Windows 8 features that you should know about
I've recently purchased a Windows 8 tablet and upgraded my development machine to Windows 8. I'm absolutely thrilled with this operating system. I'm still getting used to the tablet paradigm which is to be expected. The tablet goes from power button to "start screen" in 14 seconds! I primarily use the desktop mode on my development machine and the speed of the operating system is incredible. I upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 8 and the difference in speed is as if I'm using a different machine!
It's well known by now that the new OS starts in "Tile Mode" and that there is now a Windows App store. in this post, I'd like to cover some of the lesser known aspects of the new operating system that I believe will be useful to IT professionals.
Advancements in security
UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface)
The UEFI technology allows the implementation of security policies in your system's firmware. Windows 8 utilizes UEFI by way of the secure boot protocol to verify the authenticity of your low level system components at boot time pre-OS. Malware like Rootkits will attack the boot loading process and infect critical operating system files which can then bring havock to your system and can be very difficult to identify and remove. If enabled, Secure boot will facilitate the validation of digital signatures of the OS components responsible for booting the system. If a digital signature or key is incorrect, this indicates that it has been tampered with at which time the "Recovery Environment" will load and attempt to resolve the discovered issues. Secure boot is a protocol of UEFI. The UEFI technology is staged to replace the BIOS found in PC's today. This will allow firmware developers more flexibility in designing hardware. One of the key changes will be the replacement of the IRQ based CPU interrupt mechanism found in today's BIOS for an event driven architecture for modern firmware. For more information regarding UEFI, Secure boo, and the Windows 8 secured boot architecture, visit the following msdn blog article by Steven Sinofsky here .
The SmartScreen technology utilizes a reputation based system for website URLs as well as file downloads. When you visit a webpage in IE, the URL will be checked against the SmartScreen database. If the URL has been marked as malicious then the browser will display a warning to the user.
The download manager will warn you of any file downloads that have been marked as unsafe by previous user's. The SmartScreen filter is a very efficient method of protecting against phishing attacks and malware. The feature can be enabled or disabled. User's can contribute to the accuracy of the SmartScreen database by providing feedback on URL's and file downloads. You can read about the SmartScreen feature at the following Microsoft website.
System exploit mitigation improvements
Windows 8 has many improvements in the area of exploit mitigation. Windows Vista introduced Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR) which is a technique that randomly moves the location of executing code and data in memory. This was an attempt at mitigating the infamous buffer overrun exploit. Malicious hackers have found ways to beat ASLR and Windows 8 has improved the process by speeding up the randomization mechanism. There are other improvements such as changes to the Windows kernel and the memory heap which include integrity checks and approaches similar to ASLR. Internet Explorer 10 has the Enhanced Protected Mode sandbox as well as ASLR support by way of a ForceASLR option that will randomize all loaded modules.
Improved Task manager
One of my favorite additions to Windows 8 is the new and improved Task Manager. If you've used Sysinternals ProcessExplorer then the new interface may look familiar to you. It provides very clear and concise displays for system resource consumption. Here are a couple of screen shots.
I'd recommend Windows 8 to anyone. And at $39 for an upgrade to Windows 8 Pro, how can you not want to upgrade? Buy the upgrade here