Usually in Hidden Gems, we uncover some of the lesser known tips, tools and tricks in Microsoft software which you probably already own, but might not know about.
This time, however, we’re going to investigate some software which you’re very likely to own soon, but definitely know nothing about- because it’s only being released in late October.
Microsoft Windows powers the vast majority of business and personal computers across the globe, so there’s every chance that you’ll come across the latest release – Windows 8. When you do, here are some of the new features to look out for!
The Target: Windows 8, release globally on October 26th, 2012.
Whereabouts: Bundled with countless PCs, laptops, tablets and other devices.
Modus Operandi: Windows 8, like all previous versions of Windows is an Operating system, and so supports all the other software and applications you use every day. Windows 8, however, includes hundreds of advances, particularly in cloud and connected services, social applications, media support and mobile/tablet functionality
So, what’s new in Windows 8? Well, for starters, it looks nothing like anything Windows before...
A shiny new interface
First up is the new interface (shown in the main picture above). It’s colourful, bold and it’s designed to work intuitively on touch-screen machines like tablets and the new generation of touch-tablets launching now and across 2013. If you’ve already got a Windows Phone, you’ll be very comfortable with Metro already. However, if all this new-fangled stuff is just a bit too fun, don’t worry – it works fine with mouse and keyboard, and you’re never more than a click or two away from a simplified and tidied-up old-style Windows desktop.
Life up in the Cloud
Windows 8, as an operating system, is ideally placed to handle all your connectivity with external services, and it comes ready to hook up automatically with all your favourite online services. For business, connecting to Office 365 or SkyDrive for storage is a doddle – indeed you can drag and drop files to the infinite recesses of the cloud as easily as to elsewhere on your desktop. Use the same Microsoft account to log in to a wide and growing range of third-party online business services, too. Similarly, your address book will sync up with your favourite social tools like Facebook and Twitter, as well. Online integration also means that the old “User Accounts” function is effectively global: sign in on a friend’s computer or in a hotel suite, and you’ll have instant access to your contacts, settings, calendars etc.; even your browser Favourites.
Rather like a smartphone, Metro blurs the lines between full-blown software (Office, for example), and Apps. Launching with Windows 8 will be a whole Store-full of Apps, which live on Tiles on the Metro desktop. Those tiles are also chock-full of live information, pulled from your system, the cloud services you use like Office 365, or data sources across the internet. So, now you can see how many new emails you’ve got before opening Outlook; spot your upcoming events in the Calendar, or check out the weather from your Home Screen
Universal Search and Spell-Checker
Borrowed from the best mobile devices, Windows 8 has implemented universal Search and Spell-Check functions. Use the Search bar, and it will call up filenames, emails, music, document contents or even the whole web. This is similar to Windows 7; but smart context-sensitive searching means that you can find more of the right data (emails, restaurant reviews) according to the software or App you’re using (email, a restaurant finder), just when you need it. Similarly, if you rely on Spell-Checker in Word, but your Twitter posts look like gobbledegook, your troubles are over: spellchecking now operates across the board, whatever application you are using.
A brace(let) of charms
Entirely new in Windows 8 is the delightfully named Charms bar, which appears on demand at the right-hand side of the screen (swipe in from the right, click a mouse at the top-right of the screen, or hit Win-C to call it up). Charms offers you access to a range of general functions, which will operate context-sensitively depending on the software you are currently using or what you would like to do. The Share function makes sharing with online sites (for example, popping a photo onto Flickr or Facebook) intuitive and simple. Devices makes hooking up peripherals similarly trouble-free. Whereas that used to mean connecting a printer; device management now includes, for example, streaming content to everyone in the office – previously a complicated task requiring plenty of tweaking; now just a case of managing a few simple settings.
Safety under the bonnet
Microsoft knows that we live in a world where cyberthreats are never far away. An emphasis on simplicity and currency means that Windows 8 has been designed from the ground up to be more secure than many of the piecemeal systems running today. If, for example, you have the excellent Windows XP, as many offices still do, chances are you’re stretching the resources and security capabilities of each machine on your network – after all, WinXP was created well over a decade ago! Windows 8 represents the best current know-how that Microsoft and its partners has to offer. It also comes fully equipped with Windows Defender, a fully integrated and subtle antivirus and antimalware protection system.
The target exposed
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