Windows 8 Task Manager An Impressive Update To Venerable Functionality

The Windows Task Manager has historically been a vital (if boring) workhorse in an OS not generally described with adjectives like "sexy." Windows 8 has set out to change that, and the preliminary information available suggests the new manager is a significant advancement over the old. Microsoft's research indicates that the most common actions performed in Task Manager both relate to ending programs/processes.

With that information in hand, the company has significantly changed the default behavior of the Task Manager, while overhauling the way advanced details are presented. The TM's default view is now entirely devoted to closing tasks.

Click on More Details, and a TM much closer to the classic version appears.

One of the improvements to the new default page is that applications are now gathered by type rather than by individual application instance. Sinofsky writes: "A big challenge with today’s Task Manager is that it is hard to know which processes correspond to an application (apps are generally safe to kill), which are Windows OS processes (killing some of these can cause a blue screen), and which are miscellaneous background processes that may need to be explored more deeply. The new Task Manager shows processes grouped by type, so it is easy to keep these separated while still providing an ungrouped view for situations where you need it."

The new TM can categorize threads depending on whether they're foreground or background processes and color codes column data to allow users to read pertinent information at a glance rather than trying to manually resort the information by column. Applications are now described by function rather than strictly by executable name (users can still choose to see actual executable names rather than relying on descriptions). If you've got 10 Microsoft Word documents open, all ten documents will be gathered and listed under "Microsoft Word" rather than showing up as separate processes.

If you've ever tried to troubleshoot a friend's system by having them read off the processes currently loaded in Task Manager, you know it's a frustrating, occasionally lengthy process of trial and error. One of the additional features of Windows 8's TM is a "Search the Web" option that's accessible from the process list. Some of Microsoft's proposed changes to Windows have been met with considerable skepticism, but the company's efforts to overhaul the Task Manager are intuitive and intelligent. The new color coding simplifies locating potential trouble spots, while the ability to search the web for additional information on an executable will significantly shorten the time it takes to make certain a system is only running what it should be.