30 best features of Windows 8

The most interesting development is the option to try apps for a limited period, allowing developers to give Windows 8 users a free sample, without having to create a second, feature-stripped free or “lite” version.

As with Android and iOS, applications are sold on a per-customer rather than a per-PC basis, so once purchased, apps will be usable on multiple devices.

The Windows Store is cleanly presented, with the apps sensibly listed by category, but you have to use the Charms to search the Store.

Windows Store

8. Interactive lock screen

The Windows lock screen is no longer a glorified password prompt. The attractive, customisable lock display now includes snippets of information, such as how many unread email messages are waiting in the Metro Mail app inbox, or the charge state of a laptop’s battery.

To unlock a Windows 8 PC, simply swipe upwards on a tablet device, or press the spacebar on a laptop or desktop.

9. Split-screen apps

While other mobile OSes boast of multitasking, Windows 8 executes this in a meaningful way. Metro Style apps can be run split-screen, with most of the display devoted to one app and a thin slice down either side to another.

This means, for example, the Music player can be left running on the side – complete with playback controls – with the rest of the display devoted to work.

Split screen apps

There’s only a certain type of app that will squeeze comfortably into that secondary slot, however, and on smaller screens it may simply be easier to flick from one full-screen app to the next, but the split-screen arrangement at least means users of large desktop monitors aren’t wasting all those pixels on a solitary Metro Style app.

Traditional Windows desktop apps can be managed in the same way as before. In fact, it’s possible to treat the Windows desktop as a Metro app filling most of the screen, with a thin Metro Style app running alongside.

10. Split touch keyboard

Nobody could accuse Microsoft of failing to put enough thought into its soft keyboard for touchscreen users. There are two types on offer: a keyboard that spans the full width of the screen, and a split keyboard that makes it easier to thumb-type on larger tablet screens.

Usefully, the split keyboard can be zoomed to different sizes, and it cleverly places the number keys between the two banks of letters, leaving them easily accessible – but not in the way.

keyboard

In addition to the two soft keyboard options, Windows 8 also offers handwriting recognition, allowing stylus users to write in web forms or the browser bar, or jot notes. As our Real World Computing contributing editor Simon Jones noted in a recent column, the handwriting recognition is excellent, which is a boon for professional tablet users in the field.

It isn’t clear whether Microsoft will impose its own keyboard on users or allow third-party alternatives.

11. App contracts

Microsoft has published a set of APIs common to all Metro apps that allow them to freely exchange data. It’s possible, for example, to give a Twitter client access to the Photos app, massively simplifying the process of photo sharing.

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