Windows 8 nears the finish line: What's good, what's bad

Microsoft lifts the Windows 8 kimono one last time before the finish line. Here are the improvements and inconsistencies

The Windows 8 Release Preview arrived ahead of schedule, and I've spent the past week pounding on it. For those of you accustomed to the earlier Consumer Preview, many of the changes hardly rate a yawn. But some show that Microsoft's not down for the count just yet.

The most distressing point? We won't see another snapshot until Microsoft crosses its self-imposed finish line. Past versions of Windows have strewn the battlefield with successive release candidates. With Windows 8, you can kick the tires with this version, but you'll have to hold your breath and see what the final quantum jump will bring. Most assuredly this Release Preview is not a release candidate.

[ Windows 8 is coming, and InfoWorld can help you get ready with the Windows 8 Deep Dive PDF special report, which explains Microsoft's bold new direction for Windows, the new Metro interface for tablet and desktop apps, the transition from Windows 7, and more. | Stay abreast of key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

In this look at Windows 8 Release Preview, I won't go over all the baggage that's been debated before -- no, the Start button isn't there; yes, you have to get used to those Metro tiles; no, the interface isn't easy to learn; yes, the Metro to Desktop jumps will knock the eyeballs out of your sockets; no, people with PCs who have to get "real work" done won't like it; yes, on a touch device some of it actually grows on you. Instead, I'll focus on the improvements, quirks, and shortcomings of this last look before gold code.

If you haven't yet downloaded and installed Windows 8 Release Preview, Gregg Keizer has thorough instructions in his Computerworld article.

Windows 8 RP: Incremental improvements

Lots of little things changed between Consumer Preview (CP) and Release Preview (RP). There are more colors and patterns for the Metro Start screen, as well as new cursors, and somebody has stuck a fork in the beta fish, replacing it with a field of tulips.

Famously, Aero effects have been subdued, with flatter borders and fewer glowing buttons, shadows, reflections, and gradients, making the release seem less dated and cheesy. We've been assured that RP represents only a halfway point: By the time Windows reaches RTM, the interface will be flatter than a pancake. The exception is the RTM taskbar, which, according to Microsoft's teaser screenshot, retains its transparent ways (see below).

The exception is the RTM taskbar, which, according to Microsoft's teaser screenshot, retains its transparent ways.
The RTM taskbar is still transparent in Windows 8. (Source: Building Windows 8 blog)

There are tiny shifts in setup, an expanded "hot zone" on the edges of screens, an array of desktop backgrounds in a multiple-monitor setup, and a new version of the Windows Anytime Upgrade feature called Add Features to Windows 8. The Settings charm now leads to "Change PC Settings" instead of "More PC Settings," and a few settings have been modified slightly.

All of that's typical incremental improvement fare. The most interesting RP changes appear in Internet Explorer 10 and the new Metro apps.

Internet Explorer explores more, aims to divulge less

Internet Explorer 10 is now up to its sixth "platform preview," making it one of the most previewed programs in Microsoft's history. Unlike its previous five incarnations, this version of IE 10 has two distinctive features.

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