by Jonathan Hassell

What to Expect From Windows 8 and the Release Preview

Jun 25, 20127 mins
Computers and PeripheralsConsumer ElectronicsLaptops

Last month's Windows 8 Release Preview provided a sneak peek at what Metro apps will look like. The non-Metro desktop remains a mystery, though, so enterprises hoping to at least decide whether to adopt Windows 8 may need to wait until its final release.

Last month, Microsoft released the Windows 8 Release Preview for general download. The “Release Preview” indicates that the build isn’t quite a candidate for release. Instead, it’s a nearly feature-complete reveal of what the final product will generally look like, with some notable exceptions.

Windows 8 is as controversial as Windows Vista was—for different reasons, of course—but the upheaval to the steady train that has been Windows continues nonetheless. Windows 8 represents a melding of Windows as we’ve known it into a new engine, a new application model and an entirely new platform.

Blog: Enterprise Version of Windows 8 Focuses on Security

Naturally, that requires some careful consideration and exploration, so the Release Preview milestone seems like a fine time to step back and look at what we can expect from Windows 8 now that this build is released.

Don’t Expect a Rush to Windows 8 Enterprise Adoption

With this build, we can finally start to make credible determinations about where Windows 8 fits in the enterprise. We can finally compare a reasonably close-to-finished build with the quite frankly superb Windows 7.

We’re now able to see just how much added value there is for apps built for the Metro interface, the lack of a Start menu, the refined lock screen and other improvements to this operating system, because we can now start benchmarking, user experience testing and evaluating Windows 8 in comparison to the very solid, already released and perhaps even paid for Windows 7.

How-to: Windows 8 Features IT Pros Need to Know

It’s easy to see that Windows 8 is primarily oriented at consumers. The move to Windows RT, Metro, the relegation of the desktop to essentially being an app, the updates to media players and touchscreen support are not enterprise-focused features. They are aimed squarely at individual users who are buying PCs and devices for the home. Regardless of what you’ll hear from Microsoft and the laundry list of small improvements for business networks in Windows 8, the major effort to appease consumers is clear.

Windows 8 start-up screen
The Windows 8 start-up screen reflects an obvious appeal to consumers.

That’s what makes the enterprise adoption question just as unclear. We can expect that the decision on whether or not to adopt Windows 8 won’t be nearly as easy for enterprises as moving from Windows XP to Windows 7 or, conversely, skipping Windows Vista altogether. Windows 8 is a nuanced product that can mean very different things to various organizations based on usage patterns, employee and user demographics, size and budget. Tough calls are ahead.

Don’t Expect a Fully Baked Desktop UI Until Final Release

Microsoft seems intent on keeping certain items hidden up its sleeves until the last possible moment, and that includes what the non-Metro style regular desktop user interface will look like. This secret won’t be revealed to the general public until the product is generally available.

Microsoft’s Jensen Harris has said of Windows 7 on the widely-read Building Windows 8 blog, “[The Aero Glass] style of simulating faux-realistic materials (such as glass or aluminum) on the screen looks dated and cheesy now,” while the new user interface in the final version of Windows 8 will be flattened, sharper and more crisp. I’m not sure ultimately how useful it is to deprecate the user interface in your currently shipping flagship OS, but the statement was made.

Many speculate that battery life concerns have driven these decisions. That may indeed be true, but there’s a bigger issue, though. Why is the company making such fundamental changes to its flagship operating system so late in the game, and why would these changes not be made public in advance so user feedback could be integrated and iterated over in later builds?

Blog: Windows 8 Consumer Preview: Love, Hate and Everything Between

Simply put, we can’t know what to expect for everyday users using who are typical desktop applications as they have on all previous versions of Windows. We just don’t know what that will look like, and we won’t know until the Windows 8 release date. It’s a very odd position for the software giant to take.

Do Expect Developer Interest in Metro Applications

The big surprise in the Windows 8 Release Preview build is the new app landscape; the rest of the differences between what we saw earlier this year and what we see now are simply polishes and refinements. While Metro itself, as a design language, has been a part of the ill-adopted Windows Phone 7 for some time now, with the Windows 8 Release Preview we can finally see what true Metro-style apps can do on a powerful device with a big screen, thanks to the fresh new built-in apps contained within the build.

The News, Sports and Bing Travel apps, for example, look impressive. They integrate tightly with each other, display content in a rich and engaging way, and truly show off what Metro can do. The sports hub in particular provides a model for how developers can create apps that both consume a variety of content and also highlight it in a way that lets users see it with emphasis, share it with colleagues or friends, and get access to it quickly.

These in-build apps provide a fantastic example for developers everywhere, including those internal to your business—with Windows 8, on both your current PCs and perhaps new tablets, this is what you can accomplish. It’s a high bar. Since Metro-style app development is the real frontier when it comes to Windows 8, as a business you have two tasks—to evaluate how an app written with the Metro design would help your business, either internally or externally, and to consider whether that investment justifies an internal deployment of the OS.

Do Expect Windows 8 to Be Available Around Thanksgiving

The other big question about Windows 8 has always been around its timing, and we have finally received a glimpse into the pipeline. In the aforementioned very wordy blog post announcing the availability of the Windows 8 Release Preview, Windows president Steve Sinofsky says, “Ultimately, our partners will determine when their PCs are available in market. If the feedback and telemetry on Windows 8 and Windows RT match our expectations, then we will enter the final phases of the [release to manufacturing] process in about 2 months. If we are successful in that, then we are tracking to our shared goal of having PCs with Windows 8 and Windows RT available for the holidays.”

Windows 8 logo
This logo may appear on many 2012 holiday season gifts.

All along, Microsoft has promised that the OS would be available this year. It appears the company is on track to deliver on that promise, with a final build delivered to OEMs in August and general availability around the end of October or early November. With the anticipated release of the next version of Microsoft Office, SharePoint and Exchange around that same general timeframe, it promises to be a very busy fall for technology evaluators in your company.

Overall, what we have with Windows 8 and the Release Preview build is a re-engineered Windows firmly aimed at the consumer market. How will these changes work in a business environment? Are we ready to “reimagine Windows” in an enterprise context? These are the questions we can expect to answer, starting now.

Jonathan Hassell runs 82 Ventures, a consulting firm based out of Charlotte. He’s also an editor with Apress Media LLC. Reach him via email and on Twitter. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, on Facebook, and on Google +.