Microsoft fired off dozens of announcements and showed off countless features of the new OS at its Build conference in Anaheim, California. Features such as the Metro interface, support for touchscreens, improved performance and a Windows Store for apps are making headlines.
But which Windows 8 features are the most important ones?
We’ve scoured the Windows 8 feature list, played with Windows 8 devices (our first impressions coming soon), and come up with a list of features that we believe define Microsoft’s next-generation OS.
Without further ado, here are the top four things you need to know about Windows 8:
1) Windows 8 Works on Tablets, Laptops & Desktops
Perhaps the biggest difference between Windows 8 and its predecessors is that this OS is designed to work on not just laptops and desktops, but on tablets as well. Microsoft is introducing the Metro interface it popularized with Windows Phone into Windows 8. Users can access the Metro view or the familiar desktop view with a simple click or tap.
To work well on tablets, Windows 8 has been designed for touchscreens. More importantly, it has been designed to work on ARM-based processors. ARM technology runs most of the smartphones and tablets in the world. ARM chips are simply better suited for these smaller form factors due to their energy efficiency. Even the Apple A5, the chip that powers the iPad 2, contains a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU.
The result is that Windows 8 will work on almost any device you put it on. It works with keyboards and touchscreens, and it doesn’t matter if a device has an Intel, AMD or ARM processor. This makes Windows 8 a versatile OS in a world where the desktop no longer dominates.
2) Everything Is Faster on Windows 8
Windows 8 boasts vast performance improvements over its predecessors. The memory footprint has been reduced, the boot time has been decreased (Windows 8 boots up in less than eight seconds) and the Metro UI launches apps almost instantly. The OS also supports USB 3.0 and Hyper-V.
The result is a slick OS that’s as fast as iOS and Mac OS X Lion. Most people will be surprised by how quickly Windows 8 starts up or runs apps. We certainly were surprised.
3) Say Hello to the Windows App Store
Windows 8 will have an app store. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody. The rise of Apple’s iOS App Store has launched a wave of app store mania across the tech ecosystem. Microsoft also gave away its intent to launch an app store in a leaked slide deck last year.
Still, the inclusion of a Windows Store provides new business opportunities for developers. It creates an incentive for developers to build Metro-style apps that could potentially sell well on the world’s most popular OS. And it’s a clear indication that Microsoft doesn’t intend to give up any ground to Apple and its App Store.
4) Metro & Touch Are the Future of Windows
Windows 8 was designed with touchscreens in mind. And while the OS works just fine with a keyboard and a mouse, Microsoft touted the Metro UI as the future of the OS.
Yes, Windows 8 includes the familiar desktop UI. And yes, you can install your standard desktop apps (the first app I installed on my Windows 8 tablet? Firefox). However, the real magic of the OS occurs when you’re swiping through the tile interface, launching games, launching the Charms bar and interacting with the device via touch.
Microsoft isn’t allowing itself to be stuck in the Stone Age. It knows the future of computing is mobile. It knows less people will be sitting at desktops to do their work and will carry around ultralights or tablets instead.
That’s what Microsoft is betting on. If Apple’s trying to pioneer the touch-based OS with iOS, Microsoft is trying to perfect it. The company is making a radical bet with the next version of Windows. We have to give the company credit: It’s not afraid to take a big risk in order to make a comeback.