Microsoft Windows 8 Features: 8 Things you need to know

We take a peek at what Microsoft's latest OS brings to the table

We take a look at the new Microsoft Windows 8 features, including the new interface, Windows Store integration and USB 3.0 support

Microsoft OS' of the last couple of decades have been a minefield of quality. For every Windows 98, 2000 and XP there's a Windows Vista or, god forbid, a spine-chiller like Windows ME.

Microsoft's Windows 8 OS is now available in three editions, two for Intel-based machines and one for the first Windows on ARM devices.

Will Windows 8 be joining the best or the worst of Microsoft's OS'? We take a look at some of the key new features and consider Windows 8's chances of success...

1. New "Metro" Tile Interface

Windows Phone 7 and Xbox 360 users will be more than familiar with Microsoft’s new ‘Metro’ tiled interface – so called because it resembles the simple tiled layouts of many American metro systems.

The Metro UI is, in a word, excellent and has been well received in general by Windows Phone 7 and Xbox 360 users. It’s uncluttered, without being overly minimalist and retains a colourful sense of style.

2. Windows Store

Microsoft will be integrating the Windows Store into Windows 8, in a similar way to OS X and the Apple App Store. The Windows Store features the same tiled ‘Metro’ interface as Windows 8 itself, and will include a ‘spotlight’ section for the best apps, as well as a brief overview, full detail page and user reviews for every app that makes it into the Windows Store.

Microsoft will be restricting Metro apps to the Windows Store only, and screening them fully before making them available. This means apps have to pass a full malware and viral test.

3. New Login Methods

Windows 8 will still support your old username and password logins, but new options are being introduced as well. Users can login with a four digit PIN code, or via a “picture password”.

Via a touch screen or your mouse, you can set your password to comprise a set of simple geometric gestures over a picture of your choosing. Allegedly, the feature only recognizes very simple gestures such as curves and lines, but either way the results should be unique enough to make this a reasonable login alternative.

4. USB 3.0

USB 3.0 is up to 10 times faster than USB 2.0 and helps to improve power management and battery life. It is estimated that by 2015, USB 3.0 will be standard across the board for computer peripherals, but Windows 8 will support this high speed connection on release, as well as supporting the older, slower USB 2.0.

5. Windows Live ID

It’s about time that Windows users could have one login across multiple machines, and Windows 8 is about to make that happen. Anyone with a Windows Live ID can use it to login in on any Windows 8 device (provided it has an internet connection).

Individual user personal data will still be protected, naturally. But the idea of seamlessly switching between devices on the same login, with all your information accessible from the cloud sounds great to us.

6. New Task Manager

Task Manager has been extensively looked over and improved for Windows 8, which surely must be a good thing as it’s probably the most used Windows component behind Explorer).

The initial interface has been simplified for ease of use, but underneath the surface Task Manager gives you more information than ever before for advanced users to diagnose their system issues, including a “heat map” that highlights particularly resource-intensive tasks.

7. New Explorer

Explorer has been streamlined and… are you seeing a trend here? Microsoft’s analysis saw that people only used about 10 of Explorer’s 200+ commands regularly. As a result, though all of Explorer’s functionality remains intact, the UI has been slimmed down considerably.

8. Easy Restore

System recovery has also been simplified and streamlined for Windows 8, with options being limited to two: “Refresh” and “Reset”. The former preserves your settings, data, and applications bought through the Windows store, whilst the latter is a full system purge and restore but without the reinstallation hassle.

Hopefully system recovery won’t be as necessary as it has been with certain Window’s builds of the past (Vista, we’re looking your way… because Millennium Edition is hiding behind you).