Coverage of Windows 8 has understandably focused on the revolutionary Metro interface. Many believe that this new interface, while fine for tablets and phones, is a step backwards for desktop productivity. By forcing users to switch between two modes of operation – desktop and Metro, Windows 8 diminishes productivity and imposes steep learning curve on new users. The Metro interface itself supports only very limited multi-tasking, so, serious work often must be done in the traditional Windows desktop. Microsoft implicitly acknowledges these limitations by providing the latest version of Microsoft Office, not in Metro format, but as traditional “desktop” applications.
But Windows 8 is more than just a tablet-style touch interface layered over Windows 7. There are some other key advantages of Windows 8 that may justify an upgrade, or, at least provide some consolation if and when you are forced to adopt the new OS.
Significant performance improvements number among the hidden treasures of Windows 8. Because Windows 8 was targeted not just at modern powerful desktops, but, also at less potent tablet devices, Microsoft has gone to a lot of trouble to optimize memory usage and start-up times. If you are running Windows 8 on a powerful desktop, these optimizations are really noticeable.
The most pleasant initial experience is boot time. Windows 8 generally boots more than two times faster than Windows 7. This is due largely to deferred loading of non-essential programs and services - many services now start on-demand when required, rather than having to be preloaded during the initial boot.
Memory requirements in Windows 8 are significantly lower, as well. Metro apps can surrender all their memory when inactive, rather than paging out individual memory blocks when needed. All applications can benefit from shared code segments, which allow programs that allocate identical blocks of memory to use the same physical memory. The memory manager also can prioritize memory to encourage responsiveness. For instance, memory belonging to an interactive program may be given a higher priority than that allocated to a background process.
Other performance improvements include better graphics hardware acceleration, and optimizations to reduce power consumption and increase battery life.
Monitoring and managing performance have been improved significantly by a reworked task manager, which has improved usability and additional performance information and visualizations.
Windows 8 introduces a backup system based on file versioning, which resembles the Apple “Time Machine” feature. Windows 8 periodically copies versions of files to backup media, allowing you to recover not just a single version of a file, but to restore the file to virtually any point in time. So, if you mess up an important document, you can restore the version that was on your computer yesterday, or last week.
Windows 8 supports better in-built integration with social media than does Windows 7. Most of this integration is enabled within Metro style apps, but it still allows applications across the system to be aware of your social media identities such as Facebook and Twitter.
Windows 8 is also clearly a cloud-aware OS. Your system preferences can be stored with your Windows Live account, allowing preferences and configuration to follow you from computer to computer. The Windows Dropbox-like SkyDrive is integrated into the file open dialogue, allowing you to work seamlessly with documents stored in the cloud.
Storage spaces allow you to easily configure multi-drive disk arrays as a single storage unit - essential “RAID for dummies.”
I don’t know anybody who hasn’t found the new Metro interface a challenge. Most Windows 8 users I know have migrated to the traditional Windows desktop. But, even if you feel Metro has nothing to offer, there’s still a lot to be gained from Windows 8.