Windows 8: Why the coming beta is likely to be labeled the 'consumer preview'

Windows 8: Why the coming beta is likely to be labeled the 'consumer preview'

Summary: The coming Windows 8 beta is looking more and more like it will be called the "consumer preview." Why the change in nomenclature?


Is Microsoft going to position the coming Windows 8 beta as a "consumer preview"? And if so, why?

Microsoft officials have repeated recently that the Windows 8 beta release is on track for late February 2012. But one public relations official with the Windows team provided a slightly different message -- and one that escaped notice by most of those who read her quote -- during the Consumer Electronics Show.

As reported by Pocket Lint, Windows Director of Consumer PR, Janelle Poole, stayed on message regarding Microsoft's continued reluctance to talk about its release-to-manufacturing/ship targets for Windows 8. But, as Windows SuperSite's Paul Thurrott noted last week, part of Poole's message deviated from the usual script. Poole called the coming Windows 8 beta "the consumer preview." Here's her quote:

"We haven't talked about the release date and we generally don't. We are talking milestone to milestone, so for us right now we're talking about the next milestone being the consumer preview happening in late February."

If you know anything about the Windows org, you know words matter. This wasn't a random throw-away.

My first question was whether it's just the internal Windows consumer PR team calling the beta "the consumer preview" or if the Microsoft brass plan to do the same. I'm hearing that the Windows organization is highly likely to settle on "consumer preview" as the name for the late-February beta.

The bigger question -- which Thurrott and I discussed during the most recent episode of Windows Weekly -- is why Microsoft may label this the consumer preview.

Thurrott's theory was that maybe the developer preview (the September Build version) will be followed by a consumer preview (the beta) and finally the enterprise preview (the release candidate).

My theory is more cynical, but not entirely unwarranted. I believe if Microsoft changes the nomenclature, the company is doing so to signify a change that's been coming for a while now. What used to constitute a "beta" doesn't really exist in the new Windows world. I said the same during the Windows 7 test period: That the current Windows organization doesn't show code publicly at all until it's pretty much set in stone and going to be tweaked very minimally. This makes Windows more predictable, but it also implies that the product is far less likely to incorporate suggested fixes from those outside Microsoft.

During the Windows 7 test period, there were still a select group of technical beta testers on whom Microsoft seemingly leaned for real feedback and guidance regarding the product. That team, known internally as the "Test Pilots," was disbanded after Windows 7 was released. As far as I know, there's no equivalent to this group this time around. And Senior Program Manager for technical beta testing for Windows, Paul Donnelly, recently left Microsoft to go to Amazon with no replacement named (again, as far as I know).

There could be other reasons Microsoft may prefer the "consumer preview" name to "beta." By claiming a product is far enough along to be used by plain old consumers -- and not just techie beta testers -- Microsoft officials could be hoping to convince those who think a possible Q3 Windows 8 launch will be too late for Microsoft to shoe-horn its way into the tablet space that Windows 8 is right around the corner. ("Hey, it's basically done -- it's in consumer preview now!")

Such a name also could help Microsoft's PC partners who need a way to make new tablets and PCs that they're bringing to market from now until the time that Windows 8 is shipping seem more up-to-date and palatable. ("This runs the Windows 8 Consumer Preview -- so you know it'll be able to run the final Windows 8 with no problem.")

Microsoft officials aren't saying anything beyond the fact that the next Windows 8 release is due out in late February and that there is no separate "consumer preview" in the works -- meaning, to me, the one-and-only Windows 8 beta is highly likely to be called the "Consumer Preview" when it is released.

What's your take as to why Microsoft is leaning toward calling the beta a "consumer preview" -- and what effect (if any) this will have on Redmond, its developers, partners and customers? Thoughts?

Update (January 25) : Thanks to reader Darren Baker, there's now validation that Microsoft is planning to call the beta the consumer preview. Here's an excerpt, courtesy of Baker, from the latest Microsoft Hardware newsletter that uses the "Consumer Preview" nomenclature.

(click on snippet to enlarge)

Topics: Operating Systems, Microsoft, Software, 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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  • Hope

    I'm pretty excited... Windows 8 developer preview is a great tablet OS, but it's really finnicky. Hopefully this version, whether it be beta or consumer preview, will add awesome stability and features!
    • RE: Windows 8: Why the coming beta is likely to be labeled the 'consumer preview'

      @ArcticFawkes I have had only one device not run under Windows 8 DP and it was a dual band wireless adapter from ASUS and have not had any programs not run. This was on an HP Touchsmart tm2 convertible.
    • RE: Windows 8: Why the coming beta is likely to be labeled the 'consumer preview'

      I don't know what the term means to Microsoft, but if I were a hardware vendor it would encourage me to start designing and building devices to run Windows 8. If the code is solid enough for a consumer preview, it isn't likely to change significantly.

      Wonder if anyone is designing tablets that will run either ICS or Win8, just to hedge their bets?
      • RE: Windows 8: Why the coming beta is likely to be labeled the 'consumer preview'

        @wluffman - agreed. I think the UX team is finally starting to affect the entire picture. The term "beta" is well understood, but it's geek-speak. "Consumer Preview" is a wonderful replacement for pre-release software that is beyond the tinkering phase and is ready to start impressing the masses, not just the developers. In my mind, "Developer Preview" is the new "beta."
    • RE: Windows 8: Why the coming beta is likely to be labeled the 'consumer preview'

      @ArcticFawkes Here's the thing, there's no beta so if it doesn't work right, it's gonna be too late for you to submit bugs. THIS is what Sinofsky is bringing to the table. He just doesn't care about customers. It doesn't work for you? Oh, too bad. MS just doesn't care. They don't want to invest in beta feedback any more. It's WAY too expensive. WHY or WHY do you think Paul left after attempting to fight the good fight? I can hardly blame him?

      Betas used to provide a way to continue to improve the OS via the submittal of bugs, driver requests and DCRs (design change requests). Sinofsky thinks customers just don't matter where those items are concerned anymore because guess what, consumer preview builds are past the bug bar for consideration to take fixes for these items i.e. unless they are show stoppers, they don't get fixed. You are SOL.

      I mean, there's being loyal and then there's being a MS fanboy to the point that you're choking on the koolaid.
      • RE: Windows 8: Why the coming beta is likely to be labeled the 'consumer preview'

        @lj2009 Betas are great! I get that, but how could you honestly expect Microsoft to release something to the entire public and effectively use the feedback of the masses??? Data-mining? Yeah they do that with current Windows distribution and the developer preview. I guarantee you that they have beta testing done with a select few, probably in the 100s of developers internally and externally. I GUARANTEE IT!

        I suspect though that you are really just a troll, trolling Microsoft posts, as is evident throughout these comments.
      • RE: Windows 8: Why the coming beta is likely to be labeled the 'consumer preview'

        @lj2009 Funny, I thought "Consumer Preview" was what Microsoft sold in boxes. As I recall, no one (who actually depend on an OS for business) actually trusts a new version of Windows until at least Service Pack 2.
        <br><br>I have to agree somewhat with your last statement too. Arctic sounds too much like a "marketing" guy to me, especially with the "<i>add awesome stability and features!</i>" statement.
      • RE: Windows 8: Why the coming beta is likely to be labeled the 'consumer preview'

        @lj2009 - there's being a loyal ABM fanboy and then there's being an ass to the point that you're choking on the koolaid.

        Whether they call it a beta, Customer Preview or anything else, it's still the same thing - a broad, publicly available pre-release of Microsoft's next OS platform.

        Win7 was also released once and once only as a public Beta and yet, it was actually a pretty successful product.

        Why one Beta? Remember Vista's 4 CTP's, 3 Betas, 3 RC's during which features appeared, disappeared and/or changed significantly between releases? That was a damn nightmare.

        I *MUCH* prefer Sinofsky's approach where they only beta what they know they can ship.

        They don't need as many public betas as in previous releases because Windows telemetry is now so good that they can tell what drivers your machines need and/or are missing, how reliable they are, how performant they are, etc. They can also tell what apps crash on your system, where and why. And ... importantly ... get your crash dumps back to the app author should the crash be caused by faulty code within the app itself vs. being in the OS.

        Windows7 was the highest-quality release of Windows to date thanks in large part to the disciplined way in which Sinofsky ran the project and managed the team, and due to the telemetry data they are able to gather from millions of people who install the pre-release version.

        I have NO doubt that Win8 will also be a VERY high quality release. You, personally, may not agree with or like the feature changes (i.e. new start screen, etc.), but I think that claiming that Microsoft doesn't give a damn about its customers is just facetious and myopic.
      • RE: Windows 8: Why the coming beta is likely to be labeled the 'consumer preview'

        @lj2009 -- Better a "fan boy" than a negative yesteryear ABM'er... that's so... 1998.
      • RE: Windows 8: Why the coming beta is likely to be labeled the 'consumer preview'

        I think this is a sign the DO care about consumers. Looking at past Windows OS releases, when they release after a beta, the consumers run into many problems. The RTM is the first version used by many people (not a limited number of developers, as beta) Months later, after getting feedback from consumers and businesses, Microsoft gets things fixed, and releases the Service Pack 1. Consumers are generally happier after the SP1. Many enterprises will not move to new version until SP1 is out.
        This consumer preview MAY BE the effective equivalent to an RTM release. Get enough consumers; with all their odd versions of hardware, mix of software, use styles, etc. to test this Consumer Preview, and the later RTM can be as stable and well built as the older Windows versions were AFTER the first SP.
    • RE: Windows 8: Why the coming beta is likely to be labeled the 'consumer preview'

      @ArcticFawkes The best way to install windows 8 beta is here:
    • RE: Windows 8: Why the coming beta is likely to be labeled the 'consumer preview'

      Well I for one will not be going to windows 8. the new ui is enough to keep me from it.
      • yeah, righttttt


        then why read about it and comment about it??... silly people like you are funny.

        anyway Im using Dev Preview, and i will use other new released and buy Win8 when its ready.

        the UI? well its cool... i bet you never even used it, or not long enough. but i dont care if you dont go Win8, my point its how silly people like you is :)

        i bet you dont go Windows 8 because you have never bought a Windows versi??n anyway, you got Windows 7 (if you did it legally) because you got a computer with it... you never planned getting new windows, and you put "new UI" as an excuse... and since you cant seem to crack easily win8 to have it full... then you wont get it because New UI. but if it wasnt the UI you would put other excuses just to say "I wont go to X version of windows"
        Emi Cyberschreiber
      • The "new UI" will only impact applications written "for Metro" ...

        @rparker009 ... so I would not worry.
        M Wagner
      • RE: Windows 8: Why the coming beta is likely to be labeled the 'consumer preview'

        @rparker009 I feel nothing when I think about Windows 8. Wake me when the final version is on my company's EA benefits page so I can download it and check it out.

        At work we are in the middle of the Windows 7 upgrade and hopefully wil l be finished by the time 8 rolls out. There is NO way we will got to 8. We will go to 9 when 7 is getting close to end of life.

        At home I have one desktop PC used to play one game Skyrim, the box runs great and there is Zero reason to upgrade it before its worthless.
  • RE: Windows 8: Why the coming beta is likely to be labeled the 'consumer preview'

    I think the change would be good and refreshing.

    If it's not going to be a traditional Beta, don't call it one. Pretty simple to me.

    • RE: Windows 8: Why the coming beta is likely to be labeled the 'consumer preview'

      @Ammalgam This is not really at you specificaly it just auto added that but it also concerns to an extent what you said. Either way Microsoft has been talking about the cloud for a couple years now. Not about it in general although that is included, I always got the feeling they have been aiming for capitalization of it (the cloud) as a main distribution method. So this make complete sense W8 consumer preview could then just be upgraded for a worldwide license key rather than at your local brick and mortar or through the mail over the web.
    • RE: Windows 8: Why the coming beta is likely to be labeled the 'consumer preview'

      @Ammalgam traditional betas are dead at MS. Balmer and Sinofsky have seen to that. Long live developers.
    • RE: Windows 8: Why the coming beta is likely to be labeled the 'consumer preview'

      @Ammalgam - It's still a beta. Microsoft still want the "beta" to be installed on as broad a spectrum of machines as possible in order for them to collect and analyze the telemetry data that machines running the "beta" collect and report-back.

      I wonder if, by calling it a "consumer preview", more people may install Win8 on their existing machines! Why? Not many people outside the tech industry know and understand what a "beta" is and/or means. Calling the up-coming release a "consumer preview" is clear enough that even my grandmother would understand its purpose.
  • RE: Windows 8: Why the coming beta is likely to be labeled the 'consumer preview'

    What plans does MS have the traditional desktop? I manage 6800 computers in a corp setting, of which only a moducum are touch enabled. What changes are coming that matter to me? Will I get a pinnable trash can, for example? Speaking of trash can (er recycle bin) why not just pin it between the clock and that weird show desktop non-button area.