Posey's Tips & Tricks

Windows 8 -- What Microsoft Got Right

Brien points to Windows 8's metered Internet settings and others as very useful touches Microsoft included in its latest OS.

For the past three weeks I have been on a cruise ship sailing around South America and Central America. Normally when I cruise, I leave my laptop at home so that I can spend some good quality time with my wife without the distractions of E-mail, writing, and things like that. This time around however, I had to make an exception. I am in the process of writing two books, both of which are due at the end of the year. The only way to make sure that I made my deadlines was to take along my laptop and spend the sea days writing.

Right about now I'm sure that some of you are wondering what any of this has to do with Windows 8. As it turned out though, the experience of working on a cruise ship led me to re-discover a great Windows 8 feature that I had completely forgotten about.

Using the Internet on a cruise ship isn't quite the experience that it is elsewhere. Connectivity tends to be very slow (and in this case unstable) and the cruise line charged seventy five cents a minute for connectivity. Needless to say I wanted to sign on, get what I needed, and sign off as quickly as possible.

The problem is that Microsoft designed Windows 8 under the assumption that high speed Internet connectivity would almost always be available. Remember all those colorful live tiles on the Start screen? Many of those tiles pull information from the Internet. As soon as I connect my laptop for example, the live times and their underlying apps start downloading things like the weather report, Facebook updates, and news headlines. Of course this is just one example of how Windows 8 consumes Internet bandwidth even when you aren't really doing anything. There are plenty of other operating system components that also use the Internet.

Needless to say, background Internet usage isn't a good thing when you are using a slow, unstable, and expensive connection such as the ones available on ships.  Thankfully, Microsoft lets you designate a network interface as a metered connection.

Designating a connection as a metered connection prevents Windows from using it for background tasks such as updates or for displaying live tile data. In other words, when you designate a connection as being metered, Windows makes more efficient use of the connection than it otherwise would. You can set a connection as metered by right clicking on the connection (on the list of networks) and choosing the Set as Metered Connection command from the shortcut menu.

The metered connection ended up working out really well for me, but it got me thinking. Windows 8 has received a lot of negative attention due to Microsoft's decision to redo the user interface. Although I'm not personally a huge fan of Windows 8's awkward transition from the standard Windows desktop to the Metro interface, I do think that there are plenty of things that Microsoft got right (such as offering metered connections).

For one thing, the operating system finally includes an Airplane Mode setting, similar to what you would find on a smart phone. This makes it a lot easier to turn off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc. if you plan on using your laptop in the air. In case you are wondering, the Airplane Mode slide bar exists on the list of available networks.

One of my favorite things about Windows 8 is the new File Explorer, which has replaced Windows Explorer.  Microsoft has finally brought back the up button, which takes you to a higher level in the hierarchy. This button existed in Windows XP, but not in Vista or Windows 7.

File Explorer also contains a ribbon interface. The ribbon offers options that are actually useful. For example, you can use ribbon icons to burn files to a DVD or to print a file.

You can even use the ribbon to configure File Explorer to take on an Outlook like appearance. For example my computer is configured so that the left side of the window displays the folder structure, the center portion contains the files within the current folder, and the right portion of the screen displays metadata for the currently selected file. There is also an option to use the right side of the screen to preview the selected file as an alternative.

I will be the first to admit that Windows 8 isn't perfect. I'm sure that I could write a good sized article about the things that I don't like. Even so, there are plenty of Windows 8 features that I really do like (far more than I have space to discuss here). Overall I think that Windows 8 is a good operating system with a solid feature set.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a seven time Microsoft MVP with over two decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written many thousands of articles and written or contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. When He isn't busy writing, Brien Posey enjoys exotic travel, scuba diving, and racing his Cigarette boat. You can visit his personal Web site at: www.brienposey.com.

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Reader Comments:

Sat, Jan 26, 2013 Jon A Driftwood, TX

I would hardly call it a feature / improvement that Windows 8 offers metered setting for your internet connection, when you wouldn't need that in the first place, if it weren't for all the (usually) always-on, bandwidth hungry Windows 8 live apps in the first place. As for File Explorer vs. Windows Explorer, the elimination of the "up" button in Vista / 7 was no loss. You can easily move up one level in the directory by clicking Alt+Up Arrow, or simply click on the level you want to navigate to in the address panel at the top of the Windows Explorer window.

Sat, Dec 22, 2012 Moshe Chertoff Shomrat, Israel

The author addressed many of my non-scientific concerns. I'm about to buy a new laptop and am sitting on the divide btwn W7 & W8. I'm into lots of the new directions of computing/devicing, but do use some of the more professional applications as a Technical Communicator. But for now, I'm looking for a replacement for my old PC that my family will use at home. So, although I'm attracted to the W8 interface and philosophy, I'm worried that my less techy family members won't enjoy the tiles without a touchscreen. They just learned W7 and will need to make another transition. Therefore, what the author lacked (for me) was the soon-to-be-outdated review of working with W8 without a touchscreen.

Sat, Dec 15, 2012 AJ

If people like Windows 8 be my guest. I use a computing machine for serious scientific work that includes heavy graphics. My workstation cost over 12K, I use 3 monitors, and have at any given time 15-20 windows open. You get the drill. The average windows user doesn't need even an i3 processor much less 32 GB of ram. Microsoft thinks were all loopy for apps. Why should I have to install classic shell just to get what should be there. There are flaws, serious design flaws that will not go away unless Microsoft and the superficial tech media acknowledgment them. I don't have to complain. I can afford a Mac Pro and when my hardware is ready for upgrade I'll go that direction if Microsoft doesn't give me what I want. Doesn't matter to me how many years I have used Windows, it is my work not the operating system that matters. Get my drift on that. The new mac mini and iMac would be very good in an office setting. A bit more expensive but quality that will last for years.

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