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Wrapped in ribbons and enhanced virtualization features, Microsoft's forthcoming version of Windows is worth a closer look
Hyper-V turns 3: Windows 8 will come with Hyper-V 3.0 built-in, which could mean big things for Windows management. For example, users could run XP, Vista, Windows 7, supported Linux apps, and maybe even Windows Phone 7 apps in the same environment. Also, third-party PC-management tools could take advantage of Hyper-V client systems for easier deployment, update, and repair of PCs.
Admin-friendlier File menu: The File menu provides quick access to opening new Explorer Windows, accessing shortcuts, and changing folder and search options. Microsoft added a couple of nifty new commands to the menu: Open Command Prompt and Open Command Prompt as Administrator. Both launch a command prompt with the path set to the selected folder.
Snappier ISO access: Windows 8 gives users the ability to directly use ISO files (or ISO images) without a physical CD-ROM or DVD drive. Rather, users can, on the fly, easily create "virtual" drives from which to access data. The process entails choosing the ISO file, then double-clicking or clicking Mount. Windows creates a new drive letter for the virtual drive, from which the ISO file is accessible. There's also the Eject command to make the drive disappear when you're done with the ISO file.
Windows Explorer, reloaded: Explorer in Windows 8 sports a new look that includes the addition of the ribbon along the top. The purposes behind the new design, according to Microsoft, is to optimize file-management tasks by exposing more commands in logical groupings while bringing back some of the requested features from the Windows XP era.
Boxes, little boxes: As an alternative to the traditional Windows Explorer UI, Windows 8 lets users opt for what Microsoft dubs a Metro-style UI. Reminiscent of Windows Phone 7's interface, this interface is designed to let users take advantage of Windows 8's touchscreen capabilities for, say, forthcoming Windows 8 tablets.
Better conflict resolution: Windows 8, like previous versions of Windows, alerts users when they try to move files to a destination that contains the same type of files of the same names. This time, though, Microsoft has made it easier for users to determine the differences between the conflicting files so that they can make a better-informed decision.
A ribbon runs through it: Borrowing from Office 2010's design, Windows 8's ribbons are designed to expose the most frequently used commands for such tasks as file sharing, as well as to adjust the appearance of windows. There are also dynamic ribbons for library tools, picture tools, and disk tools. Ribbon loathers, take heart: Ribbons can be hidden
Put it on my Home tab: Windows 8's Home tab ribbon prominently presents all of the platform's core file management tasks, including Copy, Paste, Delete, Rename, Cut, and Properties. Microsoft has taken pains to expose three popular yet sometimes overlooked features found in previous Windows iterations: Move To, Copy To, and Copy Path. The latter is useful for pasting a file path into a file dialog or for sharing a link to file on a shared server.
Detailed file copying: When copying or transferring files, Windows 8 users are presented with a single window that includes information about each process, including a throughput graph and estimates of how long the transfers will take.
VHDs made easy: Windows 8 brings improved support for virtualization. Among the added features: easier access to VHDs (virtual hard disks), à la Hyper-V and Virtual PC. Windows provides a virtual drive letter pointing to the volume within a VHD. A user can work with the VHD as though it were any other file storage on his or her system.
Building on the success of Windows 7, Microsoft has generated plenty of buzz around the Windows 8 iteration of its desktop platform expected for release in spring 2012. Microsoft is expected to unveil the new Windows 8 in detail tomorrow, but it's been dribbling hints of the new OS for months. From what the company has shown so far, the developers in Redmond have put much consideration into the latest and greatest changes to Windows, bringing features that should appeal to novice users, power users, and admins alike -- as well as future users of tablets loaded with Windows 8. Among the enhancements: new ribbons that present users with an array of previously hidden commands; improved virtualization features, including baked-in Hyper-V; superior file management; and touchscreen capabilities. Join us now for InfoWorld's visual tour of what is known today about Windows 8.