What Does the Control Panel Reveal About Windows 8?

When you read about Windows 8, you keep hearing about the new Metro interface and how good or bad it is (depending on who wrote the article) or about the missing Start Menu and the chaos it will bring. But what about the Desktop experience? Are there any important & positive changes coming with Windows 8? I made a simple comparison of the Control Panel in Windows 8 Release Preview and Windows 7, that revealed quite a few things you should be excited about. As it turns out, Windows 8 is not only about touch and the Metro interface...

System and Security - The Biggest Number of Changes

This section of the Control Panel reveals a big number of changes. And most of them are important. First, the icon of the Windows Update feature has been changed. This is very minor. Only a matter of esthetics.

Second, there are three new sections, each highlighting important new features:

  • File History - a new feature that allows users to backup and store different versions of the files, folders and libraries they select for backup. I tested the tool for a while and I love it so far. It is very easy to setup and use. Plus, it is able to backup your data both on external drives and network locations.
  • Storage Spaces - this feature groups physical disks together into pools, and pools are then carved up into spaces. Those spaces are formatted with a regular filesystem and are used just like regular disks. For example, you can group together two hard disks and use them as one disk and one partition, with all their total space added together.
  • Add features to Windows 8 - Allows for a very easy expansion of Windows 8. With this tool you can add Windows Media Center to Windows 8 or upgrade to a different version of Windows 8. This was possible also with Windows 7. It’s just that, in Windows 8, the process is easier.

If you look at the Windows 7 Control Panel you notice that, in Windows 8 there is no Backup and Restore tool anymore. That’s because it has been replaced with File History. Personally, I consider this new tool to be easier to use and more useful.

Once you open Administrative Tools, you notice that there are a lot more shortcuts in Windows 8.

It’s not that Windows 8 offers more administrative tools. This time, they are all included in this section and it is easier to find tools like the Defragmenter or Disk Cleanup than it was in Windows 7. A welcome change indeed.

Hardware and Sound - One New Feature

The Hardware and Sound panel shows a new entry versus Windows 7: Location Settings.

This allows you to enable other user accounts, except the administrator, to turn on or off their location settings for apps providing services based on location. You can also set whether you allow Windows 8 to periodically send your GPS and location information to Microsoft, when using location-aware apps.

While many users will be wary of having yet another company receive data about their location, the fact that Windows 8 allows for location-aware apps and services is a good step forward.

User Accounts and Family Safety - Better Tools Available

I was surprised to see a very important change in the User Accounts and Family Safety section of the Control Panel, in Windows 8. The basic Parental Controls from Windows 7 are gone.

The have been replaced with Family Safety which is an improved version of Windows Live Family Safety. I have used the new tools and I’m impressed with their features. They offer a lot more control than Parental Controls in Windows 7.

Another important change is that Microsoft’s defunct Windows CardSpace has been removed from Windows 8.

Personally I never fully understood this feature and I doubt it was really used by Windows 7 users. It should not be missed by anybody.

Appearance and Personalization - Interesting Surprise

Looking at the Appearance and Personalization section, revealed an interesting surprise: apparently Desktop Gadgets still exist in Windows 8, even though they were discontinued because of Windows 8 and the new Metro interface and Metro-style apps.

I guess the only reason they are still included in Windows 8 is compatibility. Some apps, like security suites, install gadgets on the Desktop and Microsoft wants them to continue to function without issues.

Last but not least, the Taskbar and Start Menu section has been renamed to Taskbar. This reflects the fact that there is no Start Menu left to configure in Windows 8. It has been replaced by the Start Screen.

Clock, Language, and Region - An Important Change

The Clock, Language, and Region section of the Control Panel reveals an important change in Windows 8: there is a new section just for changing the Language.

In Windows 7, users had a hard time changing the display language used, especially if they did not purchase the Ultimate version. Windows 8 will make it easy for all users, of any version, to install new display languages. You will no longer have to hack the operating system to get this done.

A very welcome change indeed.

Conclusion - Expect Positive Changes from Windows 8

This simple comparison revealed a number of important changes made to the Desktop experience in Windows 8. While there aren’t many new things coming for the Desktop, every single change is positive. It goes to show that Windows 8 can be a good step forward also for Desktop users, not just for touch.