Love it or loathe it, Microsoft's next operating system (opens in new tab) is creeping closer and closer. That fact has been marked today by the launch of a new beta called the Release Preview (opens in new tab) .
Coded 'Build 8400', it's an update from the Consumer Preview that's been available since March, and brings a few new apps and interface tweaks to the now familiar Metro/Desktop look and feel. According to Microsoft, this will be the final version until the Release To Manufacturing is posted to its website – an event suspected to be planned for sometime in the autumn.
Not had your fill of Win 8 betas or want to know what's new? Read on.
If you're expecting or hoping for a radical backtrack on the Metro design, you'll be disappointed. There are 'tens of thousands' of changes, we're told, but most of them are bug fixes, security improvements and new WinRT apps. As far as visible changes go, there are a few more customisation options for the Start screen, including the ability to change its background and foreground colours. There's some new wallpapers for the desktop too.
The general structures for getting about are still the same, however. The Start screen is accessed by swinging the mouse into the bottom left of the desktop; settings and sharing options are called up by moving the mouse to the bottom right.(opens in new tab)
There are some changes to the Windows 8 desktop still planned, most notable being the removal of window borders in the default theme. That should give it a a more modern look, similar to MacOSX and Ubuntu.
I have been impressed by the built in driver support in Windows 8. Other than graphics cards, nearly everything I've tried so far has worked out of the box. I haven't tried many peripherals, like printers, yet. According to Windows 8 chief Steve Sinofsky's (opens in new tab) blog, there are more compatibility fixes for games too. So far, however, I'm still struggling to get Battlefield 3 running at all, although I suspect that may be a graphics issue at this stage.
NVIDIA already has certified drivers for Windows 8 ready, although I haven't tried them yet. AMD's Catalyst suite works well, but has some issues with multicard support, as far as I can tell.
Even so, I'm not sure I'll ever be convinced 'hot' corners are a good idea for calling up critical features on a desktop – they're the first thing I turn off after installing Ubuntu, for example, even when they aren't for essential stuff.
The new build isn't a straight update from the Consumer Preview, by the way. If you're currently running the last beta, you'll need to head over to the download site and perform an upgrade, as if you were coming from Windows 7. The chances are it'll uninstall all your existing programs too. That said, the new installer is lovely and very quick – but do be warned if you're relying on the Consumer Preview as a work machine.