Feeds

Windows 8

Apple iOS 7 makes some users literally SICK. As in puking, not upset

Excessive zoom and 3D-effect graphics in Apple's latest iOS is leaving some users reaching for the sick bucket

Windows 8: We kick the tyres on Redmond's new tablet wheels

Tastes like chicken

The Power of One Brief: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

Review The surprising thing about the Windows 8 Release Preview just delivered is not how much has changed from February's Consumer Preview, or even the Developer Preview from September 2011, but rather how little.

Microsoft is set on delivering this hybrid tablet-and-desktop operating system pretty much as-is, despite widespread feedback that the concept is not quite working. Windows chief Steven Sinofsky expects the new OS to "enter the final phases of the RTM process in about two months". That means August or thereabouts to finalise the code, and pre-loaded machines on the shelves a couple of months later, in time for winter.

Windows 8 is a touch-first operating system that uses Microsoft's Metro design language, first seen in Windows Phone, on top of a new runtime layer which is designed for cloud and mobile. Apps are isolated from each other and from the operating system, and most users will install them only from Microsoft's store. Conceptually the old Windows desktop is just another app: tap it, and you are back in the familiar desktop environment.

Windows 8 new start screen

Getting started on a Windows 8 x86 tablet

So what's new in the Release Preview? I installed it on two machines, a Samsung Slate with the correct touch screen size and a quad-core desktop with dual monitors.

Perhaps the biggest change is that Adobe Flash is now baked into Internet Explorer 10, even on the Metro side which Microsoft said would be free of plugins. Technically this is still correct. Microsoft has worked with Adobe to get Flash distributed with IE 10 and updated via Windows Update. This will work on ARM as well as x86 devices.

There is a catch though: Flash support only applies to sites on a compatibility list distributed by Microsoft.

I found Flash worked well on major sites, but not elsewhere. This is intended as a compatibility feature, not for the long-term. Nevertheless, this will be a selling point for Microsoft against the iPad, although with many sites now making special allowances for Apple's Flash-free tablet in their multimedia content this is not the big deal it once was.

What is odd is that Microsoft has not done the same for Silverlight, its own multimedia and application plugin. This is particularly strange given the extensive Silverlight dependence in Microsoft's own products, such as the recently released System Center 2012 which used the plugin for most of its web management consoles. Visual Studio 2012 has a dedicated tool, LightSwitch, for Silverlight applications.

IE 10 has some other new features. By default, IE has Do Not Track set to on. The value of this depends on whether a website behaves correctly; the W3C says:

Websites that track users across multiple first-party websites must check for the presence of the Do Not Track user preference. If a website detects that this preference is enabled, it must disable any tracking code or collection of data that can be used for tracking purposes, regardless of the level of identification of the user.

There is also a new feature called Flip Ahead that will let users advance to a specified new page by swiping rather than by clicking a link. This is designed for multi-page articles.

We did find some odd behaviour with Metro IE 10. For example, on some sites a download prompt would appear for a .swf (Adobe Flash file) and would not go away, whether you tapped Open, Save or Cancel. This is the kind of issue you can expect with a preview browser that lacks plugin support and should improve.

Next, Microsoft has improved multi-monitor support. This starts with new backgrounds designed to span two or more screens. More significantly, you can now display the Start menu on any display, which helps with usability since you can summon Start on the screen where you are not currently working. Another advantage of this arrangement is that you can run Metro apps without obscuring the primary screen with its desktop notification area, which we found annoying in the Consumer Preview.

Windows 8 multi monitor

Work on the primary display, Start on the secondary display - multi-monitor support

New Metro-style apps in the Release preview include News, Sports and Travel, good-looking apps that depend on Bing search to deliver content from the web in a swipe-friendly style. That said, the apps currently on offer in the Store are few and - in general - not compelling, considering their importance to the success of this project. There will be more for the final release, and they will need to be good to persuade desktop users that Metro is any more than a distraction.

The Mail, Calendar and People apps are enhanced compared to the Consumer Preview versions. The Mail app lets you specify how far back to synchronise your email, and whether to include contacts and calendar from each account.

Unfortunately there is still no option to forward an email.

I also had trouble connecting to Exchange, even with a fully patched Exchange 2010 server sitting on the local network in the same room. Exchange support depends on Autodiscover, a mechanism for automatically detecting emails settings via DNS, but even with Exchange reporting that Autodiscover was set up correctly, it did not work - presenting a typically uninformative message: "Unable to connect. Ensure that the information you've entered is correct." If in doubt, blame the user.

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
KDE releases ice-cream coloured Plasma 5 just in time for summer
Melty but refreshing - popular rival to Mint's Cinnamon's still a work in progress
NO MORE ALL CAPS and other pleasures of Visual Studio 14
Unpicking a packed preview that breaks down ASP.NET
Cheer up, Nokia fans. It can start making mobes again in 18 months
The real winner of the Nokia sale is *drumroll* ... Nokia
Put down that Oracle database patch: It could cost $23,000 per CPU
On-by-default INMEMORY tech a boon for developers ... as long as they can afford it
Another day, another Firefox: Version 31 is upon us ALREADY
Web devs, Mozilla really wants you to like this one
Google shows off new Chrome OS look
Athena springs full-grown from Chromium project's head
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.