Design simplicity is the key for Windows 8, and Microsoft recently discussed on its blog the streamlining of yet another popular Windows feature: Task Manager. The new Task Manager echoes the design simplicity that Microsoft showed off earlier with the new copy-file dialog box.
Microsoft says three goals guided development of the new Task Manager, which is intended to appeal to nontechies and power users alike. The company says it wants to create a Task Manager that is optimized for common tasks (such as killing apps and processes) and has a modern and functional interface, without eliminating power users' favorite functions.
For most users, that means Windows 8 won't inundate you with a long list of unfriendly-looking processes, as the Task Managers in Vista and Windows 7 do. Instead, the new OS will show a simplified list of programs that you can expand if you need to go beyond simply killing an app.
A Simpler Task Manager
After studying user habits in Windows 7, Microsoft found that 85 percent of all Task Manager usage centers on the Applications and Processes tabs. This discovery isn't especially surprising, since most people use the Task Manager to close out an application or process that isn't responding.
So instead of seeing a long list of information you don't need, all you'll see when you open the Windows 8 Task Manager for the first time is a simple list of applications. No tabs, no menu bar, no statistics--just applications. If a program is having a problem, a 'Not responding' note will appear next to the application name. This approach is similar to Apple's interface for killing applications in OS X.
Microsoft has simplified the basic Task Manager so much that you won't even get a double prompt asking whether you're certain you want to kill a process. If you click the 'End Task' button in Windows 8, the operating system will kill the process and tell the program to shut down. Microsoft warns you to be careful with the new Task Manager, though, because Windows 8 won't prompt you to save your work before shutting something down.
Power users looking for more information on what's going on in their system can still get that by clicking the 'More details' button. This action will open a more familiar tabbed view for the Task Manager, but Microsoft has made some important tweaks to this view as well.
First, all processes are grouped by type, such as all those for a certain application, all background processes, or all operating system processes. As with other Windows groupings, you can click on the left side of each app or process to expand the list and drill deeper into what your computer is running. This arrangement will let you see, for example, how many Outlook windows are open, or how many processes a specific service is running in the background.
Microsoft also highlights--right at the top of the detail view--percentages for CPU, memory, disk, and network usage. The top indicator for each category shows your overall usage, and then breaks it down by groups.
A heat map also helps you identify which applications are sucking up system resources. The more CPU or memory an application uses, for example, the darker its statistics appear in the detail view.
Process names are friendlier, appearing in plain language instead of cryptic terms such as "splwow64.exe." Did you know that name means "Printer driver host for applications"? I sure didn't, but I will in Windows 8.
And if the friendlier names don't help you understand why your printer driver host is causing problems, you can access a 'Search the Web' option when you right-click a process. Clicking the search option will open your default browser to a search-results page with information about the mystery process.
Microsoft has made some nice-looking improvements to the Task Manager, and simplified its view for those users who don't need a high level of detail. But here's another interesting change: In the process of simplifying the Task Manager, Microsoft is adding an extra tab in the detail view compared to Windows 7. How's that for simplification?