In a move that has come earlier than expected and no doubt aimed at generating talk over at Computex, Microsoft has released for download, its Windows 8 Release Preview, it's final pre-release before the real deal expected towards the end of this year.
The firm states that it will still be making changes right up to RTM and that it will be taking serious note of user feedback both implicitly, through usage stats and error reports and, explicitly, through blog post responses, as always.
The latest iteration of Windows 8 brings with it a few new features, some of which we've already detailed in previous posts, such as improved multi-monitor support, but also some left unmentioned, such as initial support for three multi-touch gestures on touchpads, pinch-to-zoom, two-finger scroll and edge swiping, a quick way to reach Windows 8 edge charms. There are also subtle improvements to app APIs that make these gestures more useful.
Microsoft has also begun to bundle more default apps with the Windows 8; Bing Travel can be used to make flight / hotel bookings and to pin snapshots of dream destinations onto the start menu, with a drill down to various details such as maps, weathers, fares and so on. Bing Sports can be used to follow a favourite team, their latest news and fixtures or, simply to view top stories. Bing News speaks for itself, offering top-stories with drill-downs into various news categories, with sources from all around.
Generally, Internet Explorer 10 has been refined and stabilised, however, after a fair number of user complaints, Adobe Flash will now be bundled with the Metro variation of the browser, allowing users to enjoy 'legacy' Flash content.
Video and Music apps can now be controlled from the lock screen, with volume controls triggering a small control box. Likewise, the Music app has now gained support for DLNA streaming.
Microsoft's Mail app has seen improvements to multi-account functionality, along with the ability to pin access points to specific accounts to the start screen; it has been suggested that with usability being as good as it is for the mail and calendar apps, Microsoft may look to drop Outlook after the next release of Office, though this is a matter that'll likely not resolve itself until long after the final release of Windows 8.
Initial feedback suggests that the new OS is a little quicker to navigate than its Consumer Preview predecessor and that the time from sleep to wake-up has just about halved. What hasn't happened yet, however, is the loss of Aero, which Microsoft is saving for the final release.
Interested? Come and download your copy here.
For those interested in the release candidate of Windows Server 2012, which has now also been released, head on over to here.