Windows 8 News: Exciting News On Network Support, File Systems, and PC Repair

It's been awhile since we covered the announcements coming out of the Building Windows 8 blog and there have been a number of interesting new articles published. We've got three of the biggest discussed below:

New Network Management:

Windows 7 made connecting to a WiFi network easy, but managing a 3G connection can be more troublesome. As Billy Anders writes, "you needed to locate and install third-party device drivers, and in some cases software, before ever getting your first connection. If the drivers for your device and software from your mobile operator were not available locally, you had to find another connection type (perhaps Wi-Fi) to the Internet to search for software on the websites of the PC maker or mobile operator."

Windows 8 aims to change that. The OS will ship with a generalized broadband driver based on the Mobile Broadband Interface Mobile (MBIM) standard. MBIM isn't proprietary--it was developed by the USB-IF--and it supports both 3G and 4G, including LTE. As part of its expanded support for wireless radios, the OS also includes a comprehensive monitor/control screen where users can view information about connections and turn radios on and off.

Other features include a drastically shortened reconnect time, the ability to switch from carrier to carrier on the fly, and the option to monitor bandwidth usage across both WiFi and 3G. The OS can also be configured to prefer one type of connection over another to avoid overage charges, and to warn you when approaching a preset limit.

NTFS Evolved: Meet ReFS:

ReFS (Resilient File System) is the new storage system built into Windows 8, and it's designed to provide a number of features that guarantee data integrity as well as a highly visible change to how system storage is organized.

ReFS maintains data reliability through the use of checksums that are maintained independently from the data they're attached to. This allows the OS to detect all forms of data corruption. Because ReFS uses a new allocate-on-write strategy for updating file metadata rather than writing it directly, there's virtually no chance that a power loss will result in an unrecoverable corrupted file.

The major visible change is Windows 8's concept of Storage Spaces. Some of you may remember that Microsoft's Windows Home Server OS from several years ago had a feature called Drive Extender that allowed customers to expand the total storage pool available to the OS just by plugging in additional drives, without any need for formatting or letter assignments. Storage Spaces extends that concept and amps it up significantly.

Users can create a storage space using any type or configuration of storage from USB sticks to old IDE hard drives. Once a space is created, the data within it can be safeguarded RAID-style using mirroring, parity+mirroring, or both -- all within the same contiguous block of hard drives. The OS also supports thin provisioning, which means that the total space allocated to a given project can be larger than the amount of total storage available at any given point.

The one downside is that drives / devices added to the pool aren't bootable, though MS says its working on fix.

Data Restoration:

Finally, there's the question of data backup / restoration. The concept of an "overtop" or repair installation has existed since at least Windows 98, but there's never been a foolproof method of ensuring that the process will actually solve the problem. Microsoft added the concept of "Restore Points," years ago, but while these can resolve certain kinds of problems, it's far from a bulletproof solution.

Windows 8 splits OS repair into two categories -- Reset and Refresh. A reset is exactly what it sounds like -- the OS is restored to full factory defaults and all personal data/information is removed. A refresh involves the following steps:
  • Windows RE (Recovery Environment) scans the hard drive for your data, settings, and apps, and puts them aside
  • (on the same drive).
  • Windows RE installs a fresh copy of Windows.
  • Windows RE restores the data, settings, and apps it has set aside into the newly installed copy of Windows.
  • The PC restarts into the newly installed copy of Windows.
Microsoft is still deciding exactly which settings should be copied, given that certain issues may have been caused by problems in a users' saved settings.

According to internal benchmarks, it takes 8 minutes, 22 seconds to 'Refresh' a system and as little as 6 minutes to reset it if BitLocker is enabled (using BitLocker allows the system to wipe the drive by erasing encrypted metadata).

Windows, Reimagined:

The number of changes coming in the next version of Windows is staggering. Windows 8's non-x86 support and Metro UI have gotten a great deal of attention, but it's increasingly clear that Metro, while vital, is only one component of the new operating system.

We're still concerned about Microsoft's long-term plans for desktop users and the company's decision to require ARM devices to ship with a locked bootloader, but there are a lot of core improvements coming. It's clear that Microsoft sat down to rethink every aspect of system usage rather than simply slapping on a UI overhaul. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, this really might be the company's biggest launch since Windows 95.