Windows 8: Release Preview




Almost immediately after releasing Windows 8 Consumer Preview, Microsoft announced that they would unveil the Release Preview in June, a mere 2 months later. Contrary to the Microsoft of old, the download for the Release Preview was not only available on time, but a whole 24 hours before June had even started. One could argue that a torrent leak of the build in the same week forced Microsoft’s hand, but when you consider the magnitude of Windows 8, and how much of their future is dependent on a well-accepted release, you can assume that Microsoft are going all out to stick to every and any deadlines, meeting all their promises. So much so this time around, that Microsoft has announced that they’re running slightly ahead of schedule during the development process of Windows 8.

During the last year, Windows 7 has seen the majority of installations on PC and laptops these days, providing a cleaner look and more stable experience for Windows users. Due to this, most people wouldn’t even consider changing to a new OS. Even at this early stage, I can confirm that Windows 8 offers a new experience for those who seek it, as well as the tried and tested of old, for those who prefer the simpler option. So what’s new in Release Preview (build 8400)?

Release Preview - Start Menu

Improvements:

I spent the last 2 weeks working over the new release, along with performing daily activities as I would on Windows 7. One of the first notable changes to this most recent release again revolves around the boot-up screen. In the Consumer Preview you would have noticed a fish as part of the loading screen logo and as the default wallpaper. Due to general public opinion, Windows 8 Release Preview has seen a return of sanity on the part of Microsoft, ridding itself of the fish altogether. What we find instead is a plain Windows 8 logo along with the circular, rotating loading icon we find throughout the new OS. Microsoft had announced that Windows 8 will see the removal of the Aero-themed UI, and although Release Preview offers a more simplified look, the general Aero still remains. The changes already improve overall smoothness and quicker response, especially when switching between (live icon based) apps. Another big improvement comes in the form of multiple-monitor support. Adding and removing monitors and screens has never been as easy, with true plug-and-play functionality.

Another big improvement is Windows’ Metro Mail App. To be frank, the same app in the Consumer Preview was simply unusable, freezing frequently, not displaying all mails, and taking ages to load. The updated app fixes all these issues, and is a joy to use even when adding 3 or 4 separate mailing accounts.

Release Preview - Startup Screen

New Additions

Although the Release Preview doesn’t offer as many new features and functionality as seen from the Developer Preview to the Consumer Preview, it takes large strides toward a stable, full-feature OS. The major inclusions in Windows 8 Release Preview are the support of flash plugin in Metro Style IE 10 Application, along with 3 new Metro-style applications in the form of Sports, Travel, and News, based primarily on Bing support. Unfortunately, the Flash Player capabilities are confined to only a few Microsoft approved websites, such as YouTube, whereas all remaining sites, such as Supersport.com don’t have this support. You can, however, switch to the standard IE desktop version, where all functionality is available and ready to use.

Sports App:

Release Preview - Sports App

This app simply displays sports news from Bing Sports, and is adjusted according to your location. Additionally, you can also add your favourite sports teams to your selections and a schedule for all the matches for those teams will be displayed. This is a really nice feature, but unfortunately falls short only because of a lack of sports teams to choose from. I am sure we’ll see further improvements in the final release (and future updates thereafter), so it’s not much of a train smash as yet.

News App:

Release Preview - News App

Likewise with the Sports App, the News App features localised news from Bing (and a number of other news websites). It also includes a main headline followed by news from other categories and regions. The app is also customisable in that you can add and remove categories, as well as specific topics and points of interest.

Travel App:

Release Preview - Travel App

Out of the 3, my favourite new app is the Metro Travel App. This app allows the user to view different cities from around the world, and then provides a number of helpful information. This information includes maps, weather forecasts, exchange rates, restaurants, points of interest and pretty much anything you wish to search for as a tourist. Using the app bar, you can also choose to pre-book flights and view destinations, which you are then able to pin to the Start Menu.

Despite not being new inclusions, the Weather and Finance Metro Apps have not always been available, or usable, to South Africans, something that has changed in the latest version.

Weather App:

Release Preview - Weather App

This app is quite simple and not very different from what you can search for online, but it’s a Metro App, and therefore you’re able to pin this to your Start Menu, as well as part of your multitasking (as you will see further below). This app provides the current weather, a few forecasts, and various statistics about your city’s weather patterns.

Finance App:

Release Preview - Finance App

This app pretty much does what it says, provides information on specific financial status around the world, including current exchanges rates of the currencies you select to compare against. You’re simply checking stats here.

Metro Apps:

Release Preview - Multitasking

The 2 best features about Metro Apps is the ability to switch between multiple apps, as well as separate the desktop into 2 sections, the main window (set as the desktop in this example) and the preview windows (weather app in this example). This allows you to quickly and easily switch between apps and also keep track of another at any given point in time.

Conclusion:

Unfortunately, I have been unable to conduct a full case study of Windows 8, since this OS also includes touch device compatibility. Based on the general consensus and public feedback, the touch capabilities have seen equally positive results. As with other pre-releases, the Release Preview will expire on 15 January 2013. You can download your copy and receive further details about Windows 8 Release Preview at http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-8/release-preview.

Note: Remember to copy and save (somewhere where PC access isn’t required) the Windows Key from the site before running the installation.

With more and more apps available from the store and support for Metro Apps increasing as well, this version of Windows definitely has a positive future ahead of it. Despite all the good that comes from Metro Apps, there are, however, a few niggling issues. The biggest of these is the frustration most users experience when having to switch between your working desktop and Metro Interface to gain any benefit from the Metro integration. The lack of any Metro Apps integration with the standard desktop is very depressing.

Windows 8 Release Preview feels exceptionally stable and close to a finished product, but Microsoft has assured the public that there are a number of additions and surprises awaiting the final RTM version of Windows 8. The Windows Store is also available in 13 different languages, which include Arabic, Chinese (traditional and simplified), English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swedish. The updated Store also includes app submissions from 38 countries, which is an improvement over the original 5. With the stability we experience with the Release Preview, it’s understandable why Microsoft is ahead of schedule as things currently stand.
For those Windows 7 users that thought they can simply ignore the update to Windows 8, you will be left behind, and lacking a number of impressive and useful features and apps. I can’t wait to view the finished and hopefully polished version of Windows 8.

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