Windows 8: The road to RTM

Windows 8: The road to RTM

Summary: ZDNet has been following Microsoft's new desktop operating system all the way from Developer Preview to Release To Manufacturing. Here's how it went.


Windows 8 Developer Preview
September 2011

Windows 8's Start screen, with a look and feel then called Metro, from the September 2011 Developer Preview.

The first prerelease version of Windows 8 was the Developer Preview (DP), which was shown off at Microsoft's 2011 BUILD conference. At the start of the development cycle, Windows 8 was described by Microsoft President Steven Sinofsky as "a bold re-imagination of what Windows could be", and the DP gave us our first look at the new Live Tile-based Start screen with its (subsequently renamed) Metro look and feel. Meanwhile, the — Start button-free — Windows Desktop was relegated to just another application. We met the five Charms (Search, Share Start, Devices and Settings) for accessing system and application settings, and the Contracts that define how applications work together. Windows 8's cloud-centric nature was already evident in the DP, from the Live ID logon to a new Live Mail client with Exchange and webmail support, to SkyDrive integration.

"It's challenging to develop a user interface that scales from phone to TV, via slate, notebook and desktop PC"
— Simon Bisson

The main purpose of the Developer Preview, as the name suggests, was to get developers enthused about building 'immersive' Metro-style applications, and to give them the tools to get started. Microsoft duly provided a set of C++ Windows Runtime (WinRT) APIs giving comprehensive access to the OS capabilities, exposing them to managed and unmanaged code, and to JavaScript, and a new version of Visual Studio with plenty of Metro templates. The Windows Store was introduced, along with the business-focused Windows To Go, which allows you to run a self-contained instance of Windows 8 from a USB stick, plus updated security and system management features.

Our initial thoughts on Windows 8? Reviewer Simon Bisson noted that "The new shell and the Metro user interface model are very different ways of working to the familiar WIMP (Windows, Icons, Mouse and Pointer) paradigm" and that "it's challenging to develop a user interface that scales from phone to TV, via slate, notebook and desktop PC". However, he felt that "Microsoft seems to have nailed it. Metro's immersive look and feel works well on a range of different PC hardware, is easy to learn and a lot more informative than the old start menu and task bar". Despite the Developer Preview's buggy pre-beta code, Simon considered Windows 8 "ready for developers to build and test new applications".

Read more:
Windows 8 Developer Preview
Windows 8 Developer Preview: screenshot gallery


Windows 8 Consumer Preview
February 2012

The Consumer Preview of Windows 8 introduced the Apps view (top), mixing Metro and Desktop apps. The Desktop screen (bottom) shows an open drawer of Charms for accessing system and application settings.

The second prerelease Windows 8 version was the Consumer Preview, unveiled at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Described by reviewer Simon Bisson as "close to the final Windows 8 user experience", the Consumer Preview saw a lot of fine-tuning of the UI, particularly the Metro (as it was still called) Start screen, including additional gestures and improvements for non-touch (mouse and keyboard) users, and Semantic Zoom for easier tile management. Touch users saw improvements too, with controls (for application switching and accessing Charms) in easily-hit locations, and a new swipe-down close gesture for closing running Metro applications.

Elsewhere, the Consumer Preview allowed users to personalise the list of tools used for publicly available contracts, including sharing and choosing files (part of the WinRT programming model, contracts allow applications to expose specific functions that can be used by other applications — with no need for either application to know about the other). Multi-monitor support was improved, with the choice of separate backgrounds for different screens, or one panoramic backdrop spanning multiple screens. Placeholder Metro apps from the Developer Preview, including Skydrive and Mail, were fleshed out and new ones — Bing Maps, for example — introduced.

We wrapped up our look at the Consumer Preview by noting that it was "considerably easier to use than the Developer Preview, especially with a keyboard and mouse" and that "end users (both consumer and enterprise) can start to learn a new way of working that's likely to be the foundation for Windows for the next decade".

Read more:
Windows 8 Consumer Preview
Windows 8 Consumer Preview: screenshot gallery


Windows 8 Release Preview
May 2012

Windows 8 Release Preview: Start screen with new application tiles (top); updated Windows Store (bottom).

Rolled out at the end of May, the Release Preview of Windows 8 signalled that it had moved on from beta code by dropping the Betta Fish from the startup screen, replacing it with 'Windows' in Metro (yes, it was still called that) typography. Microsoft promised 'tens of thousands' of improvements under the surface of the Release Preview, although at first glance it seemed little had changed from the previous CP release. A lot of Metro's rough edges were ironed out, though, and further improvements offered for mouse/keyboard users. The Start screen got new application tiles with better live content and multi-monitor support was further improved.

The Windows Store got a makeover, with new apps available — including Microsoft's own Live Essentials suite converted to Metro style. A new set of Family Safety tools, for controlling how children use a PC, also made its first appearance.

The Metro version of Internet Explorer 10 included Flash support — albeit limited to a whitelist of touch-friendly sites, blocking those that violate the Metro user experience guidelines.

As it neared feature-complete status, we advised that "IT departments should certainly start looking at Windows 8 now" and that "web developers should start to familiarise themselves with IE10's HTML5 and CSS3 capabilities". As for Windows 8's prospects in the marketplace, we thought that "it's still too early to say if Windows 8 will be a success. What we can say is that it definitely won't be a failure". We concluded that "There's a brave new world under the hood of Windows 8 — and it's one that IT professionals of all stripes will need to explore in depth".

Read more:
Windows 8 Release Preview
Windows 8 Release Preview: screenshot gallery


Windows 8 Enterprise RTM
August 2012

The final RTM Start screen (top), with the Desktop tile top left, ready to run existing business applications. On the desktop (bottom), the transparent Aero look from previous versions has gone, in favour of a flatter look.

For the final Release To Manufacturing (RTM) stage, we concentrated on the Enterprise version of Windows 8. The other versions for x86 computers are Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro, with Windows RT available for ARM-based systems.

Windows 8 is the basic edition for consumers, while Windows 8 Pro — which adds Remote Desktop server capability, the ability to join an Active Directory domain, support for Encrypting File System, Hyper-V and VHD booting, plus Group Policy, BitLocker/BitLocker To Go support — is for prosumers and business users. Windows 8 Enterprise lacks the ability to install the Pro edition's Media Center add-on and is for Software Assurance customers.

After almost a year's familiarity with the 'new' Start screen (Metro now being verboten following a rights dispute with a German company), we pronounced the UI "clean and fast, and easy to use with mouse and keyboard as well as on a touchscreen device". We noted that "There's an underlying simplicity to the new UI that's possible to confuse with 'dumbing down', but it does make complex tasks easy once you learn that the whole screen is a search UI, and can be navigated by typing". The bundled PowerShell 3.0 made it easier for admins to work with users' PCs both locally and remotely.

We didn't think that user retraining for the new UI would be a huge issue, if only because line-of-business applications were likely to remain on the desktop. Anecdotally, we found that "Windows 8 is like Windows 7 — just faster and more power-efficient (our test laptops have gained an extra hour of battery life on average after updating with Windows 8)".

"Windows 8 is an operating system upgrade that, alongside Windows Server 2012, will help get your business architectures ready for the next generation of hardware and software — especially the cloud."
— Simon Bisson

By RTM time, the Windows Store had more new-style apps (check here for data) — although of course it had (and still has) a long way to go to catch rival OS vendors' app stores. Enterprise customers will be able to deliver suitably certified new-style apps independently of the Windows Store at individual or group level. Group policies can also block file and settings synchronisation via SkyDrive (available to consumer Windows 8) and use file sync in SharePoint 2013 instead.

Windows To Go (WTG) is an Enterprise feature, allowing a full Windows 8 install from a flash drive. WTG gets access to all of a host PC's processing power and memory — but not its disk drives or other storage. Everything a user does stays on the flash drive, ready to move to another PC.

Our verdict on the RTM code for Windows 8 Enterprise? "With improved enterprise features, it's an operating system upgrade that, alongside Windows Server 2012, will help get your business architectures ready for the next generation of hardware and software — especially the cloud." Well, it's out now: let's see what happens.

Read more:
Windows 8 Enterprise RTM
Windows 8 Enterprise RTM: screenshot gallery
Windows To Go: screenshots

Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Reviews

Simon Bisson

About Simon Bisson

Simon Bisson is a freelance technology journalist. He specialises in architecture and enterprise IT. He ran one of the UK's first national ISPs and moved to writing around the time of the collapse of the first dotcom boom. He still writes code.


Charles has been in tech publishing since the late 1980s, starting with Reed's Practical Computing, then moving to Ziff-Davis to help launch the UK version of PC Magazine in 1992. ZDNet came looking for a Reviews Editor in 2000, and he's been here ever since.

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  • Another Microsoft disaster...well nothing new

    Windoze 8 is Microsoft's road to another disaster...They like to repeat the history of Windoze failing with each and every release of major versions. Thanks, OS X and Linux; we don't have to deal with this nightmare
    • Ha

      You my friend are an epic troll. You should actually rename yourself from Shellcodes_coder to Troll_Troller
      Jitendra Singh G
      • It seems..

        the truth hurts, look there are Apple, Linux and Microsoft fans. Each one has a point.

        Only the consumer will eventually decide not technical geeks like ourselves. Once the enterprise opened the door to BYOD, Microsoft has been on the defensive as people are no longer have to buy from them.

        Is it not good that we have the option decide what we like and make our decision to buy it?
        I believe so.
        • In this

          case shellcoder doesn't have one except bash-ing Microsoft and sales pitch for Linux. In that sales pitch also (s)he really never tried to explain why Linux is better over Microsoft Windows.
          Ram U
          • No need for comparison

            Shellcodes_coder maybe a penguin lover, but unfortunately Windows 8 is a joke as far as the desktop is concerned. As a Windows developer I can see no value in the enterprise space. Windows 7 has no problem serving that space and Windows 8 does provide a disservice with its moronic tablet oriented OS.

            Enterprise just moved to Windows 7 so Windows 8 had no chance anyway, MS is using this opportunity to attack the tablet/mobile market. Accept Windows 8 for what it really is (i.e. a tablet version of Windows) and stop bs about its usefulness on the desktop. It is as useful on the desktop as pocking one of your eyes with a pen.
    • No one will agree with u

      Windows has only got better with every release...ur lion,tiger,bear or whatever u call it is hardly used by 5% vista was d only big failure of windows apart frm tht every version has been windows 8 has been tested by millions of people before its release...its fast, fluid and will kill every product apple makes...RIP apple(2007-2012)
      • Re: No one will agree with u

        Windows Vista was d only big failure of Windows? Sir, have you ever heard of Windows ME (Millennium Edition)?
      • Vista

        Quite honestly, you are speaking from innexperience. Windows Vista is a bit bulky and has too much going on but if maintained correctly, functions very well. In face, I have several systems running Vista over Windows 7. The reason for this is that Windows 7 simply did not have the benefit of being able to deal with programs more than 3 years old. In fact, several key systems needed to function in the business I was in were rendered defunct on installation. Windows XP Professional, Windows Vista Business are functional operating systems and if maintained correctly will function exactly the way you would like them to.
        • oops

        • Millenium

          And YES, Millenium was the most short lived, bulky non-operating....operating system.
    • True, but...

      Microsoft tends to go through disasters to eventually get right.

      However we support about 30,000 windows desktops and we only moved over to Windows 7 this year. We have been looking at Windows 8 and it is going to be a nightmare for us, training, support and get the applications we support to work.

      In fact if Windows 9 does not put it right we might have to consider what other options we have. However we have a fews years before we make the move so it gives Microsoft time to figure it out or we look at alternatives, like everybody else.
  • If Windows 8 was a film it would be Charlie and the Chocolate Factory(2005)

    Take a ton of money, vast quanties of marketing, great actors, a respected director, big budget sets, locations and CGI. A script based one of the best, most widely read classic childrens books by Roald Dahl.

    On paper it should be the best film ever, but somehow on the cutting room floor, the best bits get left out. The Editor produces a rushed, incoherent jumbled remake of the classic, that reminds you just how good the Gene Wilder' Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) was.

    It makes you ask the question, why was it re-made at all? the original was a classic.

    Somehow with vast big budget marketing, criticism by seasoned film critics is stiffled. It manages to still take money at the box office, but leaves a bitter taste in everyone's mouth. Slowly word gets out how bad a remake it is.

    No more sequels are made by Tim Burton.

    Yep, Windows 8 'is' Charlie and the Chocolate Factory(2005). Maybe MS just can't do Willy Wonka...aka. Tablet Type Devices.
    • actually you're wrong

      The original was good, but the remake grows on you. Once you get over how different it is from the original you can actually appreciate it for what it is.

      As it happens I will probably never watch the original or the remake again as I'm not 7 years old anymore and neither are my kids!

      As for the critics! how many of them were 7 years old? How many of them were so fixated upon the original that they couldn't give the remake a chance not because it wasn't any good, but because the original played a part of their childhoods!

      And there you have the problem with OS fans. None of them are capable of objectivity because they have all bought into doing things the way their OS's let them. The vast majority of people simply can't adjust to change and once they've bought in and done the CogDis they're hooked almost for life.
  • Windows 8: The road to RTM

    I can't believe Microsoft Windows 8 is here already. Seems like just yesterday they were announcing it and here we have it tonight its being released. Great article on the history of Microsoft Windows 8. I will be doing a back up tonight and installing this.
    Loverock Davidson-
  • Interesting interface

    This OS looks like a step in the direction of the touch screen/ tablet.
    Sorry to see the emotions run so high on these things, I've played with the advanced (beta) version, and find it easy to use.

    Now, if someone will tell me how to figure out the expiration date on the beta SW, I'd be grateful. I trashed the prior OS by mistake, and need to re-install it when 8 expires.
    • You can extend it by W8 enterprise tryout :-)

      At the end you will have to do something...
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