A Guide to Making the Most of Windows 8

By Edward Jones

Windows 8 is one of the more controversial operating systems in Microsoft’s recent history. In this brief guide, we identify how to access and use some of the core features, while side-stepping potential pitfalls and making the most of Windows 8.

This article is useful for Windows XP users considering migration due to Microsoft’s end of support on April 8, 2014 (with the exception of anti-malware updates); new users to Windows 8 and IT professionals looking utilize the system to its full potential.

Security in Windows 8

Cyber-crime affects more than a million victims each day, presenting a growing concern for the online community, but Windows 8 has some unique features that can protect your system.

One is a secure boot, which protects against malware. It features a Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI), which checks the signature of the OS loader when the machine starts. If the computer is infected, the UEFI chip can identify and prevent a malware loader from starting up, thus maintaining the systems integrity.

The other is a trusted boot. Even without security features activated, if your system is compromised by malware, upon reboot, Windows 8 will detect that it has been compromised and will go to the recovery environment, where it repairs itself.

Be sure to download the most up-to-date security to ensure that you are covered for the latest malware attacks.

Microsoft’s picture-gesture authentication system isn’t as secure, according to some security researchers. Whether creating your own password or implementing and enforcing password policy in the workplace, don’t use these picture passwords.

Data Backup and File Synchronization

The Windows 8 operating system works on multiple devices in combination with cloud technology and file synchronization, so that accessing your personal files has never been easier. Following are some key features to secure your data and keep it mobile.

The Windows to Go feature is an asset for IT managers who use the enterprise version of the new operating system. Windows to Go is a bootable and fully manageable version of Windows 8 that’s on a USB drive. The pocket-sized solution allows you to facilitate working from home; utilize BYOD; familiarize your team with the new OS before upgrading their PCs; and implement a quick disaster recovery solution if a user’s primary device fails.

It’s easy to implement. Simply plug the USB into a compatible computer and boot a personalized version of Windows 8 or 8.1. More information about Windows to Go is on the TechNet site.

This is a great intermediary solution while migrating from XP. Be aware that there are security risks associated with Windows to Go: Like any USB device, it is susceptible to loss or theft. So ensure that you have strong passwords in place and educate users on the dangers of data theft if the device is compromised.

File History

You can save yourself countless hours spent searching for and recovering files lost by colleagues by using the file history in Windows 8, which enables you to create an automated and secure back-up function. The feature works by backing up files, folders, contacts and favorites to a selected folder, which can be located on an external device or on the company’s server. It also creates historical versions of documents, allowing you to roll back to an earlier date in the event of accidental changes.

File history can be activated using the following steps:

1. Hover your mouse on the bottom left of the desktop and right-click.

2. Navigate to “System Security,” select “File History” and select a drive (external device or a network folder).

3. Click “Turn On.”

You can explore “Advanced Settings” to control how often the drive is replicated, but you must also consider the information security risks of this feature. I advise backing up to the server rather than to an external device, which could potentially be lost.

So there you have it: a brief tour of Windows 8 and some guidance on how to use its core features. Despite its critics, I’m a fan of the new system with its improved security features and design. You will make up your own mind as you come to grips with this operating system.

Edward Jones works at Firebrand Training overseeing community engagement. He has experience with a range of Microsoft technologies and operating systems, and writes about technology for a variety of blogs and technical publications.