June 09, 2011, 8:26 AM — Late last month, I spent some time digging into an early Windows 8 build and found some interesting hidden features -- including the Windows Store, a hybrid boot mode that drastically reduces cold boot time, Automatic Maintenance, and Spot Verifier, which checks for bad sectors in real-time and marks them as "bad" in order to avoid data loss or damage.
Then came the presentations at the AllThingsD and Computex conferences and all attention turned to Windows 8's new immersive UI. But there's much more happening under the hood that Microsoft isn't quite ready to tell us. After looking through about 1500 group policies of an early Windows 8 build, I've caught a few interesting hints to yet unrevealed features.
Crash detection for legacy programs
A handful of group policies (unique to Windows 8) indicate that Microsoft is fine-tuning its "PCA" (Program Compatibility Assistant) and overall stability of the system: first of all, I noticed settings that relate to a more advanced application crash monitor, capable of detecting (and probably solving) more software comparability issues than before. Gathering from the group policies description, the PCA now detects denied access to deleted files as well as to system files (WRP, Windows Resource Protection) which in turn decreases issues that arise from these types of file system operations.
[ Also see:10 hidden features in Windows 8 ]
More importantly, Windows 8 tries to reduce crashes overall by isolating print drivers from applications. It's safe to bet that this includes not only your general printer driver, but also "virtual" 3rd party drivers such as XPS, PDF or OneNote print drivers, which are often used to save files in a different format.
3G/WiFi/WWAN cost limiter
To prevent ridiculous online bills while "on the road," Windows 8 hints at a cost limiter feature that allows admins (and end users, hopefully) to cap data transfers on 3G, 4G, WiFi and even WWAN connections. In -- still pretty early -- group policies I noticed that admins could choose between "Unrestricted", "Fixed" (the use of connection is unrestricted up to a certain cap) and "Variable" (connection is costed on a per byte basis) settings in order to keep mobile costs down.
Digging a bit further, I found that admins also have the choice to disable mobile roaming connections for their clients altogether. It's quite obvious that Microsoft needs to address these scenarios when they're pushing Windows 8 into the mobile space and especially when they're trying to bring your user account to the cloud.
Finally! A multi-monitor taskbar!
Now this will make the multi-monitor crowd go wild. According to Windows 8's group policies, the taskbar may finally be visible on all connected screens -- not just your primary screen!
This has been the source of many complaints over the years and one of the most popular submissions to the (unfortunately now closed) Windows7Taskforce website. It's also the sole reason commercial tools like "UltraMon" or "Actual Multiple Monitors" are selling like hot cakes.
According to the settings description seen above, there might be a new "Multiple Display" section under the "Taskbar Properties" dialog. Unfortunately, this doesn't work in early builds of Windows 8, but it was even hinted at at the end of a 2008 PDC presentation on the Windows 7 taskbar: "Hopefully in Windows 8, we can actually get around doing a proper implementation of the multi-monitor taskbar."
It's yet unclear what the taskbar on the other display(s) will actually show: Will the taskbar on display 2 show only program icons visible on display 2? Will the clock and tray icons be cloned on both screens or only visible on one? Below is a mock-up of what a multi-monitor taskbar could look like:
All of this isn't set in stone. Obviously, Microsoft has the habit of changing things quite a bit in these early "Milestone" stages and we're still three months away from the first Windows 8 beta, which is likely to show up at BUILD this September. Still, the three features mentioned here are likely to show up in the end product -- it just makes sense to build in more reliability features or settings targeted to mobile users. And I don't expect them to cut the multi-monitor support, either.