The Most Essential Features of Windows 8

If the rumors are correct, Windows 8 will arrive in time for the holidays next year — and when it does we’ll be looking at a whole new way of working with our computers. Some are calling Windows 8 the most revolutionary PC operating system yet, and if it catches on, we’ll probably never look back.

Here are the five most interesting things you need to know about Windows 8 — so far, anyway

1. The Interface Is Everything. Microsoft has unapologetically looked to smartphones and tablets for its newest UI, and the results are at first jarring. The default interface is called “Metro,” and the row of rectangular icons in lieu of the usual menu may think you’ve stepped into your Android handset. When locked, your computer will show you how many email messages you’ve received, what calendar events are coming up, and, of course, the time and date. Don’t like Metro? The old Win7 interface is still there behind the scenes as a fallback.

2. Built for Touch. Will your computer be touch-enabled in 2012? If not, you’ll be missing out. Loaded with support for taps, swipes, and multi-fingered gestures, shortcuts will abound for those working on a tablet or a touch-enabled display. Fortunately, multitouch touchpads are becoming commonplace too, so even if you can’t draw on the screen with your finger, you can get in on some of the action through your laptop’s regular “mousing” area. There’s even an on-screen thumb-centric keyboard option.

3. Head in the Cloud. Microsoft is integrating its SkyDrive online storage system into Windows 8, but that’s just the beginning of the cloud being used here. Settings and preferences will follow you online to multiple Win8 devices, and apps will be sold online through the Windows Store.

4. Fast, Fast Boot. Microsoft has been promising radically reduced boot times for years, and with Windows 8 it just might happen. Thanks to advances in the “sleep” system, the typical Win8 machine will be up and running in 20 seconds or less.

5. Share and Share Alike. Twitter and Facebook are built-in to Windows 8, and when you’re browsing the web or scanning photos, you’ll be able to share links and pictures directly and immediately through a couple of clicks. Er, taps.

Want to see it firsthand? The Windows 8 developer preview lets you play with all of this stuff now on your existing computer. Viva la revolution!

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