Keep tabs on performance in Windows 8 with Action Center
Windows 8’s Action Center basically serves the same purpose as the Action Center in Windows 7 by providing you with a centralized location to view alerts and keep track of all the tasks that keep your system in tip-top shape. However, Windows 8’s Action Center has been streamlined to further centralize and simplify standard maintenance operations. In addition, you’ll discover that there are several new features. In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I’ll take a look at some of the new features in Windows 8’s Action Center.
Launching Action Center in Windows 8 is easy. On the Start Screen, type Action, select Settings, and click Action Center, as illustrated in Figure A.
Get full coverage of all things Windows 8 on TechRepublic’s Resource Page.
Before we get started, let me touch on the fact that just like in Windows 7, the Action Center is the place to go to find important messages about security and maintenance settings that need your attention. Items marked in Red indicate urgent issues that should be taken care of as soon as possible, while items marked in Yellow are issues that are not pressing but that you should consider addressing. Examples of the Red and Yellow alerts are shown in Figure B. As you can see, something like not having the firewall turned on is an urgent issue while checking for problem solutions is considered a minor issue.
The Action Center will alert you to issues by displaying notifications, as shown in Figure C. By default, Action Center will display messages on everything in its purview. However, if you select Change Action Center settings, you can select the items on which you want to receive messages, as shown in Figure D.
In the Security section of the Action Center, as shown in Figure E, you’ll find a host of familiar items as well as three new items titled Windows Smart Screen, Windows Activation, and Microsoft Account. Let’s take a look. For the sake of being complete, I’ll cover every option.
As you know, Windows Firewall is designed to check information coming from, or going to, the Internet or a network to prevent hackers or malicious software from gaining access to your computer. If the data is safe it can pass thru the firewall. If it isn’t safe, the data is blocked. Action Center shows that Windows Firewall is actively protecting my example PC.
Windows Update will automatically download and install updates from Microsoft. As you can see here, Action Center shows that Windows Update is turned on.
As you may know, in Windows 8 the antivirus capabilities of Microsoft Security Essentials have been incorporated into Windows Defender and is now built into the operating system – you no longer have to download it separately. Action Center shows that Windows Defender is on.
Spyware and unwanted software protection
Windows Defender still protects you from spyware. Action Center shows that Windows Defender is protecting your system.
Internet security settings
The Internet security settings are configured through the Security tab in Internet Explorer. As you probably know, Internet Explorer provides security settings in four security zones (Internet, Local intranet, Trusted sites, and Restricted sites). If these zones are properly configured to protect your system, Action Center shows OK.
User Account Control
Just like in Windows 7, the User Account Control feature is configured in such a way as to protect your system from inadvertently performing actions that make system wide configuration changes, yet isn’t overly protective and annoying. You can make changes to the User Account Control settings by clicking the Change settings button.
Windows SmartScreen, which is currently built into Internet Explorer but will now be built into Windows 8, is designed to provide protection against phishing Web sites and malicious downloads. (For more information on how the SmartScreen Filter works in Internet Explorer, check out this FAQ.) Now, if you click the Change settings button, you’ll see the Windows SmartScreen dialog box shown in Figure F, where you can change the level of protection offered by this new feature.
Network Access Protection
Network Access Protection is an enterprise feature controlled by a domain server that can determine if your system meets an established baseline security policy. Unless you are in an enterprise, Action Center will show this as turned off.
In addition to showing the Windows Activation status on the System page ([Windows]+[Break]), Windows 8 includes it in the Action Center. Clicking the View activation details takes you to a Control Panel applet, shown in Figure G. As you can see, in addition to the activation details, you can use the links to purchase additional copies of Windows 8 or learn more about the license terms.
The Microsoft account feature links your Windows 8 user account with what is currently called Windows Live and is designed to seamlessly provide access to all sorts of features in the cloud, such as photos, documents, and other files from places like SkyDrive, Facebook, and Flickr. You can also share status and contact info with Hotmail, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Of course, this is all optional and configurable. (For more information on a Microsoft account, check out the Windows 8 Release Preview FAQ.)
The View Microsoft account settings link doesn’t appear to be working at this point in time, but you can investigate and configure Microsoft account settings in the PC Settings app: Just press the [Windows] key, type PC Settings, select Settings, and click Use similar settings on all the PCs you use. (I’ll be covering Microsoft account features in more detail as the product line transitions from Windows Live.)
In the Maintenance section of the Action Center, as shown in Figure H, you’ll find only one familiar item – Check for solutions to problem reports – the rest are new.
Check for solutions to problem reports
Just like in previous versions of the operating system, Windows 8 keeps track of problems found in the system and will check for solutions. This Action Center option allows you to configure whether this feature is enabled and how frequently to check for solutions.
Automatic Maintenance is essentially a new name for a functionality that has been around in Windows in some form or fashion for a long time. This feature that will automatically perform maintenance tasks such as software updates, security scans and system diagnostics. If you click Change Maintenance Settings, you can choose the time that you want the Automatic Maintenance to run, as shown in Figure I.
You’ll also notice that you can configure Automatic Maintenance to wake up your system when it is plugged in so that it can run at the scheduled time. This also means that if you have a tablet or a laptop running on battery, Automatic Maintenance won’t wake up you’re your system, thus preserving battery power.
When you are connected to a power source, you can then click the Start maintenance button and the maintenance tasks will commence. When it does, you’ll see a message to that effect, as shown in Figure J. You’ll also see a clock appear next to the Action Center flag on the taskbar. If any problems are found, you’ll then see appropriate messages in Action Center.
If you are using the HomeGroup networking feature, this item will inform you that you are connected to a HomeGroup and allow you to view and configure HomeGroup settings.
File History is a new feature in Windows 8 that works like a combination of Previous Versions and Windows Backup and Restore. Since File History is such a powerful feature in and of itself, I’m going to cover it in a separate article where I can go into more detail. (Stay tuned.)
As its name implies, Drive Status will allow you to keep tabs on the health of any drives that you have connected to your system.
If any device that requires a separate driver is having problems related to the driver, you’ll see information here that will help you to solve the problem.