Even though it does not fulfill all the expectations that preceded it, techies have been eagerly waiting to embrace Windows 8 with open arms. Yes, there are criticisms - and there will be glitches - but the operating system still represents something entirely new from Microsoft, which has relied on the same core Windows experience for years. Windows 8 is considered a sea change in the PC world, and most experts agree that there may just be room in the world for an operating system that's equally at home on a tablet as on a PC. It all rolls out on October 26th. Here we'll take a look at some of the key advancements it provides.

Key Features and Advancements

Windows 8 is coming with a lot of interesting new features. Here are some details on the ones that are grabbing the most attention.

Internet Explorer 10
IE 10 is the new Web browser designed for the new version of Windows. It supports CSS 3-D transform, SVG filter effects, local storage with indexed database and HTML5 history, and many more advanced features. In addition, the browser's response is comparable to the speed of execution of apps on a PC. IE 10 has undergone rounds of user acceptance testing, but it probably still has a long way to go when it comes to its usability.

The "Metro" Design
With the design formerly known as Metro (Microsoft withdrew the name in August 2012 following a trademark dispute) Microsoft has extensively redesigned its user interface, making it more suitable for touch screen, mouse and keyboard applications. Plus, the stalwart old Windows start menu has been replaced with a start screen with live application titles. The design also supports multitasking by allowing apps to be snapped to the sides of screen.

Enhanced Copy/Delete/Conflict Resolution Experience
For years, Windows has been struggling to calculate - and accurately convey - how long copy and delete operations would take. Users complained that dialog boxes would haphazardly tell them there were 20 seconds remaining in the operation, only to see the numbers switch to 12 minutes. The latest version of Windows has the ability to do show multiple copies in one dialog box, instead of filling the screen with multiple dialog boxes for each application. With the new dialog box, the user can pause, resume or halt a copy operation in progress. And the program's estimation of how long it will all take is more accurate as well.

Windows Store
Windows 8 includes a built-in distribution platform that is similar to Apple's App Store and Google Play. It allows users to contribute, distribute and purchase various utility applications that are compatible with the Windows Phone. The Windows store supports WinRT based applications for consumer-oriented versions of Windows 8. However, there is a very limited number of applications available right now.

File Explorer
The Windows 8 File Explorer includes a ribbon interface, which is meant to enhance user commands depending on the files they select. The interface brings forward the most frequently used commands, which are specific to a particular user, providing fast and easy access.

Video Subsystem
WDDM 1.2 and DirectX Graphics Infrastructure (DXGI) 1.2 were previewed and were evaluated on performance criteria at the Windows Build conference. Windows 8 is simply packed with preemptive multitasking, providing finer granularity, a reduced memory footprint, better resource sharing, fast detection of and recover, and 16-bit color surface formats. WDDM drivers enable new areas of functionality that were not uniformly provided by earlier display driver models. These include:
  • Virtualized video memory
  • Scheduling
  • Cross-process sharing of direct 3-D surfaces

Hyper-V is a native hypervisor meant for hardware visualization. Initially, it was only offered in server mode, but Windows 8 will be introducing client versions of the technology. The configuration requirements to support Hyper-V are a 64-bit processor, 64-bit Windows and 4 GB of RAM. It has a feature that supports memory management known as second-level address translation (SLAT).

Refresh and Reset
Windows 8 has a provision for smooth restoration rather than going for a reinstallation. Refresh keeps all the settings and files specific to a user profile intact only deletes the installed applications and reverts changes made in Windows system files.

Windows to Go
Windows to Go is an enterprise feature that allows users to create a bootable USB Flash drive, also referred to as a Live USB, with Windows 8 installed on it, including the user's programs and other settings files.

Windows 8 in Phones and Tablets

Nokia pioneered the use of the Windows OS in its phones. Now Samsung, Motorola, Huawei and others are also joining the league.

Microsoft's partnership with Nokia is key, as is the growth of the Windows Phone marketplace and the number of apps available there. All Windows Phone 7 apps will run on Windows Phone 8 handsets. In the future, developers will have to choose whether to make an app that only uses Windows Phone 7 features and is also compatible with Windows 8, or one that uses Windows Phone 8 and is compatible only with the new system.

Windows Phone gets other Windows security features like disk encryption and secure boot, which should appeal to businesses.

Wild Card: Technical Details and Hardware Support

Windows 8 will support System on a Chip (SoC) architectures, including ARM-based systems. On the x86 architecture, Intel Corporation and AMD continue their work on low-power SoC designs that support Windows. And while most Windows 8 tablets will run a version of the OS called Windows 8, there will also be Windows 8 Pro. ARM devices will come with Windows 8 pre-installed (you won't be able to buy it separately). This version of the OS will be referred to as Windows RT.

Time for a Switch?

Windows 8 isn't free of shortcomings. It has less support for apps than competitors like iOS, and the Windows Store lacks a lot of the content mobile users in particular have come to expect. Plus, the new-fangled design and absence of a Start bar - precisely what makes Windows 8 unique - is also expected to be an annoyance for users who are comfortable with previous Windows editions. Overall, Windows 8 represents a bigger shift than any previous version since Windows 95. For most users, it won't be an easy switch. But change is coming to operating systems, and it's just a matter of time before users will be forced to learn the ropes. (Read more of our coverage of Windows 8 here.)