Windows 8: Updating list of features to date

Rolling updates of leaked features and functionality in Windows 8, the next-generation operating system from Microsoft.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor on

Note: this list is now defunct.

With screenshots and leaks galore -- though, not on the scale of Windows 7's post-Vista transformation -- there is an ongoing stream of information coming out of the web, from ordinary bloggers to broadsheet newspapers, regarding the next-generation operating system.

  • 19th April 2011: Updates appended to the end.
  • 21st April 2011: Update on 'Streaming Manager'
  • 23rd April 2011: Pattern and facial recognition login
  • 27th April 2011: New build (7955), new features

This post will update as and when new features are discovered, and will include descriptions, any pertinent information and a picture in the corresponding screenshot gallery too, wherever possible.

Each new feature will be verified as accurately as possible. While none of the features here can be verified to one hundred percent, this updating feature set will allow both consumers and enterprises to gauge what may be coming next in the upcoming release, set for next year.

New Welcome screen

A new 'Metro UI' (the user interface for Windows Phone 7 devices) has been seen in the latest builds of Windows 8. Featuring the date and time, another video showed the leaked Windows 8 default wallpaper as discovered by fellow ZDNet colleague Stephens Chapman, where users are shown a list of users on the local machine to click on and enter their password.

'Modern' Task Manager

A new task manager emerged in one of the latest builds, redesigning how programs and system-critical applications are displayed. Frankly, for task manager veterans, the entire feel of the application has changed entirely. However, it is more in-tune with the look and feel of Windows 8, though devoid of a Ribbon bar -- for now, at least. It also includes a more 'advanced' task manager for those who still require seeing extensive statistics of their hardware.

Portable Workspaces

One of the most highly anticipated features, discovered in an early build of Windows 8 -- the portable workspace, allowing you to effectively put Windows on a USB stick. On the other hand, it looks more likely to become an enterprise only feature, and further limited to those with a USB stick or external hard drive that is at least 16GB in size. However, already this could give an early indication of the final hard drive memory footprint of the upcoming operating system.

Aero auto-colourisation

A new feature that reacts to the most prominent colour of the Windows wallpaper. This already exists under Windows 7, where the icons in the taskbar 'reflect' the brightest or most dominant colour in the icon. However, this will be ported to reflect the entire desktop, including Start menu and taskbar, depending on the colour of the wallpaper.

Hybrid Booting

Seen in the latest builds, Hybrid Boot is a cross between hibernation and sleep mode, and more of an evolution of the existing hibernation function. Core operating system files are 'put to sleep' which enables the startup time to be significantly reduced.

Simple system 'reset'

Found in an early build of Windows 8, the functionality exists to allow a user or system administrator to 'reset' the operating system back to the default settings. As so many applications and settings are expected to be cloud based, this would in theory allow you to get back up and running in minutes as opposed to hours. From the screenshots, it appears to be a quick and simple process, with user accounts and personal files kept in backup space, before your default Windows settings are restored.

Ribbons in Windows Explorer

The Ribbon bar features heavily in the Office 2007 and Office 2010 suite of applications, and since ported to Windows 7 in basic applications, from Wordpad to Paint. This was to open up the functionality to touch users, but will be capitalised upon further in Windows 8, as seen in recent builds leaked to the web. Seen already in Windows Explorer, it will be key to replacing the 'old' interface that Windows has had up until now.

ARM processor 'tablet support'

Windows 8 will have ARM support, a low-power processor which allows devices to run longer on batteries. As seen during an Internet Explorer 10 preview, one of the devices was running an ARM processor, and it is expected to launch with full ARM support making tablets a more likely option.

Genuine center

This new center will control and organise your Windows licences. Seen in the most recent builds of Windows 8, the Genuine Center will allow you to manage the license of Windows on your computer, and perhaps even control other Microsoft products, like Office too. If you have a computer not activated or without a product key, you will not only be able to buy one straight from your desktop, but also purchase a key for another machine, too.

Push notifications

Part of Microsoft's tablet and mobile device strategy, it appears push notifications will allow content to be displayed on screen similar to that of Windows Phone 7. Little is known about this functionality as of yet, however.

Improved disk cleanup

In Windows 8, there will be an overhaul of the disk cleanup facility, designed to clear the junk out of your operating system, like temporary files and the Recycle Bin. More options are given, and better categorising of file types corresponding to their size.

'Modern Reader' PDF support

'Modern Reader' is the name of the PDF reading application designed and built using AppX technology, which bridge between the mobile and the desktop workspace gap. According to one, as the application packages are very similar to phone application packages, making applications easier to port across from the desktop to the mobile, including tablets.

Internet Explorer 10

There is all but no doubt that Windows 8 will come with a pre-installed version of Internet Explorer, probably IE10, but may not be set to 'as default' depending on your user location. It is not unlike Microsoft to bundle in a beta of Internet Explorer with a beta of Windows, and including the browser with the operating system seems entirely "logical".

Internet Explorer 'Immersive'

A slimmed down version of the browser, using a new user interface codenamed 'Immersive', will feel and look like the phone version, but will have all the rendering of the desktop version. Using a new platform for developing applications that scale up and down from the desktop to the phone and vice versa, it will allow many more applications to be scalable and adaptable to their environments.

SmartScreen file filter

Previously only seen in the Windows Live suite of products, SmartScreen filters out spam or bad links based on community responses. In Windows 8, however, an option has been seen to check files downloaded by a browser, not just Internet Explorer, to ensure that the download source is safe and verified. It simply adds an extra layer of security protection to the operating system.

Windows App Store

Likened to Apple's App Store for iOS and Mac devices, Microsoft is set to include its own application web store in the next version of Windows. Dubbed the Windows App Store, unsurprisingly, it has yet to turn up in a leaked build, though screenshots seem to confirm its existence.

Step-by-step install

Windows 8 from the word go should be simple to use, and the setup process appears to show exactly that. With easy run through steps to guide even the most novice of users through the daunting task of installing an operating system, the process should be a breeze. The 'Metro UI' of the Windows Phone 7 operating system is clear in the setup, too, with fonts and user experience looking clean and sharp.

ISO mounting

ISO images are files which contain the exact coding, files and folders of the contents on a CD or DVD. Windows 8 will include functionality, as see in more recent builds, to not only mount images to read and deal with, but also the functionality to burn them. This could negate many image burning applications out there on the market already.

Native wake on LAN

If a computer is turned off or hibernating and it has enabled the 'wake on LAN' feature, Windows 8 will be able to push a network request through to turn it back on again, to perform the functions that it needs to.

Webcam application

A new application seemingly based on the 'Metro UI' user experience, has appeared in early builds of Windows 8, allowing users to start and stop video capture, and capture images immediately and after a short delay.

Codename 'Redhawk'

'Redhawk' is the creation of a managed code execution environment, relating to or incorporating as part of the .NET Framework 5. However, whether this is a 'feature' or a platform remains to be seen, exactly. My ZDNet colleague Mary Jo Foley has more on the All About Microsoft column.

Streaming Manager

It has emerged that in a seemingly similar way to how Office 2010 is delivered to some customers, a Streaming Manager will be part of Windows 8 to allow other programs to be streamed to the desktop. It will allow applications to be run before they are fully downloaded, provided they are provisioned to do so. If a feature is needed, it will be downloaded as and when it is needed.

Pattern login

From another leaked video -- this one, though is not necessarily safe for work -- users will be able to login using an Android-like pattern match. This will presumably for those who are using tablets or slate devices and are lacking a keyboard. Another image has emerged of the Control Panel setting to administer the first pattern login, which you can find here.

Facial recognition login

In similar sync to the pattern login, those with a Kinect or a webcam may be able to login through facial recognition, some are reporting. A setting was detected in one of the latest builds of Windows 8's application libraries which suggests that when Windows 8 detects a particular user has sat down at the computer, their face alone will be enough proof to allow the desktop to open up with all their user files and settings. Who needs a password nowadays, anyway?

(Updated) History Vault

This feature could be seen as the competing 'product' to the Time Machine in Mac OS X. Acting as a backup facility, it will replace the Backup and Restore feature in Windows 7, while giving users the option to create regular, automatic backups. Users will be able to restore individual files from way back into the past, while offering a 'new user interface' similar to that of the Time Machine.

(Updated) Cloud-based roaming profiles

Roaming profiles have yet been semi-mythical, but have been uncovered in the latest build. Your personalisation settings (Aero and colour settings) all the way through to language settings and wireless credentials will be stored in the cloud, or cloud-accessible, so you can take your 'computer' on the go with you. Linked accounts will be accessible through Windows Live, but can be turned off if you are on a bandwidth-restricted network. Whether files and folders will be synced also, should be subject to extreme caution, however.

(New) Black Screen of Death

In Metro UI style, the 'traditional' "Blue Screen of Death" will be replaced by a perhaps more 'friendly' "Black Screen of Death". The error detail will be given still for troubleshooting purposes, but will already occur when the computer has effectively shut down.

(New) 'Metro UI style' settings

More Metro UI integration in Windows 8, in which we are not entirely sure in what capacity, exactly, but it is most likely to be mostly accessible and available for tablet users of Windows 8. Bridging the gap between the mobile and the desktop, these settings will emulate many of those already seen in previous versions of Windows, but in a modern, mobile style.

(New) Out-of-box experience (post-setup)

The 'out-of-box experience' will be one of the first things you see on your new Windows 8 installation. From the looks of it, it will also follow a similar feel to the rest of the Metro UI settings.

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