The Windows Features You’re Actually Looking Forward To

"What's that?" you say. "You know what I'm looking forward to?" Yes. Yes I do. I am many things, but most of them can be lumped into the over-arching group of "geek."

And chances are pretty good that if you're reading about Windows 8 before the beta, you're a geek to. So while shorter boot times, Metro UI, and an updated Windows Explorer certainly features you may be looking forward to, let's look at the real reasons we should care about Windows 8.

Hyper-V

Virtualization isn't new. Be it by using Microsoft's Virtual PC (either pre- or post- Windows 7), VMWare's Workstation/Player, or Oracle's Virtual Box, many geeks found the virtues of virtualization many years ago. But the previously mentioned virtualization solutions are primarily single-instance solutions. Yes, you can run multiple virtual machines (VMs) at the same time, but the software lacks the flexibility and robutness IT pros are used to with enterprise-level virtualization solutions like VMWare's ESXi and Microsoft's Hyper-V.

Wait, what? Hyper-V is an enterprise-level virtualization solution? Yup! The Hyper-V solution coming in Windows 8 is the same Hyper-V solution in Windows Server (2008, 2008 R2, and the upcoming 8). Dynamic resource management, hot-swappable storage (virtual hard drives and pass-through disks), "Live Storage Move", and many other enterprise-class features are at your disposal, making it possible to run (and be stable) multiple VMs at the same time.

Naturally, your hardware will need to be up to snuff to use Hyper-V, but the requirements are easy to hit. You'll need an 64bit install of Windows with 4GB RAM. With that, you can run three or four VMs simultaneously.

Storage Spaces

RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) is a fantastic technology. Its fault-tolerant capabilities and speed have made it a staple in not only IT pro environments, but also among hardcore enthusiasts. But RAID reliability and speed come at a higher price than traditional storage solutions, and that cost barrier prevents most enthusiasts and average users from ever using the technology. But that's about to change, to some degree.

One of Windows 8's new features is a technology called Storage Spaces; it's essentially software RAID. It organizes physical disks (attached by USB, SATA, or SAS) into pools of storage, and pools can be expanded by simply adding more physical drives to the system. These pools can be carved into smaller chunks of virtualized storage called spaces. Spaces behave like physical disks, but they're fault tolerant. So, if you lose a physical drive to some kind of mechanical failure, you don't lose your data (unless, of course, you lose enough drives that make data reclamation impossible).

Fault tolerance is achieved by one of two approaches:

  • Mirroring. Storage Spaces keeps a copy of every piece of data on multiple disks. If one physical disk fails, your data is still intact because another copy exists. This approach uses more of your available disk space because of the duplication.
  • Parity. Storage Spaces stores redundancy information–allowing data to be reconstructed if a physical disk fails. This approach is more efficient, as far as capacity is concerned (the data isn't duplicated), but there is the cost of increased disk usage.

Like Hyper-V, Storage Spaces is only as good as your hardware. Fault tolerance (Microsoft uses the word resilience) is achieved with multiple hard disk drives (HDDs); so naturally the fault tolerance benefit of Storage Spaces is lost on systems with only one HDD.


Refresh And Reset

The "rotting" of Windows has been an issue. That over time, Windows seems to slow down to a crawl, and the only way to get it back up and running was to either reset or refresh the computer. Resetting involves backing up your data, formatting the hard drive, and reinstalling Windows. Refreshing isn't as involved, but it still requires the reinstallation of Windows and applications. While the "rotting" issue slightly exists for Vista and 7, the issue still exists, and fixing the issue is something beyond a typical user's skill set.

Enter Windows 8 and its Refresh and Reset features. These new features are designed to refresh or reset your computer with just a few mouse clicks; so you can get the process started through the Control Panel, walk away, and come back to a refreshed or reset computer. You don't have to find your Windows installation CD, enter the Recovery Console, or go through the Windows installation process–just a few clicks, a little bit of time, and you're done.

As a bonus, the Refresh and Reset features are also available via the new Windows 8 boot loader. So if your PC won't boot into Windows, you can run either feature via the Windows Recovery Environment (Windows RE).


And More

There are lots of new features coming with the new operating system–a new file system (ReFS), new UI, new development paradigms, and the list keeps going.

But thankfully we don't have long to experience them. Microsoft announced the Consumer Preview (ie: public beta) launches on February 29th, and we'll get to experience many and more of these features first hand. I'm looking forward to it, and I know you are, too!


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