postheadericon Tech Talk: Windows 8 Release Preview

The Windows 8 Release Preview was made available for all to download and install this week, and follows the first public preview dubbed The Windows 8 Consumer Preview from back in February of this year. If you didn't catch my review then, here's your chance to catch up on the latest developments in the WIN world...

There's a lot coming down the pike for Windows users, as Windows 8 represents much more than an update to Windows 7, Vista, and XP. Based on what I see in this week's preview, Microsoft is attempting to re-invent itself into a tablet-friendly OS provider, as well as raise Windows to be on par with it's biggest rival: Apple's OSX Lion / Mountain Lion. And from where I sit (in front of the new Metro UI), they might be able to pull that off...

I won't go into all the new features of WIN8 (there are tons), but here is my top-5 list that I think you might enjoy:

1. Windows to Go
Windows To Go is a new feature (advertised but not yet working) that allows you to boot windows from a USB stick or hard drive. The implication here is that you can take your windows system, complete with programs and data, and boot up and run things on any other windows machine. Or, you can have different Windows system configurations (say one for your kids, or work vs. play, etc.) and then can just boot the system you want to work with at the moment. Mac OSX has had this feature forever, and it's the one feature found on Apple computers that previous to Windows 8, was found no where else.

2. New Metro UI
Metro UI is the new interface that has been slapped over top of the Windows desktop that you have known and loved since the days of XP. Essentially, the Start Button has been replaced by a colourful Start Screen, which is "gesture-enabled" (meaning you can swipe and pinch things as you do on your smartphone) and has big blocks of content easily arranged and in your face. For example, a synopsis of your most recent Mail message is one block, the last Facebook update or Twitter is in another, your next appointment from your calendar is in another, and so on and so on – just swipe left forever. And if you have a touchscreen, like the one my pal Sandee from Logix sells on Butterfly Road, you can do all this exploring without a mouse or trackpad. Microsoft is banking on Metro UI to become addictive, so much so that you go and buy a Windows Tablet when they arrive later this year, which will also use the same interface.

3. Wrapped in Ribbons
For anyone who has used a newer version of MS Word or Excel, you either love or hate the ribbon metaphor found there. The "ribbon" is that part at the top of an app that makes finding features and functions faster (depending on your mind set: old school vs. adaptive). Well, that ribbon is now found in many other Windows apps like Explorer. I'm a fan, how about you?

4. One Sign-In Works Everywhere
Also new in WIN8 is the ability to use your Microsoft account (HotMail ID/Password combo, for example) to sign into any computer and get access to all of your content and settings. This is great for folks who have several computers at work or in the home, and want their cloud content (mail, bookmarks, music collections, Sky Drive files, Windows Store purchases, etc.) wherever they are, regardless of the machine they are using. 

5. Better Family Safety
A security centre has been created (dubbed Family Safety) that gives concerned parents more control over what their kids do on their computers, and Family Safety has options to monitor their activity as well as flat out control what they are doing (both internet connected and not). 

In addition to my top 5 (yours may differ), another feature worthy of note is the all new Windows Defender, which is now a real-time anti-virus program, so running out and buying a Norton or other Anti-Virus program right away is no longer required – one comes with!

To try out Windows 8 ahead of the planned final release late this year, download the preview @, or if you are Mac user, fire up the latest release of Parallels Desktop for Mac, and that will help you install a virtual version of the Windows 8 Preview. That's what I did, and even as an Apple dude, I really like the improvements that I see so far. 


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