Microsoft's Windows 8 Release Preview: What's in and what's out

Microsoft's Windows 8 Release Preview: What's in and what's out

Summary: The near-final Release Previewtest build of Windows 8 is available. Here's what's in (and not) in the latest build.

TOPICS: Windows

On May 31, Microsoft is making available for download by any and all interested testers the final public pre-release build of Windows 8 before the product is released to manufacturing.

(The site is one place you can grab the newest Windows 8 test bits for x86/x64 systems.Testers running the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 will not be able to upgrade; you'll need to do a clean install. If you have the Consumer Preview build, you can do an upgrade to the new build, after all.)

Microsoft also is making available for public download today the Release Candidates of Windows Server 8 and Visual Studio 2012 (the product codenamed VS11), keeping the three products in lockstep, as has been the case throughout the Windows 8 testing process.

Company officials are calling today's near-final Windows 8 build -- traditionally known as a Release Candidate -- the "Release Preview." It was slated to arrive the first week of June, so here in the U.S., it's a day early.

See Ed Bott's full gallery of Windows 8 Release Preview screen shots

Microsoft execs are saying the Release Preview is feature-complete, despite the fact that they've said there still will be some fairly major changes coming to Windows 8, such as the removal of the "Aero" interface, happening some time after the Release Preview hit.

The Release Preview includes relatively few features that were not in the last public test build, the Consumer Preview (a k a, the beta). There have been under-the-hood tweaks for performance.There have been improvements to multi-monitor support, as outlined recently on the Building Windows 8 blog.

There have also been changes also still coming some changes to the Windows 8 bits designed to prevent hacks that would allow users to bring back the Start button and/or boot directly to the Desktop instead of the Metro Start Screen, according to Windows SuperSite's Paul Thurrott. So yes, those of you who were hoping Microsoft might relent and allow users to have it their way with Windows 8, you're not going to be happy....

You might be more upbeat, though, about the fact that Microsoft has conceded that Flash isn't yet obsolete. As reported earlier this month, Microsoft has partnered with Adobe to build Flash support into the new version of Internet Explorer 10 that is built into Windows 8 Release Preview. There's a subset of Flash supported in Metro-Style IE and a full version in the Desktop version of IE. That means hundreds of "white listed" sites using Flash -- ranging from Hulu to Chase Bank to Zynga, according to -- will be able to work with IE 10 on Windows 8. Not too surprisingly, the Windows team has decided against providing the same kind of integration with Silverlight.

The most noticeable change between the Consumer Preview and Release Preview is the apps. Microsoft has been working to get developers of all stripes, not just its own interns and the Bing team, to build Metro-Style apps. The app previews from Microsoft that were preloaded with the Consumer Preview have been enhanced. Microsoft also has added some other new Microsoft-developed Windows 8 apps, including News, Travel and Sports, as was reported earlier this month. The Metro-Style apps are expected to continue to evolve, even after Windows 8 is released to manufacturing (RTM), with developers providing updates via the integrated Store in Windows 8.

Some had been expecting Microsoft to include in the Release Preview some kind of a built-in tutorial designed to instruct users how to navigate the new touch gestures built into the operating system. While some kind of guidance is still expected in or with the final version of the product, there's no such thing built into the Release Preview.

Microsoft officials are saying the Windows Server 8 RC also is feature-complete and that it includes no new features beyond what were introduced in the beta. The Visual Studio 2012 RC includes modifications to the color scheme of the UI, as officials acknowledged earlier this month.

Microsoft officials still aren't saying when to expect Windows 8 to be released to manufacturing. I am now hearing July is the target, with some kind of launch and general consumer availability happening this fall, most likely in October.

Update: Microsoft officials are confirming that the Windows 7 upgrade promotion about which I wrote earlier this month is going to kick off on June 2. It will be priced at $14.99 and available in 131 markets. This promotion allows consumers who buy Windows 7 PCs between June 2 and January of next year to upgrade to Windows 8 Professional for that price. One of the main targets of this promo is back to school, I hear.

The Windows Server 2012 RC (which seems to be available only to TechNet and MSDN subscribers, from what I can tell) can be downloaded here.

The Visual Studio 2012 RC can be downloaded by anyone (MSDN or not) from here.

The shorter-than-usual Building Windows 8 post about the Windows 8 RC is online, as well.

Topic: Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Not called a release candidate because it's another alpha

    Beta would imply the features are locked down, yet we expect many more changes.

    An interesting download. Sure to give greater insight where MS is headed.
    Richard Flude
    • I wish Apple gave away alpha versions to everybody, well in advance of the

      full product release, oh, for free. Just like Microsoft.

      That would surely give greater insight where Apple is headed, instead of this culture of secrecy and paranoia.
  • Server 2012, not Server 8

    Also, please add a hyperlink to the Server 2012 download site (quicker than our hunting for it). Thanks for the update MJ!
  • Dumb, so dumb....

    So they are not adding back start menu, and they are preventing other's from doing so.

    Well...we will how well this will go for Microsoft. I have a feeling this is going to be Windows ME all over again.
    • Or 95

      Oh, remember 95. The OS that drastically changed how all the expert Windows users had to use the OS.

      Getting rid of the start button is just the next evolutionary step of Windows. Nobody expects businesses to adopt the OS fully. Microsoft has to start somewhere with a new interface. I feel Windows 9 or 10 will be the more mainstream version of this OS for businesses. Remember, home users by Windows 9 or 10 will be a large share of users and they'll be bugging IT for the Metro style.

      The same scenario played out with Windows 95 where many home PC users had it but offices didn't for a while.
      • Not really

        This is a completely different scenario than the change to win 95. First of all, touch is for lean back on the couch devices, not work devices. And there was allot of research that went into designing a good, humanly usable interface. This has all been thrown out, and mistaken for innovation. Well, it's gonna go down like crap, hopefully the end result will be the romoval of Ballmer, or I predict, MS will go the way of Novell.
      • RE: Not really, pedro_mann@ -- I predict nothing's been thrown out like you

        mistakenly claim.

        Can you read? [b][u] Desktop Is Here To Stay in Windows 8[/u][/b]. Gone are the 'glass' transparent borders and rounded edges...

        That means Windows 8 in full desktop on 90% of the computers out there will look just like Windows 7 (before you run your first Windows Experience Index) which turns on the Aero 'look' if your hardware can handle it.
      • Windows 8: the first information station

        Start Screen is a live dashboard version of the Start Menu. You can hide extraneous tiles and they go to the App List. Windows 8 will be the least-cluttered of all Windows versions. On top of it all, Metro apps live in a completely streamlined runtime environment, that will be safer from viruses, reduce system corruption and degradation over time, and all while not having to sacrifice any Windows 7 apps that use the legacy runtime. Pretty dang impressive work.
    • Stardock Start8 Replacement Start Button Still Works Fine

      I just installed it, no problems at all on the Windows 8 RC:

      It takes you to the Metro Start screen (full or menu), just like Microsoft should have done themselves.

      If you install a Start button replacement, please download the program from within Windows 8, using Bing to search for it, and participate in the Customer Experience Sharing Program to let Microsoft know.
      • not sure about why you'd want the start screen in a menu anymore

        I know, I had the same knee jerk reaction when they announced they were removing the start menu, but having spent some time on the DP/CP, and reflecting my experience on phones and tablet, I argue that:

        1. On Win7, when I press the start menu, I am NOT looking at anywhere else on the screen. My full attention is on finding the app I want to run, sure I can see the desktop, but actually if you think about it - its just visual noise!

        2. On phone, tablets, you don't see existing apps when you are searching for and launching a new app - and that experience isn't by any means subpar

        So suddenly, I find myself completely in the other camp - the start screen gives me more screen realestate to find my app quickly, what's not to like about that?!
      • So you have a start back with a metro cluttered desktop

        No wonder it's free you still don't eliminate the clutter of Metro Desktop... You just added a start back with metro at the same time .... garbage...
      • What isn't to like


        Here's the issue, and where it fails...
        1.) On my 1440x900 screen, with my start menu customized to show 13 recent applications, if I need to hunt, I can see 36 objects at a time on the list. On the new Start menu, it shows all the Metro tiles that need to skip over, THEN I get to sift through all the programs.
        2.) Most of the entries on a start menu are categorized in folders. Customarily, folders will include a shortcut for the application's main executable, a help/readme file shortcut, and an uninstaller. With the folders consolidating these programs, I have 36 useful entries on the start menu. If all of them had to be expanded, I'd end up with twelve. If you're going to argue that Metro apps don't need all the clutter, my first argument is that there are these things called "legacy apps" that people still find useful, either due to cost or feature completeness (or both). My second argument is that...
        3.) The new start menu fails to account for suites. If I don't need any of the 8 Adobe Production Premium applications my computer has installed, the old start menu only has me scrolling past one entry. The new start menu has me passing 8. If I don't need Microsoft Office, I'm scrolling past 11 icons. If I don't need Nero, that's 10. without subdivisions to consolidate software like the ones I've described, the start menu can go for pages and pages on end, and yes, that's a productivity killer.
        4.) "But you can type what you need!" yes...and where is the cue to type? there's no search bar like literally every other place you type stuff. In contrast, the lack of a blinking cursor usually indicates that what you're typing will probably NOT be used by the computer in any meaningful manner, so it's the textbook definition of counterintuitive.
        5.) Neither Mary Jo nor Ed have said whether the front-and-center "shut down" button now has a more prominent place. "Off" is not a setting in the same sense that "TCP/IP configuration" or "mouse sensitivity" is a setting, and therefore it has no place being buried in the control panel. Unlike the sound settings, device manager, region settings, and keyboard layout, users use the 'shut down' button DAILY.
        6.) Your description of the desktop being 'visual noise' precludes any number of use cases. Off the top of my head, sometimes I'm watching a video while using the start menu. Why should that be covered up by a start menu? when I only need one program and I'm being forcibly shown dozens, which is visual noise? Another quick use case is when the start menu is being used as a step in a set of instructions being delivered as a PDF or Word document or website. Again, if I'm looking for something, it's covered up in the new menu instead of being useful by the old.

        If the start menu could show me 64 entries at a time, sorted by name (with headers for each letter) or install date (quick access to new stuff), and allowed for subgroupings for Office/Adobe/Nero kinds of applications, and allowed me to opt to use only half the screen while leaving the desktop (or a given application) open on the other half, THEN let's talk about it being more useful. Until then, Stardock to the rescue!

      • @voyager

        Your point 4 is why the rest of your argument falls apart. Even if I agreed that the documentation/help isn't "in your face", it still doesn't diminish the simplicity and efficiency of the paradigm. Why bother to create folders, sub-folders and trees that you have to navigate vs. typing "Word" and hitting enter? Search is steadily replacing rigid tree structures. You just don't need them anymore for things like this.
    • Re: Dumb

      But in me you could use Winblinds and still alter the layout. Also Me was de-enhanced Windows 98...
    • I agree

      No consumer choice is going to be the flaw here. And I actually like Metro, I don't think it is "cheesy" like MS says. In fact, I think Win 8 will be worse than ME. Yeah, there are some good things under the hood on Win 8, but, the UI kills it. And deprecating the old UI was completely unnecessary. I have adopted every new OS of MS early, Yes, since DOS. I even ran ME, and Vista. I actually liked or was ok with both. But the UI is so bad on this, I will be a first time striker. There is no way I am running this crap. Ever, or anything that comes along after it, unless the desktop stays.
      • My thoughts EXACTLY!

        HERE, HERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      • "No Consumer Choice"

        And it seems odd to me. Is it really that hard to program the OS to let the user decide between a few different formats, e.g. "Metro only" vs "Start Button & Desktop"? (And to actively try to prevent 3rd party software that "adds a Start button?" What's the point?) Personally I don't use the Start button much, but I like the Desktop method and I have 5 inches of quicklaunch icons on my Vista64 machine. For me it would be a lot easier, productivity-wise, to keep using these methods. I don't yet see the upside to the new layout except for touchscreen tablets.

        And, for the life of me, I'll NEVER understand MS writing one OS for both keyboard and tablet machines. In the past they've had 3 or 4 or more versions of their OS for "home" or for "business" etc. To integrate two completely different user interfaces into one program doesn't intuit well to me. Just more potential for instability.
      • Spot on!

        great comment as was Joey's above, well thought out and written..

  • A computer for people who don't like computers.

    Or programming. Or freedom or choice. Its all sounding very unattractive. Also there'll be the UEFI BIOS to try to lock new computers into running Windows only.
    Still, it's a dwindling company. Just not fast enough.
    • Wait - it's a Mac!!?