clean Windows 7 setup (without any AV product installed) takes up more than 550 MB.

My take: In my tests, I couldn't really reproduce this kind of massive difference (usually, they vary around 10% in favor of Windows 8). However, what really struck me is that Microsoft didn't do a whole lot to stop third-party applications from slowing down the system. Sure the new Task Manager (see below) is capable of analyzing the impact of startup applications, but that's just the start. Usually, third-party programs install services, scheduled tasks, explorer hooks, browser plug-ins, toolbars and startup pograms that slow down the OS. It happened to Windows 7 and it will happen to Windows 8.

Startup time

Starting up Windows is always a typical benchmark for PC performance and another sector in which Windows 8 simply blows its predecessors and even Mac OS X away. They demoed a UEFI-based machine with "just" a 2nd generation Core i-processor and, lo and behold, the system booted in under 8 seconds. According to Microsoft, even several generations old systems should see improvements of up to 40%.

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On the Samsung Series 7 slate, which was handed out to the press today, Windows 8 Release Preview boots up in 9 seconds.

My take: No doubt, Microsoft radically improved boot up times and even cold booting is an almost iPad-like experience. Unfortunately, on systems that are not BIOS based you will see the BIOS POST screen for a long time before Windows 8 moves on (though it'll still be faster than Windows 7) -- but that's not Windows 8's fault. What struck me, however, is the fact that Windows 8 still gets stuck when a bunch of USB devices are plugged in. I've been using the Release Preview productively and there will be delays of at least 60 seconds when phones, external hard disks, Wi-Fi adapters and external sound cards are plugged in. Windows 8 should be capable of booting without getting stuck waiting for non-critical hardware accessories.

Always On, Always Connected

The demo moved on to a specialty of Windows RT devices. These slim and power-efficient ARM machines can be shut down like regular machines, but Windows encourages you to put them in sleep mode, giving you essentially an iPad-like boot-up and shutdown experience. Pushing the power button will put Windows RT tablets into an extreme standby mode that consumes a fraction of a watt and will last for days. In these states, Windows RT will frequently poll the network adapter to check for notifications (received mails, messages, social media updates) and informs you if there's something important going on.

My take: Excellent! Finally I can use a Windows device like an iPad.

Security

Microsoft took a huge step in security by including Microsoft Security Essentials in Windows 8, though it has yet to be tested how good the essentials actually are. What is good, however, is the early launch antimalware driver, which prevents malware from tampering with boot files. The moment Windows 8 detects a problem with the boot files, Windows will stop the boot procedure, launch Automatic Repair, remove the malware and restore the boot files.

My take: I still wonder how antimalware vendors and the EU (think monopoly) will react to this step. But it's nice that Microsoft finally thought about its users first and its partners second, and everyone should appreciate their stance on it.

Brand new Task Manager

Microsoft has not touched the Task Manager for several generations now for one simple reason: While the beginners were kind of overrun by the information (processes, memory usage, core utilization) presented in the regular Task Manager, power users hated its lack of information. In Windows 8, Microsoft introduced two views for the new Task Manager. The simple view shows all running applications (finally with user-friendly names) as well as an "End Task" button. That should be enough for even beginners to force-close a running program. The "Show me more" button gives you all the details including a heatmap of all the process and apps running.

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Plus, Task Manager also shows you the current CPU speed. You can actually watch your CPU entering lower power states (e.g., 800 MHz on a 1.8 GHz Core i7 mobile CPU) and speed up to maximum when system load ramps up.

My take: While it's not a massive improvement, the integration of understandable graphs, clear and large fonts (see above) and the details on app resource utilization make it the best looking Task Manager I’ve ever seen.

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