Windows 8: advanced features
In the upgraded Performance tab, you can take a closer graphical look at total resource usage, and the Startup tab shows you a list of processes set to load automatically when you log in – a graphical alternative at last to the antiquated MSConfig tool. It’s a breeze to check and disable unwanted resource-hogging startup items; a particularly nice touch is a “Startup impact” estimate that helps you to identify the most sluggish starters. Other tabs enable you to monitor resource usage by user and keep an eye on running services. This all adds up to a more powerful monitoring tool than its forebears.
The only disappointment is the “App history” tab, which keeps track of total CPU time and network usage for each installed app. The idea of keeping a long-term view of resource usage is a good one, but unfortunately, only tablet-style apps are counted, not desktop applications, making this tab fairly useless to desktop users.
Much has been made of Windows 8’s new ribbon-based Explorer. For the most part, this merely puts the features of the classic Explorer into a more organised interface, but look closely and you’ll spot some useful new features and controls hidden in the interface.
For a start, we’re happy to see an up-arrow icon, which takes you unambiguously to the parent folder (in contrast to the Back button, which leads to the most recently viewed directory). Under the Home tab, the new “Copy path” button lets you copy the full path of the selected file or folder to the Clipboard (with multiple selections separated by carriage returns) – this saves time when you’re writing a program or technical document. The History button gives you direct access to Windows 8’s File History feature – a system similar to Apple’s Time Machine that uses external storage to automatically archive previous versions of files for backup and reference.
There’s a new “invert selection” button, too, which can be helpful if you want to copy or move a specific selection of files. Under Share, you’ll find a one-click Zip button, as well as a simplified interface to Windows’ disc-burning wizard.
Other contextual tabs appear based on your location and selection. These won’t revolutionise the way you use Windows, but you may quickly come to rely on them. Tabs for Computer, HomeGroup, Library Tools and Network provide one-click access to common configuration and troubleshooting tools. Picture, Music and Video Tools tabs appear with playback and basic editing options when you select the relevant type of media.
Of particular interest is the tab that appears when you select a disk image in ISO, IMG or VHD format. The Disc Image Tools tab offers a Burn icon, and also a new Mount option for mounting image files as virtual DVDs and hard disks. This makes it easier to install software and browse images for specific files.
Data integrity and security
Professionals and power users often need to add storage to their systems, and safeguard the integrity of their data. Regular backup is part of that equation (perhaps using Windows 8’s File History feature, as mentioned above); but Windows 8’s new Storage Spaces feature kills two birds with one stone. First, it lets you combine any number of drives – regardless of how they’re connected – into a single convenient pool, which can be dynamically extended simply by adding drives at any time.