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While we think it’s important to dig deep into the perils and pleasures of Microsoft’s biggest change in the Windows 8 environment, that’s not to say the company left the “Windows 7” portions of the operating system out to dry.
First, and most noticeable, is Windows 8’s absurdly faster startup and shutdown times compared to any other iteration of the operating system. That’s thanks to a lesser hibernation routine that (finally) stores the operating system’s kernel session—Windows 8’s system state and memory contents—to a file on your hard drive. Windows 8 employs multicore processing to read and decompress the contents of this “hiberfile” during boot, which leads to a much speedier system launch versus Windows 7, which requires a full system initialization each time you hit the power button.
While you might notice slightly slower file transfers within Windows 8 versus Windows 7, were you to compare the two directly, it’s because Windows 8 now builds malware scanning directly into the process (helped by the integration of Windows Defender, formerly Security Essentials, into the operating system). We don’t mind that a bit, especially when it’s accompanied by Windows 8’s amazing new File Transfer feature. Not only can you now pause and cancel transfers whenever you want, but Windows 8 also gives you a throughput graph that populates your speeds in real time. It almost makes us want to forget about TeraCopy.
Windows 8’s Task Manager receives a similar face-lift, including a wonderful “historical” option that shows you just how many resources various apps have consumed over the past week—Metro-only apps, however, which dovetails nicely with the interface’s “never really closes your apps” treatment. And, heavens be praised, Windows finally integrates a “what the heck is this?” option for its Startup tab, which gives you a quick way to search for more information about various apps that run once Windows 8 boots.
The Office-like “ribbon” that now adorns the top of Window 8’s File Explorer takes a little getting used to, but it’s a great way to organize all of the most useful settings you need to access within a single window. Its available options even change dynamically depending on what you’re clicking, from applications, to pictures, to movies, etc. It’s still a shame that even File Explorer can’t escape Microsoft’s need to horizontal-ize Windows 8—you can view more files in a directory when file details are displayed at the bottom of the window, not on the right-hand side.
You can also use Windows 8 to create your own Home Server. Check out our Windows 8 Home Server guide here.
And, of course, it’s hard to overlook Microsoft’s head-nod to the cloud in all sorts of various permutations. There’s the SkyDrive app, a mini-Dropbox of sorts for 7GB of your most important or interesting files that’s wonderfully interwoven with other apps like Office 2013. There’s Window 8’s native synchronization with your Microsoft Live account (should you set up Windows 8 with one), which allows you to keep your Windows preferences, Metro app data, bookmarks, passwords—the list goes on—in sync no matter which computer you’re using Windows 8 on.
No longer will you have to manually type in strange application names to figure out just what the heck is loading when your system boots. With Windows 8, discovery is but a mouse-click away.
Though you’ll never need to use them, astute Maximum PC reader that you are, Windows 8 even tosses in some great features for restoring your system in the face of disaster (good luck finding the buried System Restore app, even if you use the Metro search tool). A “Refresh your PC” option copies your data, reinstalls Windows, and transfers your data back—the “lesser” restoration technique that just might do the trick in the face of slowness or serious error. Window 8’s more hardcore tool, the “Remove everything” option, does just that: nukes your drive, reinstalls Windows 8, and begins the initial configuration process anew.