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10 Awesome Improvements For Desktop Users in Windows 8

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It’s easy to focus on how Windows 8’s new interface doesn’t feel at home on a traditional desktop PC or laptop. But that’s only one part of Windows 8 – the Windows 8 desktop includes a variety of useful improvements.

If you’re a desktop user, you owe it to yourself to look over the improvements and consider upgrading. If Microsoft hadn’t removed the traditional Start menu and added a new interface, we’d all be considering Windows 8’s desktop an upgrade.

Boot Speed

Windows 8 uses some tricks to dramatically improve its boot speed. Some people have seen boot times drop from 30 to 15-20 seconds on existing hardware. Instead of shutting down normally, Windows 8 employs a clever trick – it saves the state of low-level software such as the kernel and hardware drivers to the disk and restores them when you boot it up. Essentially, Windows 8 “hibernates” low-level system software instead of shutting it down, resulting in greatly increased boot speeds.

New Windows 8 PCs using UEFI will also boot faster than systems using the old-style BIOS.

File Copying

File copying in Windows 8 is dramatically improved. The new file copy dialog allows you to pause file-copying operations, view multiple file-copying operations in the same window, and more easily manage file conflicts. The interface is simple by default, but you can also expand the dialog to view more information, including a graph of the file transfer’s speed over time.

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Improved Multiple Monitor Support

For power uses with multiple monitors, windows 8 allows you to place separate taskbars and wallpapers on each monitor. Previously, this required third-party software.

Task Manager

The new Task Manager is a huge improvement over the old one. It features a Startup software manager that allows users to easily control the software that loads at startup. It’s also easier to understand at a glance, with color-coded resource usage columns and more human-readable program names. You can also quickly research a mysterious process online by right-clicking it and using the Search online option.

File Explorer Improvements

Windows Explorer has seen quite a few changes. For one, it’s now named File Explorer. While some users may dislike the new ribbon interface, it makes it easier to access powerful options like viewing hidden files without digging through menus and dialog boxes. You can also easily collapse the ribbon if you never want to see it.

There are also quite a few straight-up improvements, including the ability to mount ISO and VHD files by double-clicking them – no need to install any additional software. The Up button on the toolbar that was removed in Windows 7 is now back.

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Storage Spaces

Storage Spaces is a power-user feature that allows you to combine multiple physical volumes into one logical volume. In other words, you can create a pool of storage from several physical hard disks. The storage pool will behave as if it were one hard disk.

Hyper V

Windows 8’s included Hyper-V feature allows you to create virtual machines out-of-the-box. Hyper-V was previously used on Windows Server and replaces the Windows Virtual PC virtualization solution used for Windows XP Mode on Windows 7. For example, you can use Hyper-V to install Ubuntu on a virtual machine without installing any third-party software.

Refresh and Reset

The ability to refresh your device to its factory state may seem like a tablet feature, but it isn’t. You can actually create your own system image and refresh Windows to it, quickly resetting Windows 8 to a fresh-installed state whenever you like. This can save you time when reinstalling Windows.

Battery Life

Low-level system changes, including optimizations to squeeze more battery life out of tablets and other portable computers, should result in a more power-efficient operating system and longer battery life. The removal of Aero should also result in longer battery life for laptops.

Security

Security has seen a lot of attention in Windows 8. Microsoft has finally included an integrated antivirus in Windows 8. It’s named Windows Defender, but it’s actually a renamed Microsoft Security Essentials. This will ensure that even less-experienced Windows users have an antivirus, but you can easily disable it and install any other antivirus product you prefer.

Secure Boot provides protection from rootkits that hijack the startup process, assuming you’re using a new PC with UEFI instead of the traditional BIOS. (On Intel x86 PCs, you can disable Secure Boot or add your own keys to Secure Boot in the UEFI firmware, so Secure Boot won’t prevent you from installing Linux. However, Secure Boot is used to lock-down ARM-based Windows RT computers.)

The integration of Microsoft’s SmartScreen filter at a lower level helps prevent less experienced uses from downloading and installing malware by warning them when they install software that is known-bad, or software that hasn’t been seen before.

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There are also low-level changes to memory allocation and ASLR (Address Space Layout Randomization) that make security vulnerabilities harder to exploit, even if security holes are found.


If these were the only changes that were made in Windows 8, desktop users would see it as a worthy upgrade over Windows 7 – especially for $40.

Even if you dislike Windows 8’s new interface, the availability of third-party Start menus and software that hides a lot (but not all) of the new interface on the desktop should make you seriously consider upgrading to Windows 8 if these improvements seem significant to you.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 11/5/12

Comments (28)

  1. Tony

    I agree. I can mostly ignore the Modern UI with my custom start menu. The benefits easily outweigh the need to hack in a start menu.

  2. Linda Stinchcomb

    I just installed windows 8 I have Alot to learn I was using vista which I hated but 8 cost less than 7 and I seem to like it better.

  3. Citrus Rain

    Getting alot more battery life out of Windows 8 than I did with Ubuntu.

  4. Sirmentio

    It seems that windows 8 is dedicated for the “New” PC users, unlike other OS’s…

  5. JasonMac

    I’ve been using Windows pretty much for most of my life and last week I took the plunge and upgraded to Windows 8…and it’s pretty simple to use. The new “Modern/Metro” screen is basically your start menu, a lot of the time the first program I launch when I boot up is Firefox or I tend to go straight to My Computer or Control Panel, I’ve pinned these right on the front screen, it literally takes one click, same with some of my other regularly used programs such as Steam and the various Office programs, it’s far quicker than anything on any desktop OS, I don’t miss the old start menu at all.

    Even this whole argument about the shutdown icon is not a huge deal, all you do is move your mouse to the bottom left hand corner, click settings and then shutdown/restart etc. It’s a minor issue for me as I have noticed an improvement in boot times and my laptop battery lasts longer.

    In terms of programs and games, I’ve installed loads of oldish games like Tomb Raider Anniversary and Half Life 2 which work perfectly, emulators run fine. Games for windows live games did cause an issue, before installing a title such as Arkham City/Resident Evil 5, make sure you download the latest version of GFWL and then install the game and it works perfectly.

  6. Bassman

    I really want to upgrade to Windows 8 ASAP, but I’m worried about the compatibility of my programs and games. Anyone knows how that works out?

  7. TsarNikky

    As more and more third-party developers come up with slick workarounds for the Metro UI and its childish tiles, to retain the traditional desktop and operating mechanisms, Windows-8 will become more attractive. The real pity is that MS blew this opportunity, big time. [It was just way too much bother for MS to give users the choice of UI to use.] Oh well, more money for third-party developers and a longer life for Windows-7.

  8. thesilentman

    @Bassman,
    Windows 8 should handle those just fine. If they worked on 7, they will work on 8.

  9. Joe

    If you want to get back all of the Windows 7 games and put them in Windows 8, go to this link.
    http://www.howtogeek.com/122145/what-happened-to-solitaire-and-minesweeper-in-windows-8/

    I am able to play all of the games on the Windows 8 preview version. I assume it will work on the paid version of Windows 8.

    Also download the program, Start8, if you want to bring back the familiar start bar.
    GO to: http://www.stardock.com/products/start8/. It only costs $4.99. It has settings to eliminate the charms bar, which I have found to be annoying. You can also eliminate the Metro start bar with all those big ugly buttons that launch apps. So now when I boot into the Windows 8 preview, it goes directly to the desktop and looks exactly like Windows 7. You get the features that you liked and wanted in Windows 7, and get the extra speed of the Windows 8 operating system which supposedly has better security than Windows 7.
    I have also read the the Gadgets are missing from Windows 8. Do a search for 8GadgetPack if you want the Gadgets back in Windows 8.
    I would call this version Windows 7.5.

  10. David Lindberg

    I have been using Windows 7 for quite a while now. I downloaded a couple of pre-release versions of Windows 8, build 8400 and build 9200. 9200 seemed to be the best one. I downloaded Windows 8 Pro from the Microsoft web site on Oct 26 and installed it to my best computer. I have three hard drives on that machine, one running Windows XP, another running Windows 7 and the third one, I installed Windows 8 Pro on. The machine runs XP and 7 just fine, however, it doesn’t run 8 very well at all. The machine crashes continually, sometimes within moments, and at other times later on. The reason that it keeps crashing seems to be errors with a memory dump. I have another older Dell machine, still running the pre-release build 9200 version on it. It crashes quite a bit also. I can’t really determine why the Dell crashes so much. I finally installed the Win 8 Pro version on an older HP laptop that I had been running Windows 7 on. I had to go through re-activation of the system in order to move the operating system from my main machine to the laptop. So far, it seems to be running fine on the laptop. Windows 8 doesn’t use the registry like previous versions of Windows, which wrote the registry to the hard drive. As near as I can determine, the registry is written into Ram and that’s where it gets it’s increased speed from. I can only hope that Microsoft works the wrinkles out of the whole thing or, I am afraid that my problems are going to be repeated by more people than me.

  11. xana452

    Ok, seeing this might ACTUALLY make me upgrade to this, especially the drive combining thing. Always wanted to be able to do this. And the native multi-monitor taskbar support. That is also very nice.

  12. Bruce Giddens

    I understand with Windows 8, you cannot have two applications open concurrently.
    That will impact my MO.
    Am I right?
    Are there any solutions?

  13. Jules

    @Bruce, not sure where you got that from, you can open as many programs as your system can handle, just like Windows 7. I’m running Windows 8 Pro 64bit and right now I’ve got Chrome, iTunes, Steam and Powerpoint all open at the same time doing different things, as well as security software like Malwarebytes Pro running

  14. Chuck

    You guys have great articles. I just wish you dedicated a bit more time in your grammar. I don’t mean to be a grammar nazi but I like sharing your articles on Google+ to help those less PC savvy and sometimes I feel a bit weird to share stuff that has quite a few spelling errors and stuff. None the less keep up the great articles.

  15. The Duke

    I have found 2 programs that don’t work under Win 8, that is is understandable when you see their name.
    Revo Uninstall (free)
    Comodo Program Manager.
    Revo hangs up on cleaning up the Registry.
    Prog Mgr won’t install, says wrong OS.

  16. SuAlfons

    @Bruce: That applies for SEEING max. of two TILE-based programs at the same time in a split-screen manner. On the desktop, you start desktop programs like ever before. Also, programs you do not see continue to run in the background.

  17. clamo

    @Linda Stinchcomb: ATM windows 8 is @ an introductory price, Microsoft did this because they KNEW that NO one would pay $199 for just a UPGRADE copy of 8. so yes 8 is cheaper atm than 7 is but chances are you will want 7 after a week of using 8.

  18. afuhnk

    @The Duke : Revo Free works just fine with me (Win8 x64)

  19. Deeply Cynical

    I’ve used Windows since 3.11 and used every version since. Windows 8 may look different, but under that weirdly, retro-looking tiled replacement for the start menu, it’s shaping up to buck the trend of every second WinOS turning out to be a plonker. If you search for windows upgrade offer, you can get it fir as little as £14.99!

  20. David

    One of the main reasons that I’m tempted to upgrade is the ability to do a “clean install” and remove all of the crapware that came pre-installed with my PC. A close second are the performance, stability and security improvements.

    Like @Tony I think that for the most part I would just ignore the new metro/modern UI.

  21. Vatsal

    @David Lindberg,
    On my computer windows 8 works perfectly, But when I play a game ( Mostly any game ), My computer hangs and even mouse hangs And I have to directly plug it off and boot again. I want to ask you are you also getting same problem?

  22. Vatsal

    @ The Duke,
    Revo Uninstaller works fine with my system, Only one thing that doesn’t work on windows 8 is “Maruti Driving School learner software” ( Don’t Laugh ) “.

  23. U.Satya

    Revo Uninstaller works fine, even better than 7 on my win8 partition.
    I dual boot both systems and use as per my mood & whe I need to
    read data, which some times does not open on win8.Unable figure out when
    the access voilation/contact admin bog me down.Is dual booting OK.am I placing my
    desktop for unnecessary starin on resources.

  24. Bo

    I have an HP with 16gb ram. as I write this, I have 9 applications open and running. 2 of which are Cad-cam.. as for metro vs old style, all the apps I use are now displayed on the metro screen, or hit the windos key and you are back to win7 lookalike

  25. akstumbler

    I still enjoy playing a few old Windows 95 flight simulator games that I am reluctant to give up with a switch to Windows 8. Has anyone tried running Windows 95 or XP under a Hyper-V virtual machine in Win8?

  26. JF

    By all means, not trying or planning to offend or call anyone low minded, stupid etc.etc…however whats the lame moaning about start button gone? Might be just me who likes modernization since I been trying to get read of the start button since I upgraded 2009 to W7 Ultimate (free lol). However did pay £24 for W8 Pro and love it. Start screen is instant as F**, and just over your mouse, finger, a** over to the lower left corner or press Windows key. Why bother with the ugly start menu? If any of you are “Geeks” I would suspect not such lame complains. I use W8 Pro on Acer Aspire One 533 as my daily machine (as i love mobility) Sure upgrading to HP Ultrabook in a week time as my 17 inch HP broke down on me.

    Lets welcome W8 being modern, getting read of the boring *OLD* windows habit and enjoy whats now! I was considering upgrading to Mac because I was bored of Windows but Windows 8 makes Mac interface look like a OS from the stone age with its grey emo life style and would be a downgrade instead of upgrade too.

    Be Geeks or at list open minded and W8 will embrace itself to be the perfect OS that has come out since Mac came out. Personal opinion, nothing more.

  27. bo

    Veteran Total Commander user laughing. So hard.

  28. yessiree

    Yeah I noticed Revo Unistaller hangs as well on Win 8, sucks because I love using it and now it won’t clean the registry properly :(

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