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.
Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and 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 health care 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. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.