Surprise! What you can expect from Windows 8 RTM

Summary:Microsoft has officially made the final release of Windows 8 available to subscribers of its MSDN and TechNet services. You'll find a handful of small surprises, one very large change from Windows 7, and a momentous name change.

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We can now see how Microsoft has implemented its  controversial decision to enable the Do Not Track setting  in Internet Explorer 10 as well. During setup, the Do Not Track setting is listed as the third item in this bulleted list:

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If you choose the Customize option, there's a slider that lets you enable or disable DNT:

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The most obvious difference after you finish setup is visual: there’s a new selection of custom backgrounds for the Start screen and the Lock screen.

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There's a greater selection of background colors and "tattoos" for the Start screen than in the Release Preview. In addition, the desktop has the new flat look, with no more traces of Aero.

In PC Settings, the only noticeable addition is an Available Storage block on the General tab, which makes it easy to see at a glance how much disk space is free. That measurement is especially critical on tablets and small devices with limited storage, especially 32GB devices.

One change is momentous in symbolic terms. The built-in Windows file manager, which has been called Windows Explorer for 17 years, is now called File Explorer. You might not notice unless you right-click its icon on the taskbar or search for it.

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In my testing, performance was uniformly excellent, even on a nearly five-year-old Dell desktop PC. As was the case in the Release Preview, startup and shutdown are impressively fast, and every app I used was quick and responsive.

Most of the built-in apps have received only modest tweaks from their Release Preview predecessors. In a note to reviewers, Microsoft said, "The in-box Microsoft apps we have built for Windows 8 (communications, entertainment, etc.) will be continuously updated over time via the Windows Store. Some of the applications will be updated at our next milestone, when Windows 8 is generally available."

My experience bears that out. The Mail app, for example, has no new features but a few UI changes. Music is now called Xbox Music and boasts new options in the Preferences pane (most notably an option that requires you to sign in before completing purchases).

One surprise in the Store was the first official appearance of the Xbox SmartGlass brand, which replaces the earlier Xbox Companion app.

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The story with third-party apps is similar.

If you're expecting a sudden influx of killer modern/Metro apps, you'll be disappointed. I counted 452 apps in the Store yesterday using the RTM code. That total includes some desktop apps, but most are still free Windows 8 apps, with a heavy emphasis on games. I found only a few paid apps in the Store.

That total is significantly higher than the 363 apps I counted in the Store on July 17 using the Release Preview. But it's clear that if there's going to be a sudden influx of apps, they will probably appear closer to the General Availability date of October 26.

I noticed that several bugs i had experienced with third-party apps were fixed in this release. The RTM code seems, after very brief testing, to work very well with other Microsoft products and services that are still in preview mode: Outlook.com, Office 365, and Office 2013 all seem to function properly.

And there are very few surprises in the Windows 8 interface itself. The Start screen is still on top and the Start menu, like Francisco Franco, is still dead. If you've been testing Windows 8 for any length of time, you've probably already formed an opinion about the new design, and nothing in the final release is likely to change that. The only significant (and welcome) change I noticed is in  file search results, where right-clicking an item now displays an app command that lets you jump to that file's location using Windows Ex... sorry, File Explorer.

This is an important milestone for Windows 8, but it's still just that—between now and October 26, it's still best suited for evaluation by IT pros and enthusiasts.

Coming shortly:

  • Getting started with the TechNet/MSDN releases
  • What's new in the Windows 8 license agreement?

Topics: Windows, Microsoft

About

Ed Bott is an award-winning technology writer with more than two decades' experience writing for mainstream media outlets and online publications. He has served as editor of the U.S. edition of PC Computing and managing editor of PC World; both publications had monthly paid circulation in excess of 1 million during his tenure. He is the a... Full Bio

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