Windows 8: advanced features

Within this pool, you can configure mirroring or parity to provide transparent tolerance for one or more drive failures. Storage Spaces therefore gives you the peace of mind and flexibility of an extensible RAID enclosure with the effective simplicity of using a single external or internal drive. Setup is simple: you’ll find the new Storage Spaces manager under Settings, and creating, extending and repairing pools is a matter of a few clicks. For more information, see our Storage Spaces how-to guide.

BitLocker in the Professional and Enterprise editions of Windows 8 now supports hard disks with hardware FDE (full disk encryption) features, making your data unreadable if the disk is stolen. It’s also now possible to use BitLocker’s soft-encryption capabilities to encrypt a drive before installing Windows 8 on it. Microsoft has listened to complaints about how long it took to encrypt disks in previous BitLocker implementations, so in Windows 8 you’re given the option of encrypting only the area that’s in use rather than the entire disk capacity, slashing setup times.

Windows 8 focuses on stability, too. Device drivers must now be digitally signed by a recognised developer, making it harder for dubious code to access your system. This doesn’t mean that legacy hardware is shut out – using the Advanced Startup option in Settings, you can reboot into a less secure mode in which unsigned drivers can be temporarily installed.

For businesses looking to secure desktop clients, Windows 8 brings support for secure boot on UEFI hardware. This means the hardware will refuse to boot unsigned or unknown OS loaders, closing off an avenue often used by rootkit-type malware to compromise a PC. It’s a feature that’s caused controversy: when Windows 8’s support for secure boot was announced, users of Linux-based operating systems and similar projects feared that “homebrew” systems would be locked out, as their unrecognised boot loaders would be rejected. In reality, secure boot can be disabled manually by the user in the BIOS settings, so Linux users can simply carry on as before. IT departments wishing to enforce secure boot can password-protect the BIOS to prevent it from being disabled.

Finally, the AppLocker system has been beefed up in Windows 8, so administrators can now allow or deny specific packaged applications and installers, rather than having to rely on the more broad-brush policies supported by the Windows 7 version of AppLocker. For more details on what’s new here, see Microsoft’s AppLocker Technical Overview.

Living in a connected world

Windows 8 is the first version of Windows to link your identity across multiple PCs, using Microsoft Accounts by default as connected user accounts. This doesn’t mean every system you use will work identically, but cosmetic settings such as wallpaper can be synchronised automatically across all the systems you use, as can stored passwords and credentials. To determine what syncs, you can use the “Sync your settings” option.

If you want to synchronise documents, you can use the built-in SkyDrive feature (or a third-party service such as Dropbox). There’s no way of synchronising desktop applications – this would clog up small devices, not to mention violate licence agreements. However, full-screen “Modern” apps are more flexible; if you have the same app installed on multiple systems, its settings and most recently used state can be automatically synchronised across them.

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