Now that we have a chance to get our hands on the Windows 8 Release Preview, it is pretty clear that Microsoft has been making the most of the time since their last release. Compared to the Windows 8 Consumer Preview this is a vastly superior product. Considering how impressive things were already looking, this is good news for Microsoft and Windows users in general.
As great as the VirtualBox installation was, I’ve taken the time to install this preview on my main machine. Everything I throw up here from this point done will be done from inside a working Windows 8 installation. If you have the time and hard drive space to give it a try, I strongly recommend it. The whole installation took me all of ten minutes and was by far the most painless Windows install that I’ve done in months.
Various reports indicate that this release tests slightly better on benchmarks than either the Consumer Preview or Windows 7 across the board. Microsoft has been emphasizing the speed and efficiency of the new OS, so this isn’t much of a surprise. In initial use, however, the speed improvement is impressive and very hard to miss. This likely won’t translate to intense gaming experiences or anything else that the usual benchmarks go out of their way to test, but in daily use you will be noticing a difference.
Aside from that general speed improvement, probably the most obvious changes center around interface fixes. Multiple display support, for example, is noticeably better now. I can pull up everything from the charm bar to the start menu on either display. You still can’t have multiple Metro apps open at a time as far as I can tell. You just get the one full and one docked application at any given time. Still, the ability to move things around a bit makes Windows 8 a lot more viable on the desktop.
Internet Explorer 10 has also seen some major improvements. New users are met with pre-installed Flash, an already activated “Do Not Track” setting, and an overall smoother experience. The desktop version remains the more functional, partly due to Microsoft’s requiring site white-listing before IE Metro’s Flash can function in a given situation. YouTube will work just fine, but I wasn’t so lucky everywhere else in my first few tests.
The Windows 8 App Store is also a bit more finished now. The selection has grown noticeably, though numbers are still low compared to most of the competition. Some of the previous selections that I was fond of seem to have been removed, though only a couple, while a great many new apps have sprung up. You can now find a very nice Wikipedia offering, for example, in case their main site wasn’t enough to eat up hours of your life on its own.
Microsoft’s own Apps, mostly Bing-powered, have gotten minor facelifts and performance improvements. Overall, the available selection does a great job of highlighting the potential in the new OS even if there is still the question of how to attract enough developer attention to flesh out the Store.
I’ll be looking at more specific features in greater depth in the near future. There’s a lot that’s been changed or fixed in the Windows 8 Release Preview and it would be a shame to overlook something interesting.