"ISO access is more and more useful with the slow disappearance of optical drives [and] the rapid increase in available hard drive space," says Jakobik. "I no longer need to carry my physical media with me; I can just have the images locally stored."
Verdict: This seemingly minor enhancement is a boon for IT staffers as well as people who use devices that lack optical drives.
Side-by-side apps on tablets
The Metro interface has one unique feature for future Windows 8 tablets: the ability to run two apps on the screen at the same time. Not even the market-leading Apple iPad 2 can run side-by-side apps.
"This could address a drawback of iOS," says Silver. "Windows (and Mac OS, of course) allows multiple windows on the screen at once. iOS only allows one, so you can't watch a video and surf the Web. Metro allows two applications to be seen at once, though Microsoft may need to rethink screen limitations."
Verdict: A useful feature for tablet users, but it's quite possible that competing Android tablets and/or the iPad will also support side-by-side apps by the time Windows 8 is released this fall.
ARM processor support
Windows has traditionally run on x86-based processors from Intel and AMD. If you buy, say, a ViewSonic or Asus tablet that runs Windows today, it will probably use an Intel processor. But Apple's iPad and most Android tablets run on ARM (Advanced RISC Machine) processors, which are designed for fast processing and long battery life on mobile devices.
With the Metro UI's finger-touch control and swipe gestures, Windows 8 has clearly been built with tablets in mind. It's not surprising, then, that the new OS operates on ARM as well as x86 processors.
Rob Enderle, the principal analyst at Enderle Group, says ARM support is the most important feature in Windows 8. It means a new market for Microsoft, consisting of ultra-thin tablets with long-lasting batteries.
Silver agrees that ARM processor support is good news if it means tablets get cheaper and batteries last longer. However, he doubts that legacy Windows applications will run on these new tablets -- a charge that Intel has brought against ARM-based tablets -- which may limit their usefulness for businesses. For its part, Microsoft called Intel's statements "factually inaccurate and unfortunately misleading," but Microsoft has so far declined to provide details about what software will and won't run on the devices.
Verdict: ARM tablets that run Windows will benefit consumers, but businesses that need to run legacy software may need to stick with x86-based devices.
Windows Live SkyDrive integration
Wait, is SkyDrive still around? Most of us were too busy using Dropbox to notice. But Microsoft's free cloud storage service just got a little more interesting: The company has said that SkyDrive will be integrated directly into Windows 8. That means when you use the Metro interface to browse photos, you can quickly view the images you have stored on SkyDrive without starting a browser.
"SkyDrive is not new, but the connection to Windows is," says Silver. "Windows 8 can have your settings follow you from the cloud."
Both Silver and King noted that SkyDrive is designed for consumers rather than businesses. Microsoft's more mature cloud offering, called Windows Azure, has the robust security features that companies require.
Verdict: Offering slick integration between phones, tablets and computers, the enhanced SkyDrive is a plus for home users.