Microsoft took the wraps off the Release Preview of Windows 8 the other day. Here we take a look at the enhanced look and feel of the Release Preview. If you haven't already, you can download the latest version from Microsoft from the locations below.
This release comes just three months after the previous Consumer Preview. There are a multitude of changes making Windows 8 nicer and one step closer to being Gold and final.
A word of caution, though, if you feel compelled to go full on Release Preview and upgrade your Windows 7, there is a good chance if past history unfolds again, that it will not be possible to upgrade from the Release Preview to the RTM/final release of Windows 8, though time will tell.
Microsoft has declared this version "feature complete". However, there are still some pending changes to come such as the desktop going non-Aero. It would be accurate to describe things that are under the hood as being set at this point. Aside from minor bug fixes and cosmetic adjustments things are what they will be in the end. In addition there are now many Metro style apps to choose from with this release.
Batteries Not Included, Adobe Flash Is
Included in this release, as expected, is the inclusion of Adobe Flash in the Metro version of Internet Explorer for approved sites. The version of flash that is used is 11.3. Microsoft has a whitelist of sites that can use Flash in the Metro browser and applies it using compatibility settings.
Tweaked Hot Corners
There were also tweaks to make the hot corners more effective. There are labels on the thumbnails in the Windows key+tab app switcher and the Start Screen thumbnail in the lower left is smaller than in the Consumer Preview, meaning it should be less likely to be confused with a clickable icon. The corners on the right have changed to make it so revealing the Charms feels less troublesome to achieve.
Snappy Search and Application Switching
Search is very spontaneous which makes it easy to find what you are looking for. The new Share API works very well allowing you to share information across applications. Application switching "feels" even snappier than in the consumer preview release.
Multiple Screens, No Problem
One big change is in that of multi-monitor support. There is the ability to view and snap Metro apps on either screen.
SkyDrive for Desktop
You still need to install the desktop SkyDrive app to sync files, but the Metro SkyDrive app works out of the box.
Vista Aero Effects Gone
Meanwhile glass effects have been removed from Aero, but transparency options are still included. What is gone are "Vista era" reflections on buttons and controls. In the Start Screen the zoom out button has transformed from a magnifying glass icon to that of a minus symbol.
Improved Apps, Improved Store
Out with the old and in with the new as they say, at least with the initial prototype apps that Microsoft made available in the Windows Store with the Consumer Preview. In the Release Preview there are new bundled apps, still considered previews however but a huge difference in quality.
Mail, Messaging and People
The Mail, Calendar, People and Messaging apps have been revamped in a big way. All four apps tie together quite nicely as one would have expected in the previous release. You can link Hotmail, Exchange, and Google accounts and have their contents show up in separate modules, along with the ability to selectively exclude certain items from appearing in one app versus the other app.
Services such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn among others allow you to have those contacts appear in the People app. You can pin the contact to the Start Screen and have their updates appear on the tile, as before.
One change that is apparent with the mail app is the three-pane view. You can use options in the Settings pane and configure if you want an account to be selectively synchronized or fully synched. By default without doing a full sync you get the most recent two weeks of messages.
The Metro style apps are still referred to as Zune Music and Zune Video, though with the E3 announcement, expect to see this renamed Xbox Music in the fall when the final version is released. The Music app lets you view albums and artists on both local and network locations, though the interface is a bit clunky at first. Unfortunately the Music app is tied directly to the Zune marketplace and the album artwork is a bit over the top as music plays.
Unfortunately the Photos app still will not find network locations, but it does integrate with SkyDrive and Flickr.
Media Center was removed from this version. If you want to test it out there is a a FAQ released by Microsoft to enable it.
Windows Media Center is not preinstalled in Windows 8 Release Preview. If you want to use WindowsMedia Center, you need to add it by following these steps:
Swipe in from the right edge of the screen, and then tap Search.
(If you're using a mouse, point to the upper-right corner of the screen, and then click Search.)
Enter add features in the search box, and then tap or click Add features to Windows 8.
Tap or click I already have a product key.
Enter this product key: MBFBV-W3DP2-2MVKN-PJCQD-KKTF7 and then click Next.
Select the checkbox to accept the license terms and then click Add features.
Your PC will restart and Windows Media Center will now be on your PC and the tile will be pinned to the Start screen
Remote Desktop and Xbox Companion Where are you?
Remote Desktop and the Xbox Companion apps are not installed out of the box; you must go to the Windows Store to install them.
Of the new apps, include ones that are linked with the Bing search platform. These include "News", search stories from 200 sources in 10 categories along with local sources. You will see a top story in the Bing Daily section, with other headlines on the right. The app bar at the top lets you select among news by trends, or by source. You can pin categories as well as custom topics to the Start Screen.
Sports is new for the Release Preview. It is a sports hub where you can follow your favorite teams or look at top stories from all categories in sports. You can add your favorite team to the favorite team section. Each team is pinnable as a live tile on the Start Screen as well.
With Bing Travel you can book flights, hotels, view certain destination and pin them to the Start Screen. You can share information from this app, such as travel guides and photos.
Visual Studio 2012 RC
As an added example of an application (desktop experience), we decided to install the Visual Studio 2012 RC (release candidate) and see how it looked and how the Start Screen tiles appeared.
Below you can see the Start Screen tiles that were added after installing Visual Studio 2012. Microsoft has stated before that with Windows 8, it would streamline the number of tile entries for a given install. In this case there aren't that many.
Visual Studio 2012 runs in the desktop experience mode.
The Tech-Stew Take Home
Windows 8 is not just a revamped version of Windows 7, its much more than this. It's an operating system that will be a whole new user experience with a new way to get at all your favorite applications. Windows 8 is geared towards the mobile and tablet world, but it still will be a speedy and good experience in the desktop world as well.
I am not one of those who feels Windows 8 will be a flop or another Windows Vista. Windows 8 represents a change in the way you do things. Any time there is a change like this, it is often viewed with crossed looks and skepticism. Here are just a few examples of this. Back in the early 1980s an up and coming technology called the mouse was criticized as being a waste and not good for productivity. Another example was with early versions of Windows. You would have to switch from DOS to Windows, which seemed confusing, but ultimately we ended up parting ways with DOS after some time. Likewise Windows 8 is focusing on the Metro interface and changes the way apps are launched and found, particularly on the desktop, but who's to say that in 10 years we may look back and view this change as a welcome one and a change that we take for granted. The split between the desktop applications and Metro application worlds will seem confusing to some at first, but over time Metro will win out.
Windows 8 takes a leap in a new direction, something unheard of from Microsoft. Taking one interface and putting it across multiple devices can be viewed as a big flop or something that will be a game changer for Microsoft. Personally, it should become the latter. When you take one interface and apply it to multiple devices you create an interface which is familiar to many different types of users on different platforms. Essentially one GUI to learn and understand should yield more of a user base and a user base which understands how to use each platform. This will ultimately prove to be a victory for Microsoft, at least in the longer run.
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