Tech Industry

Microsoft touts benefits of new Windows 8 Task Manager

The new version of the tool gives users more control to view and manage applications that may be chewing up memory or otherwise misbehaving.

Windows 8 will offer a new Task Manager to help you better view and control open applications and other processes that may be causing trouble.

Task Manager has always been a useful tool to view open files and processes and see which ones are chewing up memory and CPU cycles. As the tool has evolved over the years, it's incorporated more data and given people more control. But it's always been less than user friendly.

Enter Microsoft's refresh, starting with the way most people typically use Task Manager--to shut down an application that's not responding.

The new default view in Windows 8's Task Manager.
The new default view in Windows 8's Task Manager. Microsoft

"For the default view, we designed a minimalist experience that appeals to the needs of the broadest customer base and most common scenario," Ryan Haveson, group program manager of Microsoft's In Control of Your PC team, wrote on the company's "Building Windows 8" blog.

"When you launch Task Manager for the first time in Windows 8, you see a very clean view of your running apps. We made the default view great at one thing: killing misbehaving apps. And we removed everything that did not directly support that core scenario."

In short, the company removed all the extra tabs, menus, and other distracting items so that people just see open applications by name. The default screen lets you easily select a program that's not responding and shut it down.

Clicking on the "More Details" link then opens a window with more in-depth data, similar to today's Task Manager. Here you can see how much memory, CPU cycles, and disk space each application and process is using.

To make it easier to spot misbehaving items, Microsoft has set up a "heat map" that highlights the applications eating up more than their fair share of system resources. The heat map will call attention to specific categories, such as CPU or memory, if multiple applications are fighting over them.

Windows 8 users should also have an easier time grouping and sorting the wide array of items displayed in Task Manager. Microsoft has added the ability to group items by applications, background processes, and Windows processes to help you determine which ones should be safe to shut down and which ones should be left alone.

Finally, the current flavor of Task Manager lists processes and service by their file names, which typically don't give you a clue as to what they do. In Windows 8 Microsoft has added "friendly" names to those items so that you can better identify them. Even further, you can now search the Web for a particular process or service to learn more about it.

Task Manager has always been a tricky tool since it packs in a lot of information for experienced users but can be too technical for the average person. The new version tries to offer something for everybody.

"As you can see, we added quite a lot to the new Task Manager (and we only showed you the first tab!)," Haveson wrote. "Task Manager was a unique opportunity for user experience designers and researchers working together with technical program managers and engineers to create a clean, organized, and efficient design. We made it more streamlined for mainstream users, and more detailed for power users."