How Windows 8 can help your business be more productive

Windows 8 business productivity tools explained

There's also a whole tab devoted to sharing; although it's disappointing that this doesn't include third-party tools like WinZip or YouSendIt that you have installed, it certainly makes setting up access for file sharing on a network clearer.

Copying and backing up files in Windows 8

As well as copying files faster, Windows 8 makes file copying clearer. The estimated transfer times are more accurate and a histogram gives you a better idea of how the transfer is getting along; if you set several batches of files copying you can see each batch – and pause one to prioritise the files you need more quickly.

If you're connected to a Windows Server file share, you can still use the Previous Versions tool for getting back a file you've changed or accidentally deleted. And the familiar if little used Windows Backup tool is still there as well, hidden away as Windows 7 File Recovery. But for smaller businesses the new File History option may be the best option.

The File History tool protects files in any library by taking copies every hour (but you can make it as often as every ten minutes) and saving them to an external or network drive. If you need to save space to can choose how long they're kept (from one month to two years or just until you run out of disk space) and multiple PCs can safely save files onto the same drive without them getting confused.

Choose how often and for how long to save copies of all the files in your Libraries with File History
Choose how often and for how long to save copies of all the files in your Libraries with File History

If you're in a homegroup for file sharing, you can set the file history location on one PC and have it automatically suggested for the other PCs, but you do have to configure File History before it starts working, otherwise it will try to save files on the main hard drive (which would not be a sensible backup strategy).

The file restore function is not hidden away in the properties dialog anymore; just select a file and click the History button on the ribbon to see how you've changed the file and restore the version you want.

Getting connected faster

Frequent business travellers will appreciate the networking improvements in Windows 8. Not only does it finally take account of bandwidth as well as signal strength when picking which network to connect to, but Wi-Fi credentials are one of the settings roamed through your Microsoft account.

Set up your laptop and say a Surface tablet with the same Microsoft account as your log in; when you take one of them to an office or hotel where you've already gone online with the other PC, it will already know the password and get connected automatically.

Set any connection as expensive to minimise what uses it and yes you can still create ad hoc Wi Fi networks
Set any connection as expensive to minimise what uses it; and yes, you can still create ad-hoc Wi-Fi networks

Windows 8 reconnects to Wi-Fi more quickly than the same PC running Windows 7; it also connects to a mobile broadband connection more quickly. And you don't need to install any of those irritating driver apps from your mobile operator that stop your Wi-Fi working or change your other settings, because Windows has built-in drivers.

If you have built-in mobile broadband or you connect via a dongle or USB modem, the connection is marked as 'metered' and things like Windows Update don't connect and use up all your data. If you're tethering your smartphone as a modem, just right-click on the connection and set it as a metred connection by hand.

Remote Desktop support

As Windows RT devices like the Surface become popular, Remote Desktop support in Windows 8 becomes increasingly useful. The desktop app for this is much the same as in Windows 8, but the Windows Store Remote Desktop app is designed to be used on a touchscreen – although you might want to plug in a mouse to drive the full desktop applications you'll get when you connect. It's going to work best on a fast network, but essentially you're running the program on the server and streaming the interface like an H.264 movie.

Don't think of Remote Desktop as just a way of managing your server without walking over to it. This is the way to get a full desktop with any Windows desktop application onto a Windows RT (or Windows 8) device, from Windows Live Writer to AutoCAD.

If you want to see individual applications rather than a whole new desktop, you can use the new App-V 5 (which is part of MDOP 5, a Software Assurance benefit) or Citrix's virtualisation tools to set up RemoteApp; this uses the Remote Desktop protocol and application to show just the application you want to use without the rest of the Windows UI, so it fits in neatly with what you're already doing in Windows 8 and Windows RT.