Leaving little doubt that Windows 8 will indeed launch this fall, Microsoft launched the Windows 8 Release Preview along with a special upgrade offer. And in their wake, a hardware and software ecosystem is beginning to take shape.
Three months after opening the floodgates on the Consumer Preview, the software giant has rolled up the latest bug fixes and applied some polish for a downloadable pre-release version of the OS that closely represents the finished product. Nonetheless, Windows 8 still has some work to do before hitting the next milestone, Release to Manufacturing (RTM), according to Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live Division.
In an MSDN Blog post, he writes that Microsoft is looking to surpass its well-liked predecessor, Windows 7. "Our focus from now until RTM is on continuing to maintain a quality level higher than Windows 7 in all the measures we focus on, including reliability over time; security to the core; PC, software, and peripheral compatibility; and resource utilization," he writes.
Meanwhile, Windows 8 Release Preview users get new functionality that was added after the consumer preview's release. These include improved multi-monitor support, new News, Sports and Travel apps powered by Bing and added Start screen customizations. Internet Explorer 10 gets "a fully integrated secure and power-optimized Adobe Flash Player," according to the company.
Microsoft used the occasion to kick off an offer that allows soon-to-be Windows 7 PC buyers to upgrade to Windows 8 for $14.99. In another indication that the official Windows 8 launch is a few months away -- Microsoft has yet to reveal the exact timing -- beginning June 2nd, purchasers of eligible Windows 7 systems will be able to upgrade for $14.99.
Expect the Windows 8 hype machine to enter overdrive during Computex in Taipei. The tablet version of the OS is expected to make an appearance on hardware from Toshiba and Asus during the technology conference, according to a report in Bloomberg.
Asus will be straddling the Intel-ARM fence by showing off both an Nvidia Tegra-powered tablet and one that uses an Intel processor. Toshiba will unveil a tablet and "notebook-like device" powered by ARM-based processors from Texas Instruments.
Although Intel dominates in desktops and servers, energy efficient ARM-based processors are found in the vast majority of smartphones and tablets. And it's the fast-growing tablet market that Microsoft is targeting with an ARM-compatible build on its latest OS, called Windows RT.
To jumpstart business interest in Windows tablets -- and slow the iPad's invasion of the enterprise -- Microsoft is including Office 15 with Windows RT. The productivity suite is making the move to mobility with touch-optimized versions of the Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.