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Windows 8 uncovered: a deep dive into Windows 8

UI, native apps, Windows 8 and hardware, and Windows 8 in the enterprise

At an event in The Netherlands today Microsoft executives offered an in-depth look at some of the key features of the upcoming Windows 8 OS. Here's our deep dive into the features of Windows 8.

Six Microsoft executives today briefed technology professionals, analysts and IT journalists at an event called Exploring Windows 8. The event ran alongside Microsoft's TechEd conference here in Amsterdam, and Microsoft focussed on the Windows 8 experience, native apps, the way the code affects hardware, and how Windows 8 will work with businesses. See also: Windows 8 Tablet review. For more on the changes in Windows 8 and how to use them visit Windows 8 Advisor. For detailed advice on installing Windows 8 Release Preview, read our article: How to install Windows 8.

Windows 8: performance

Bill Karagounis, Principal Group Program Manager for the Windows 8 Fundamentals Team took to the stage to claim that startup times were 40 percent faster than Windows 7 on the same hardware, and that the memory footprint of the new OS is '10 to 20 percent better'. He said that the Windows code base comfortably scales on all devices from tablets right up to workstation PCs, and demonstrated Windows 7 and Windows 8 running on similar laptops, with relatively low specifications (including just 1GB RAM). (See also: Windows 8: the complete guide.)

According to the demonstration, Windows 7 uses 389MB of system memory, Windows 8 only 330MB. And this in an operating system that includes more functionality, including built-in security software (of which more later).

Karagounis also showed how an older Asus UltraBook with a second-generation Intel chip could boot from cold in just 8 seconds. However, he said that Windows 8 was intended to be what he called 'always on, always connected'.  'You don't boot and shut down Windows 8', he said. Further, he suggested that the OS was designed to be always running switching on and off instantly like a smartphone. He demonstrated the power draw of an Intel-system on a chip Windows 8 slate, using virtually no power in sleep mode, with only the occasional tiny peak when it checked for or received data.

The device was, he said, connected to the web, working in the background in a mode he described as 'connected standby'. Karagounis sent an IM to the slate, at which point he power draw peaked and the device set off an alert. This status applies to Windows RT PCs, and Intel SoC PCs . In the demonstration the power draw goes up instantly something then happens, and then drops off quickly when so-called  connected standby kicks in.

Windows 8

Windows 8: security

Karagounis then moved on to security, saying that Windows 8 'essentially bonded the hardware and software together from a security process'. He said that anti-malware is always the first app to load once the OS kicks in, meaning that net nasties cannot sneak in before the security system is up and running, and said that 'secure boot' is a firmware process that validates the OS as it is loading, to ensure that the boot loader is legitimate. He also said that if Windows 8 or the hardware detects something wrong with the boot path, it automatically enters repair mode. Karagounis also emphasies that Windows Defender now has a full anti-malware real-time scanning engine built-in - in essence, Security Essentials.

Other features Karagounis was keen to emphasise with a security bent including the ability to refresh or reset a PC straight from the settings. Head to settings, general, and 'Refresh your PC without affecting your files' and you can reinstall the OS, but keep data and settings. The process also keeps any apps installed from the Windows Store, and removes any third-party apps, while listing them so you can reinstall any you choose to. Choose another option: 'Reset your PC' and apps and files will disappear, settings too. In essence this is a factory reset; you can simply remove files or even scrub the disk. Once the process is complete you must accept the licence terms again and you have a brand new PC.

Windows 8: tools for power users

Karagounis spend some time showing off Windows 8's new Task Manager. It looks a lot more simple inthe default view, being simply a list of logos of apps via which you can choose to end apps that aren't working. An advanced view shows all running apps, their status, and resource use via a heatmap - it's very clear. A Performance view shows graphically what is going on, App history shows how much cellular data, network time, and CPU useage an app has ever used. This is also displayed as a heatmap. The Startup tab shows exactly what is going on when you boot the PC, pinpointing any resource hogging apps.

NEXT: Native apps and the Windows Store >>

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