Microsoft Windows 8, Server 8 Near Beta Test 2

Microsoft's OS and server OS at the core of its mobile and cloud-era architecture approach a big milestone, along with Visual Studio 11.
Visual Studio 11
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Visual Studio 11
Some widely anticipated Microsoft offerings will leap into beta testing next week, according to the company. Both Windows Server 8 and Visual Studio 11 will be available to tech pros for testing on Feb. 29.

That's also the same day that Windows 8 Consumer Preview launches, as well as a beta version of .NET Framework 4.5, making next week a big one for Redmond.

The products are key to Microsoft's aim to build a computing platform that stretches across mobile devices, PCs, and private and public clouds.

The most significant change that developers will notice in Visual Studio 11 is a new, monochromatic interface. Microsoft said it ditched color in the new product in order to create a cleaner, less distracting GUI to make it easier for developers to focus on their work.

"We know that developers can lose a lot of their time just orienting themselves to a project and the tools they are working with," said Jason Zander, Microsoft's corporate VP for Visual Studio. "By refreshing the user interface, we've made much more of the core functionality easier for a developer to find and use quickly, helping maintain concentration."

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Visual Studio 11's interface also features fewer toolbar commands, to free up work space, simpler graphics, and new Preview Tabs. Microsoft has also geared Visual Studio 11 to support development of Metro-style apps for Windows, as well as Web apps based on HTML5 and JavaScript.

Also dropping Feb. 29 is the beta version of Windows Server 8. Microsoft is positioning the new release as a private cloud platform for organizations that don't wish to move apps and data to the public cloud on Windows Azure. To that end, it supports fully virtualized, multitenant environments, tools that enable usage-based billing, and upstream and downstream links to Azure cloud services.

"Our goal is to give customers the choice and flexibility to build and deploy applications across their choice of private and public cloud environments, or a combination of both," said Bill Laing, Microsoft's VP for Server and Cloud. Windows Server 8 also supports virtualized work environments that allow workers to access their desktops from any device.

Microsoft earlier this month invited journalists to a media event on Feb. 29 in Barcelona, during the World Mobile Congress, at which it will formally unveil the Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

Although the software is not officially being called a beta version, it's generally thought to be analogous to the "public beta 1" label that the software maker used during the pre-release period for past Windows launches.

Microsoft has not announced official release dates for Windows 8 and related offerings, but many analysts expect the software to be publicly available later this year.

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