Closing out the month of May, Microsoft gave everyone an early present by putting up the final preview version of Windows 8, the Windows 8 Release Preview. Originally expected in the first week of June (i.e. next week), this is a hair earlier than expected and get the OS preview out just in time to show off at Computex and E3 next week.

Traditionally as Microsoft moves farther along with their OS builds their focus changes from adding new features to refining those features and bug hunting, and the Windows 8 Release Preview is no different. Most of the functionality we saw in the Consumer Preview remains untouched – including Metro and most of the ways to interact with it – so if you’re familiar with the Consumer Preview then you’ll be right at home with the Release Preview. What remains is Microsoft’s final feature development efforts as that begins to wind down, which means a smaller number of new features for the Release Preview alongside a more comprehensive shakedown of the OS.

We won’t reiterate all the new features of the Release Preview (this is what MS’s blog is for), but we’ll quickly touch upon the major ones. Multiple monitor users who found themselves frustrated with how the Consumer Preview didn’t even try to meaningfully handle multiple monitors will be happy to see that Microsoft has finally tackled multiple monitors and implemented proper control interfaces for multiple monitors, though like everything else about the Windows UI it’s distinctly different from Windows 7. Meanwhile laptop users will be releved to find that Microsoft has finally implemented support for trackpad gestures (à la Mac OS X) for multi-touch trackpads that are supported. And everyone will be happy to see that Microsoft has fully implemented the new and  greatly improved Check Disk utility, which can now avoid having to take a filesystem down to do most verification operations.

As for the application side of things, Microsoft has continued to work on their default Metro applications, which were in an early state in the Consumer Preview. In surrender to sites that can’t/won’t drop Flash, IE10 now integrates Adobe’s Flash Player for use with pre-approved sites, in a process that sidesteps the fact that IE10M doesn’t allow plugins.  Elsewhere the Mail, Video, Messenger, and Photos applications have all been overhauled, and News and Sports applications have been added.

The only known feature addition you won’t find in the current Release Preview is the new desktop UI. The Release Preview still uses Aero Glass, however MS has announced that for the release version of Windows 8 they will be switching to an unnamed, lightweight UI that does away with the glassy features of Aero in favor of something closer to a very flat version of Microsoft Office 2010. The only other features not currently exposed in the Release Preview are a few Pro features, such as Windows Media Center, which is remaining unchanged anyhow.

The New Unreleased Windows 8 Desktop UI

Wrapping things up, as is customary Microsoft is offering a Windows upgrade program to new computer buyers  in order to keep computer sales from grinding to a halt ahead of Windows 8’s launch later this year. New computers purchased from Microsoft’s partners after June 2nd will be able to upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for $15. This is a slight deviation from the past, as previously Microsoft would offer a straight upgrade (e.g. Home Prem to Home Prem) for free. Instead every computer buyer is getting Windows 8 Pro, but they also have to pay $15 for it. Compared to the retail price of an upgrade this is cheap, however it’ll be interesting to see how buyers react since there’s a big philosophical difference between free and not-free regardless of the price.

Assuming all goes according to schedule, Microsoft is looking at hitting RTM in a few months. For reference, the release version of Windows 7 was built on July 13th; Windows 8 won’t be ready quite that soon, but as long as it stays on schedule we’d expect it to be finished this summer. Microsoft still intends to launch it into retail for the holidays this year, so consumers can look forward to a shorter gap between when the OS hits RTM and when it actually shows up in stores.

Finally, for anyone on the fence about Windows 8 and whether they should bother to test or evaluate it at this point in time, Windows guru Paul Thurrott sums things up nicely: “it’s time to start evaluating Windows 8 as it is, now, in the Release Preview, and not looking forward to some future where whatever forces will come together and deliver some more complete vision. There’s no more complete vision coming. This is it. This is Windows 8”.

New Video Drivers

Alongside the release of the Windows 8 Release Preview, AMD and NVIDIA are both in the process of releasing new video drivers for Windows 8. As you may recall, Windows 8 introduces WDDM 1.2, which both companies will be supporting with their DX11 generation hardware. The good news is that both AMD and NVIDIA have gone from a work in progress to competition very quickly; in NVIDIA’s case their first display driver will be WHQL certified, and AMD should be closely behind.

For AMD users AMD has upheld their promise to deliver new drivers on the day of Windows 8 release previews, offering up a new Windows 8 driver that supports the Radeon HD 5000, 6000, and 7000 series, along with their respective FirePro counterparts.

NVIDIA on the other hand will be releasing their drivers next week, presumably due to the hold-up on WHQL certification. In the meantime testers will be in a bit of a bind; they will either need to use NVIDIA’s existing Consumer Preview drivers, use the out-of-the-box Windows 8 drivers, or forcibly install Windows 7 drivers.

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  • dczyz - Friday, June 1, 2012 - link

    Just did a new install on my hp notebook, and the amd drivers still doesnt support switchable graphics.

    The new Win 8 runs only on the Intel drivers, the AMD grahics card continues to give error 10.
  • zaccun - Friday, June 1, 2012 - link

    Optimus is working on my Thinkpad W520 at least, with the latest Win8 drivers from Intel and nvidia, with a quadro 2000m.
  • elbutchos - Friday, June 1, 2012 - link

    I was really looking forward to see this OS running on my old and faithful DELL Latitude C400.
    Well no cookie. On first restart it hangs and that's all.

    I'm quite disappointed. Even on my Core I5 laptop it didn't seem as fast and responsive as Win 7 and furthermore it's a battery guzzler if you know what I mean.
  • ViRGE - Friday, June 1, 2012 - link

    If it works with Win7 then you should take the time to report the issue to MS. They're shooting for 100% compatibility on Win8, and should be genuinely interested in your report.
  • B3an - Saturday, June 2, 2012 - link

    You seem to have some kind of problem... or are you using virtualization software? It will always be slower in that.

    For pretty much everyone else Win 8 is faster than 7, and uses less RAM. It also runs better on older hardware, as good as XP infact! I've got it running on a laptop with just 512MB and it runs just as snappy as XP did. But with 7 on the same laptop it's almost unusable. After Vista each version of Windows has gotten faster and lighter.
  • augiem - Friday, June 1, 2012 - link

    seems to be to serve as a portal to Microsoft's online services. Just look at how many of the first icons you see are MS cloud services -- Mail, Calendar, Store, People, Photos, Maps, SkyDrive, Messanging, Music, Weather, Xbox Live, Travel, Finance... EVERYTHING but Desktop, IE, and Camera are linked to their cloud offerings. This OS is intended to be a stop-gap between desktop computing and the (sad) future of fully cloud-based system like Chrome OS. You even have to log in with a microsoft ID during install and on startup. All I can say is #1) Yuck and #2) Wow, if this were 1999 Microsoft would be crucified and drawn and quartered. The EU would demand they give you a spinning wheel of options for every service during install. But now that Google and Apple have been doing it for a while, I guess Microsoft is allowed to as well.

    As for Metro in general, all I can say is Microsoft, I'm seriously disappointed in you and am utterly dumbfounded you crashed and burned this fast after Gates' departure. I predict heads will roll at the company when Windows 8 outdoes Vista as the most hated OS ever made by the company and they see ZERO corporate or enthusiast upgrades and a giant swath of downgrades to Windows 7.

    For crying out loud, the namesake of the OS -- WINDOWS -- don't even exist in Metro anymore! This OS should be renamed ScrollBar.
  • ssiu - Friday, June 1, 2012 - link

    With previous "free" Windows upgrade offers (to Windows Vista, windows 7), each OEM has different policy, and most charge a $10 to $20 "shipping and handling fee" (one or two OEMs may have been totally free). So a $15 upgrade to a Pro version is not bad at all.

    Also, you can install the upgrade to any machine (with valid XP / Vista 7 license), not only to the new Windows 7 machine you bought after June 1.

    (But you have to pay extra for Windows Media Center / DVD playback.)
  • alexs42 - Friday, June 1, 2012 - link

    I like the idea that they are getting rid of aero in the interest of harmonizing the look (little bit by little bit) of Win 8 Metro and desktop. Also, here are my general thoughts on CP, have not tried RP.
    I've installed the consumer preview on all of my machines (Sony vaio eb laptop i5-520M, an atom-based asus netbook that was a gift from the hospital I work at, and my home desktop that is i5-750 based). The reason I did so was that win 8 was literally magical in converting the netbook (the intial install) from an essentially unusable machine to something that actually performed impressively despite the extremely limited hardware (after a brief registry hack to enable resolution scaling). It's quite interesting reading these forums where everybody seems so down on windows 8, going around screaming Vista, Vista, Aarghhh, when it's actually quite wonderful to use it on a daily basis. Even though I spend most of my time in the desktop mode, I do not miss the start button AT ALL. I suppose that is because I never actually used it, since I have nicely grouped folders and program start icons all on my desktop, where i just click on them. I must admit that from a usability standpoint, the idea that I have to go digging through the win7 start menu (where icons are never in the freaking same spot!!! and click on all programs and then search for programs) is just absolutely horrifying. I mean seriously, who in their right mind thinks that is something great? I do not mean to be a flamer from that perspective, but I have not really used the start button in at least 5-6 years.
    While metro is very different from the desktop, it just seems like such a breath of fresh air, and the future of how i wish to interact with a computer. I've been a computer user (somewhat power-ish, aka, minimal programming, mostly using office, statistics programs and such) since DOS 3.3 and my first 286 with an EGA graphics card, and I have to say, that metro, and especially the promise of touch, Kinect and natural-language processing enabled operating system (over the next few years), finally brings to computing what I always desired - a true human-interactive machine along the lines of what I used to adore watching sci-fi as a kid (Star Trek and all that). Everybody seems to suggest that it's jarring, but i feel that would be the case if it caused slowdowns and stuff, instead it just seems like a peek into the future and while I don't use the Metro apps yet on a daily basis, I think they are just beautiful, and can't wait to see what comes once more serious apps come out.

    In the end, having converted both mine (and my wife's) computers to win 8, I can't really imagine going back, it just works so much more smoothly. My main complaints are : ribbon in office (which is not win8-specific, but MS is doubling down on it, and I kinda hate it), and the fact that once the full version comes out, MS will not let you upgrade a Preview version directly to full version (that's just awful, I'll take me at least 6-12 hours to bring all my stuff back and organize it again). As a physician I just don't have the time to do that sort of stuff - anything that takes more than an hour of my time for just fiddling pisses me off royally - I could spend that time w/ my kid or doing something productive.
    Now before everybody jumps on my case let me say this: I realize I'm an idiot in installing the preview version on my main machines, but I just could not leave it on the netbook alone, while my SSD-upgraded Vaio (m4 512 baby :)) chugs along on a 3yr old platform. It just looked too good on low powered machines to resist not upgrading the others......
  • B3an - Saturday, June 2, 2012 - link

    I agree with everything you've said.

    I certainly am a "power user" (hate that word) i use things like Photoshop, high-end 3D modelling + rendering software (Maya, 3DS Max) and do video editing too (After Effects). I have a desktop with 32GB RAM, multiple SSD's in RAID, CrossFire, plus two 30" monitors... BUT... i think Win 8 is just better. Metro replaces the Start Menu and i can find stuff quicker with Metro. I use Search a lot and on a 30" monitor i get 150 results displayed to me, as Metro scales with screen res and will display more things based on your resolution. The Start Menu only ever display 20 items in it's list. Yeah you can resize it, but you have to do it manually by digging in to the settings.

    In the RP almost every problem i had in the Consumer Preview is fixed as well, like the multi-monitor issues with the hot corners. Not only this but it's one of the fastest OS's around. On any system i try it on, it will use less RAM than 7, feels snappier, boots faster, and launches apps quicker. And maybe i'm just imagining this one but games even seem smoother...

    I think all the people bashing 8 are just the usual lot that cant accept change. Some even think the desktop being dumbed down just because the useless Start Menu is gone (even though Metro does far more and often faster), when infact the desktop is more capable than ever and has great new features like Storage Spaces. The desktop probably has more improvements than 7 did over Vista.
  • rezlab - Sunday, June 3, 2012 - link

    Did you have to re-install everything when you went to RP? I am reluctant to do so because of the amount of time and tweaking that went into setting up CP.

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