New Windows 8 Features for Productive Admins
Not everyone is thrilled with the changes to the Windows operating system, but even the noisiest critics of Windows 8 have to admit Microsoft added a number of useful features to their latest OS. The software giant has integrated several tools to allow users more control over their system.
In this article, I’ll cover a few tricks and tweaks administrators can use to improve their experience with Windows 8 and streamline processes in the workplace; you’ll learn how to virtualize storage, enable dynamic file backup, schedule maintenance tasks, and access the new version of Advanced Boot Options.
File History works similarly to Time Machine on Mac OS X; the application doesn’t just create a backup of a file, but also creates a backup of the changes to that file. File History scans the file system each hour, storing copies of altered files to a secondary storage device, such as a USB or network drive. Users can then access several different versions of a file as needed — a godsend for most office workers, as it’s not uncommon for employees to accidentally overwrite critical information in documents or spreadsheets.
How to Enable File History
- Press Windows+Q. Click “Apps.” Type “control” into the search box and then click “Control Panel.”
- Scroll to the bottom of the menu and click “More Settings” to launch the Desktop Control Panel. Click “System and Security.”
- Click “File History.” Connect an external drive to the computer, if applicable, and then select “Change Drive” from the left pane.
- Select the external drive from the options or click “Add Network Location.” Select the network share and then click “OK.”
- Click “Turn On” to enable File History on the storage device.
How to Restore a File
- Press Windows+E to open Windows Explorer. Select “History” from the ribbon.
- Browse to the appropriate folder. Click the back button to see previous versions of the folder contents.
- Select a file to recover and then click the blue orb to restore the file.
Storage Spaces enables users to combine together physical disks into a single storage pool. Associated disks can use either a USB, SATA or Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) interface.
To protect against data loss, administrators can configure Storage Spaces to mirror data on one or more disks. The application will create multiple copies of a file, writing the data to each individual disk in the pool. You can also create a parity pool that functions similarly to a mirrored space, with one major exception: parity pools, unlike mirrored spaces, create and store additional redundancy information so that any lost data can be automatically restructured from parity data.
Configuring Storage Spaces
- Press Windows+I. Enter “storage” into the search box. Click “Storage Spaces.”
- Click “Create a New Pool and Storage Space.” Select the drives to add to the new pool. All data stored to the disks will be formatted.
- Click “Create Pool.” Name the storage space and assign a letter to the pool.
- Select “Two-Way Mirror,” “Three-Way Mirror” or “Parity” from the Layout drop-down menu.
- Enter the maximum size for the space and then click “Create Storage Space.”
Automatic Maintenance installs software updates, defrags the hard disk, performs diagnostic tests, and runs an anti-virus scan on the system. Automatic Maintenance is scheduled to run at 3:00 AM every day; if the computer is in use during that time, Windows 8 will delay the application until the workstation is idle.
While the default schedule might be ideal for a number of businesses, some organizations do the bulk of their work in the early morning hours. To keep Automatic Maintenance from falling behind schedule, set the application to run during downtime.
- Click the flag icon in the system tray and then click “Open Action Center.” Expand “Maintenance.”
- Click “Change Maintenance Settings.” Choose when to run maintenance tasks from the drop-down menu.
- Select “Allow Scheduled Maintenance to Wake Up My Computer If It’s Plugged in at the Schedule Timed,” if desired. Click “OK.”
- You can also click “Start Maintenance” to perform unscheduled maintenance.
Advanced Boot Options
Pressing “F8″ at startup on earlier versions of Microsoft Windows would load Advanced Boot Options, from which you could boot into Safe Mode, enable boot logging, restore the OS to a previous configuration, and other useful options. This tradition goes as far back as Windows 95. But in Windows 8, “F8″ doesn’t do what it used to.
Windows 8 boots so fast that it doesn’t even have time to respond to keystrokes. This effect is even more pronounced on unified extensible firmware interface (UEFI) systems equipped with solid-state drives (SSDs); on some workstations, a user has less than 200 milliseconds to press “F8.” In other words, loading Advanced Boot Options can be hit-or-miss. In fact, booting into the BIOS is just as difficult on a Windows 8 PC.
Of course, Microsoft isn’t about to lock users out from the BIOS or from Safe Mode; the developers instead created a boot options menu that loads automatically when Windows detects something is not quite right with the startup operation. From the boot options menu, an administrator can access the BIOS, switch OSes, boot from another device, run troubleshooting tools, and, of course, enable Safe Mode (and all the other useful options that Advanced Boot Options provides).
You don’t have to sabotage your OS in order to load the boot options menu, however; you can access it from within Windows 8 any time you want. There are two different methods you can use to access the boot options menu:
Access Boot Options From PC Settings
- Press Windows+I to open Settings. Click “Change PC Settings.”
- Choose “General” from the menu. Select “Restart Now” from under the Advanced Startup section to go to the boot options menu.
Access Boot Options From Charms
- Press Windows+I and then click the “Power” button.
- Hold down “Shift” and select “Restart” from the menu to go to the boot options menu.
You can also boot in to Safe Mode from Msconfig.
- Press Windows+R to open Run and then enter “msconfig” into the dialog box. Click “OK.”
- Select “Boot,” then “Safe Boot.” Choose “Minimal” for standard Safe Mode, “Alternate Shell” for Safe Mode with Command Prompt or “Network” for Safe Mode with Networking.
- Click “OK.” Click “Restart” to boot to Safe Mode in Windows 8.