Microsoft has unleashed the Windows 8 Release Preview as a free download available to PC users wishing to take it for a test drive. As expected, this third and final pre-release version shows significantly more polish than its predecessors and offers increased personalization options in addition to some welcome new apps in the form of News, Sport and Travel.
The Release Preview follows on from the Developer Preview and Consumer Preview and offers more than a mere nip and tuck. The team behind Windows 8 will certainly have been keen to listen to the feedback which has trickled in from the legions of Windows 8 testers and one of the signs of this is the redesign of the Store, which has been altered to offer easier navigation and a greater depth of content.
While the Windows 8 Store cannot yet compete with the quantity or quality of apps found in, say, Apple's own App Store, it does contain a respectable amount of software for a still new platform and the Wikipedia app was a particularly pleasant experience - its combination of eye-candy and utility makes it perhaps the most compelling Wikipedia app we’ve yet to experience on any desktop computer platform.
The all-new News, Sport and Travel apps each rely on data fed from Bing but promise to offer an experience which exceeds that which one usually gets from the web browser alone. We found that they largely delivered, offering content broadly along the lines of an easy to use RSS app, though Travel feels more like a gimmick rather than long lasting essential core feature, however pretty it is.
Internet Explorer 10 (IE10) has also been visited by Microsoft’s makeover team and now comes with "do not track" turned on by default, allowing users to more easily manage cookies and other such privacy concerns. Overall, the browser is a vast improvement over those older versions of IE which were the misfortune of millions of office workers throughout the previous decade.
Windows 8 definitely has the capacity to impress and this Release Preview shall appeal to those who like the uncharted territory into which Microsoft is steering its flagship product, and appall those who do not. The latter camp should be somewhat appeased by the ability to access the classic Windows desktop view, but we'll find out what the verdict of the masses is when Windows 8 ships in roughly two months.