Since February 29, 2012, Windows 8 – the eagerly awaited new operating system from Microsoft – has been available for download in a Consumer Preview version. If you have a PC with a Windows 7 operating system, you can download Windows 8 Consumer Preview free-of-charge here.
Windows 8 is quite different from previous versions. The new operating system has been completely revamped and has a brand new look. It supports multitouch gestures and therefore is adapted to the user interface of tablets. See the SAP.info article “Preview of Windows 8: End of the PC Era” for more detailed information on this feature.
There will be four different versions of Windows 8: for home users, for professionals, and for enterprises. Then there’s Windows RT, a special version for devices with ARM CPUs, such as tablets. However, this will only be available to providers, so end users won’t be able to purchase it directly.
Metro apps instead of programs
When Windows 8 starts up, a completely revised user interface appears: The Start button, which always used to be in the bottom left-hand corner in previous Microsoft Windows versions, has gone. Instead, users are immediately struck by large colored tiles, known as Metro apps. These include Mail, Calendar, People, Messaging, Photos, SkyDrive, Reader, Music, and Video. For tablet PCs, there are also specially adapted Office applications such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.
Users can configure the start screen themselves. In the right-hand menu bar, you’ll find search, share, and start functions, as well as devices and settings for WLAN, UMTS, Bluetooth, language, volume, and brightness control.
And Microsoft has embraced the cloud: The SkyDrive feature offers a total of 25 GB online memory. Users can buy more applications from the Windows App Store. As with Apple, you need a special account to do this. You set up your Microsoft account when you install Windows 8. Once you have an account, you can go shopping in the store.
With the Push Notification Service, information such as weather updates, e-mails, or news appears on the Metro interface. A Social Media Client enables you to post and share content on Facebook.
Swiping and sliding
To use Windows 8, you’ll need a screen resolution of at least 1024 x 768 pixels. With a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels, two programs can be run in two windows side by side.
The most important control element of Windows 8 is the swipe gesture, which has to be mimicked using the mouse on a desktop PC in the Consumer Preview version. Swiping is not just used to shift tiles around. By swiping down the edge of the screen, the menu opens. If you want to close an app, you also swipe from top to bottom. If you move your finger or the mouse from left to right, the most recently used app shifts to the foreground.
Support for touch gestures isn’t the only function that makes Windows 8 harmonize better with mobile devices. Thanks to Direct Access, the system sets up a VPN-like connection between the end device and the business application. In addition to UMTS, the LTE standard is supported.
Booting with a flash drive
The most useful function for companies is probably Windows To Go. This feature gives business users the chance to access an individual Windows 8 environment. To do this, the company’s IT admin needs to first of all install a Windows 8 image on a bootable flash drive, such as a USB drive. The image includes all the user’s applications and settings. This enables the employee to use Windows 8 from any computer – for example, at home or while otherwise away from the office.
Furthermore, users can look forward to short startup times. According to Microsoft, Windows 8 is ready to go within eight seconds.
Enhanced security functions
For IT administrators, the enhanced security functions are bound to be of particular interest. As early as the startup phase, the system is checked for viruses and malware. If the program detects a virus attack, the user can cancel the startup. What’s more, the SecureBoot function prevents rootkits from accessing the computer while it is being booted.
A practical feature is that, to relaunch the operating system, all that is needed with Windows 8 is a click on Refresh or Reset – while users of previous versions had to reset the entire system to initial status.
With Refresh, you can replace all system files. Personal files, Metro apps, and all other settings are not affected.
With Reset, you completely reset the PC. This means that all user-defined data is deleted. Windows 8 is reinstalled, including all standard settings. A reset is required, for example, if the PC is to be passed on to another user.
Whether you have a desktop PC, a notebook, or a tablet, the new security and administration tools from Windows 8 enable each device to be personalized and adjusted for every single employee.
Using the Application Compatibility Toolkit and the User State Migration Tool, admins can manage programs and user accounts. With the AppLocker, you can release – or block – applications for certain employees and control the files that colleagues can access. In addition, IT administrators can use group policies to grant or refuse users access to the Windows Store.
With the Storage Spaces function, several hard disks can be grouped together to form a pool. Two separate 500 GB of memory thus become a terabyte. The virtual memory pool can comprise different memory systems, such as SATA, SCSI, or USB drives.
For more information about the new business functions of Windows 8, visit the Microsoft Windows 8 blog and the special blog for Windows for business: