In the grand old tradition of “Top x” lists, here’s my own (highly biased) take on the best features of Microsoft’s newest client operating system (in no particular order). Keep in mind, my perspective is that of a power user, SharePoint admin, tech junkie etc. and may not necessarily coincide with yours, whatever your role in IT may be. Also some of these features require the Pro or Enterprise SKU – which many of you IT pro types will no doubt be drawn towards anyhow.

Hyper-V Virtualization Platform

If I had to pick a #1 feature this would probably be it. Ever since Microsoft announced that SharePoint 2010 would be 64-bit only, developers and IT pros alike (who had happily been using Microsoft’s own Virtual PC product to run their local 32-bit MOSS 2007 VMs on their laptops) were suddenly faced with a difficult choice: install (at potential cost) a 3rd party VM platform (each with its own strengths/weaknesses), or run full-blown Windows Server 2008 to take advantage of the built-in Hyper-V feature. The main problem with the latter option was they’d have to sacrifice power management (at a minimum) since the Windows 2008 server OS disabled power management when Hyper-V was enabled. Not ideal in either case – 3rd party products often had stability issues, or had a cost associated, and running a server OS on laptop hardware natively just seems… unnatural.

Finally, Microsoft heard our cries and included a “client” version of Hyper-V within the new Windows 8 OS. Zero learning curve for those of us who had used the Windows 2008 version, and full power management (suspend/resume) support – fantastic! Oh, and it even supports Wi-Fi adapters within Hyper-V virtual networks. And while I’ve experienced the odd glitch here or there (especially with networking), for the most part the benefit of running Hyper-V on my client OS far outweighs any minor issues I’ve seen thus far with the RTM release of Windows 8.

New Task Manager

To the other folks out there like me who love to constantly profile the performance of their system (especially when running resource-intensive workloads like the afore-mentioned Hyper-V), the newly improved Task Manager is an early Christmas gift. Although it could use a bit more colour, the addition of disk performance graphs and the consolidation of all metrics (CPU/memory/disk/network) on a single tab for viewing is a nerd-dream come true:

I no longer have to wonder why my system’s running slowly as I squint at uneventful CPU and memory graphs on the boring pre-Windows 8 Task Manager, or fire out the Resource Monitor to nail down that rogue process eating up all my disk I/O. The disk’s active time and disk transfer rate are shown in all their glory right within the Task Manager. Also nice are the metrics around response time and read/write – let’s see if that new SSD is really the steep $1/GB I paid for it!


Built-In ISO Mounting

The ability to mount an ISO (CD/DVD image file) has long been lacking from Windows. I mean, nearly every major Microsoft software platform release seems to come as a .ISO or .IMG file, yet we were required to download & install a 3rd party utility to read or extract them. Even the ubiquitous .zip archive format has been natively handled in Windows going back a few releases now. Well Microsoft finally decided to include support for mounting these images in the easiest way possible… by simply double-clicking them, or right-clicking and selecting Mount:

Not only do they appear as a drive letter in File Explorer (the fancy new name for Windows Explorer), but the ‘drive’ instantly opens up to display the files within the ISO image. Un-mounting the ISO is as simple (though maybe not that intuitive) as right-clicking the ‘drive’ and selecting Eject. Pretty cool stuff.


Native Anti-Malware

Continuing on the theme of reducing the amount of 3rd party software required – Microsoft has gone and baked something called Windows Defender right into Windows 8. Now you probably know that Windows Defender is not really new – it was actually included in Windows 7, but in this previous incarnation could only monitor for spyware and “other potentially unwanted software”. Users still had to install a proper antivirus product in order to be protected against real malware threats. However now that Windows Defender has grown up (or rather it seems, merged with Microsoft’s full Forefront AV offering), Windows 8 users are well-protected out of the box.


Enhanced File Transfer Dialogs

In case it wasn’t clear from the mention of the new Task Manager above, I loves me some pretty graphs – almost as much as I love to monitor performance. So for me it was certainly a treat to discover the rich new file operation dialogs in Windows 8. These actually display (seemingly) real detailed information about the progress of your operation(s) – yes it displays multiple operations within a single dialog, each with its own performance graph:

Not only is it visually engaging (yeah, I don’t get out much), but as you can see from the pic above you can actually pause and resume file transfers.


Summing Up

Admittedly, some of these may be viewed as relatively minor changes. But given that the areas involved had remained pretty much unchanged for several versions of the OS now, they show attention to detail and a pretty radical departure from previous versions of Windows. So the technical features mentioned in this post, when taken together, build a decent case for IT pros to make the upgrade from Windows 7.