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6/1/2012
10:51 AM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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Windows 8 Release Preview: Key Features

Microsoft's Windows 8 includes a host of new features and capabilities to keep desktop PCs a centerpiece of business and consumer computing in the age of smartphones and tablets.




Microsoft made the Windows 8 Release Preview version available Thursday, marking one of the final steps before the new version of the operating system hits the streets and computers around the world. Windows 8 includes a host of new features and capabilities, and represents a big bet by Microsoft that it can keep desktop PCs a centerpiece of business and consumer computing in the age of smartphones and tablets. We'll show you some of the key features Microsoft is counting on to accomplish that in this slideshow.

For businesses, Windows 8 is designed to maintain corporate security and manageability as more workers bring in their own consumer-style gadgets. "Windows 8 will deliver no compromise experiences on a range of devices from tablets and PCs to desktops," Microsoft chief operating officer Kevin Turner said earlier this year. "It will give people functionality they love and the enterprise-grade capabilities that IT departments demand."

Windows 8 will be available in two versions when it launches later this year. One version will run on x86 PCs, laptops, and slates or tablets powered by Intel or AMD chips, and will offer users the choice of working in the familiar Windows Explorer desktop or in the new, touch-centric Metro mode. The other version will run on tablets that run Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, or Nvidia chips based on the ARM reference design, and will only offer the Metro interface.

Turner said Microsoft expects businesses to find a home for both types of devices as workers demand mobility while on the road and full productivity while in the office. "Should I have touch or a mouse and a keyboard? Depending on the job function, the answer is yes and yes," said Turner. "Should I have security or should I let people bring their own technology to work? In the past the answer would be no, but now it is yes and yes."

IDC analyst Al Gillen said Windows 8, with its ability to stretch across desktop and tablet form factors while maintaining compatibility with existing corporate security and management infrastructures, could help Microsoft limit the extent to which non-Windows devices eat into its share of the enterprise OS market. "We believe Windows 8 will bring an evolutionary solution to Windows users that delivers business productivity, while helping IT to manage and secure new devices," said Gillen.

The next expected milestone for Windows 8 will be the release to manufacturing (RTM) date, which is targeted for the end of July, according to a blog post by Microsoft's Windows chief, Steven Sinofsky.

Between now and RTM, Microsoft will continue to refine the code, looking at issues including setup matters, compatibility glitches, and performance. It will also make some last tweaks to the touch-friendly Metro interface and feature set.

As predicted, Microsoft says Windows 8 and Windows RT will arrive for the crucial holiday retail season. The exact date for when the first Windows 8 machines will ship, Sinofsky notes, will be up to the hardware partners.

You can get up to speed with our Windows 8 Super Guide, which has all the news, analysis, and tips you need as you consider what Windows 8 will mean to your devices at home and in the enterprise.

If you're still debating whether to buy the latest Apple iPad or wait for Windows 8 tablets, we also have some good advice on the iPad vs. Windows 8 tablets decision.

As the image above shows, Windows 8 can use a Microsoft account (used for the Windows Live family of services, among other things) as a way to keep your PC settings consistent and in sync across multiple machines. You can also elect to use a local ID that's not linked to anything.


The new Start menu serves as both a launchpad and a dashboard--a way to see at-a-glance activity for many different kinds of data via Live Tiles, and a way to quickly access common apps. It has been refined a bit since the first public betas, but the underlying metaphor hasn't changed in any major way.

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The "charms" menu is revealed when you hover to the right side of the screen. This is the Metro version of a context menu, with the options listed behaving a little differently depending on what Metro app is in the foreground.

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If you need a full list of programs akin to the one in the Windows 7 Start menu, Windows 8 does have one, with links to both classic-desktop and Metro apps.

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Start typing in the Start menu and you'll be taken instantly to a search page. Incidentally, as this screenshot indicates, Windows Media Center is no longer included with Windows 8; it's being made available as an add-on you'll pay for, due to the licensing fees involved with the product.

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Microsoft's Store for Metro apps is gradually being populated with both new, Metro-specific apps and ports of existing desktop apps in a whole slew of categories.

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Apps in the Store come with age ratings, descriptions of their behavioral permissions, and other details. Users of the iOS or Android app stores ought to find the behavior familiar.

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Metro apps can also extend the functionality of the system in different ways. The Wikipedia app, for instance, extends Windows 8's native search function to allow search queries to be run through Wikipedia. Clicking one of the icons beneath the search box lets you choose the context for the search.

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Hovering at the right of the screen and selecting "Share" in a Metro app lets the currently displayed information be shared via a variety of methods. Mail and the People app are two of the most basic choices.

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If you long for the classic desktop, it's still here, and your conventional Windows apps will run just as they always have in it. Note, however, that the original Start menu has been completely removed. (Microsoft is in fact taking steps to make sure it cannot be restored.)

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The Metro-interface edition of Internet Explorer 10 now runs Flash--a natively installed version, akin to the way Flash has been integrated with Google Chrome. The new Do Not Track policy, by the way, is also enabled by default in IE 10.

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The Metro SkyDrive app lets you browse documents and photo galleries with a swipe of the finger.

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Internet Explorer 10 also exists in a conventional desktop edition. If you open a page in the Metro version of IE 10, a menu option exists there to open it on the desktop.

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The "People" app, a social media stream reader for Metro, is one of a bundle of preview-stage apps included with Windows 8's pre-release version. Most of them have the same simplified (or maybe just simplistic) flavor of Metro apps in general, so perhaps it will be up to third-party software makers to really show off what Metro can be at its best.

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