Microsoft has revealed the latest, almost-finished Windows 8 Release Preview, which is now freely available to anyone who wants to try it out.
And to answer the big questions first: yes, it still boots into Metro; you can’t easily boot to the desktop instead; and no, the Start menu hasn’t made a return. And as this is the final pre-release build, it doesn’t look like any of these issues will be changing in future.
If that’s not a deal-breaker for you, though, there’s a fair amount to explore in this new release. The Start screen now includes Bing-powered News, Sports and Travel apps, for instance, properly localised so they’ll display information relevant to you.
And the Windows App Store is now a much busier place: click the “Top Free” tile, say, and as we write you’ll find 47 apps to explore, including news, sport, games, some useful utilities, and more.
Existing Metro apps benefit from a range of improvements, perhaps the most interesting of which is IE’s “Flip Ahead”, which tries to figure out which page you’re most likely to visit next, then lets you click a button to jump to it (so no more messing around hunting for tiny links). This is turned off by default, presumably because it generates extra web traffic by having to fetch the “most likely” link for every page you visit, but if you’d like to try this for yourself then it’s easily enabled (Internet Options > Advanced, scroll to the Browsing section, check “Enable flip ahead”, click OK).
And there are a stack of smaller tweaks and enhancements elsewhere, including better multi-monitor support; more settings and configuration options; improved performance and stability; integrated Flash in IE10; more effective Windows repair tools; and probably many other things no-one’s noticed yet.
The Release Preview probably won’t change anyone’s opinion about Windows 8, then, but it is another step forward, and if you’re interested in seeing what’s next then it’s worth a look.
Just as with the Consumer Preview, you can either use a small setup tool to download everything and do the hard work for you, or (our preferred option) grab a 32-bit or 64-bit ISO, ready to burn to disc or use with a virtual machine. Just keep in mind that the ISO’s will require that you enter a product key: Microsoft says everyone can use TK8TP-9JN6P-7X7WW-RFFTV-B7QPF