Remember way back in 2001, when wireless 802.11 connections debuted in Windows XP? Until Service Pack 2 rolled around, the wireless Internet experience was heavily dependent on whatever funky (ugly, usually) connection software was included with your computer's wireless card. Fortunately, today we get a useful and pretty connection experience in Windows 7.
Now think of the same scenario for mobile cellular networks, except replace "Windows XP" with "Windows 7" and "Windows 7" with "Windows 8." While you could connect to mobile networks in Windows 7, it's up to you to get the drivers for your mobile broadband hardware, and the appropriate software to let you connect to a network.
That's all changing for Windows 8, as today's Building Windows 8 post explains.
With Windows 8, you get an experience that matches just about all smartphones out on the market today. You get a single connection UI that combines both Wi-Fi and mobile networks. You're offered the ability to turn on "metered Internet mode" (it's on by default for mobile networks) when you want to restrict data usage to essential applications - usually the app you're working with, not those pesky background updaters. And like on phones, Windows 8 will try to connect to a Wi-Fi network first, before falling back to mobile networks.
Setup is easy. Just insert your SIM and you're done. Microsoft has made available a generic driver that works with most broadband hardware; it'll try to get the latest driver from Windows Update if possible.
But the experience goes beyond that on phones. Lacking a data plan? Need to check up on your data usage? No need to hunt down for the carrier-specific app to do those - Windows 8 will automatically grab the app from the Windows Store. You don't have to do anything, other than connect. For instance, this is how AT&T's app looks like right now:
Windows 8 will also make sure to notify you before you blow any data caps. Great for all those people that don't enjoy receiving a massive stack of a bill.
But what if you don't ever plan on using mobile networks in Windows 8? No problem! There are some nice improvements done to the existing Wi-Fi experience that could justify an upgrade from Windows 7 or earlier.
First, wireless connections can resume in as little as one second from standby. That's right, one second. Second, Windows 8 will also remember which wireless networks you explicitly connect and disconnect from. The OS will not automatically reconnect to any network you disconnect from the list of networks. In addition, it will also remember to prioritize a network over another if you switch while connected to an existing wireless network. For those that were a bit frustrated over dragging around networks in Windows 7's "Manage Wireless Networks" window, this is a welcome change.
For an overview of the new mobile changes in Windows 8, check out the video below:
Image Credit: Building Windows 8