Take a Tour Through Windows 8

Microsoft is letting you try its latest operating system before you buy. Here are the business features not to miss.

Microsoft recently bestowed a gift on every small business owner: a preview version of Windows 8. Besides the fact that you can download the demo and use it on any computer without having to buy a license, you get a chance to check out the latest operating system before you upgrade the entire office. Check out this visual tour of some of the most important new business features.

The Internet Explorer 10 browser could mean better full-screen Web apps. Here, the Bing search engine shows an inviting picture and a small search box. Web apps for business could make better use of screen real-estate and hide confusing background palettes, focusing your attention on the main screen.

Windows 8 will offer a main Start page filled with tiles you can use to start apps. The main innovation here is that apps can fill in the tile with relevant info—say, a picture of a contact or a preview of a photo.

The Start menu has another important feature, though: you can zoom in and out. That means, if you tend to amass a massive collection of apps you can see them all on one screen.

Look closely at these screenshots from the new Windows Store in Windows 8 and you’ll see an interesting trend: more options for in-app purchases. There is a price for an annual subscription, pro-level access, and business-to-business. That seems to imply more flexibility in how companies can sell their wares in the store, and could lead to some interesting revenue models.

One of the best features on a Windows phone these days is that many apps are available in a trial version. (On the iPhone, you’ll usually see a light version and a paid version.) While it may be semantics, having a trial version cuts down on some clutter in the store. This could mean more random experimentation with apps in Windows 8 since demos are sometimes not available in other stores.

For mobile users with a tablet or touchscreen laptop, Windows 8 offers two keyboard modes. One is a full soft keyboard and the other is a thumb keyboard where you hold the device in your hands and type on each side. That’s an interesting innovation not found on Android tablets or the iPad.

Windows 7 already had a good window view on files. Windows 8 goes a few steps further. When you open a folder that contains music files, for example, there’s a ribbon that appears where you can inspect file properties. Notice the Play button for playing any selected file.

Business users will appreciate a seemingly minor enhancement in Windows 8. You can now mount an ISO file. These files are used for burning a DVD or CD with your computer, but instead of actually making the disc, you can just mount the file and take the files you need. This could help when you share an ISO file with a colleague—say, a new software program you both already own.

Windows has always had some method of refreshing the system—often, it meant a cumbersome process of finding your original discs and running a cryptic program in DOS. Windows 8 makes the process easier, and there’s a new Reset option that lets you return the PC back to its original state if you are about to sell the system or just need a new lease on (computing) life.

Sure, a new task manager in Windows might not seem that exciting. This new window, which appears when you press CTRL-ALT-DEL and select the task manager, shows how much memory each app is using. There’s a wonderful graphic view that shows PC performance as well.—John Brandon

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