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Here are some of the more interesting improvements - and quirks - of Windows 8 RP, as Microsoft sprints to the finish line
Windows 8 Release Preview
Windows 8 Release Preview will be the last version of Windows 8 before the final bits ship, probably in late July or early August. As I explained in my overview of Windows 8 Release Preview, most of the changes between Customer Preview and last week’s Release Preview barely rate a zero on the ho-hum scale. But there are two areas where RP has leapt ahead -- IE and Metro apps -- and we’ve been assured of several more changes to come by the time RTM crosses the finish line. Permit me to step you through a few of the more interesting parts of this version, and the one yet to come -- and draw some comparisons you aren’t likely to see elsewhere.
Metro Start re-imagined at 1366 x 768
No doubt you’ve fumed and fussed over the Metro Start screen. Except for the addition of some new Metro apps -- Metro Travel (on left, above Desktop) and Metro News, Sports, and Finance (right column) -- it hasn’t changed much. (Click to enlarge.)
RP has a few more background colors to choose from, and it’s possible to get rid of that swirly background pattern that bedeviled the Consumer Preview. Microsoft is rumored to have more color combinations coming for RTM, but you won’t be able to mix and match background colors and highlight colors. Best to leave that to the professionals, I guess.
The Metro apps still have bugs
Microsoft improved the Metro Bing Finance app a bit, with new currency conversion and global stock market summaries. Like all of the flashy new Metro apps, there are lots of big pictures, which display quite spectacularly on the Metro Start screen tiles, and it’s all very touch-friendly.
But there are also mistakes, like this one. The Russell 2000 closed last week at 737.42, as shown, but the monthly graph pegs it at about 1,840. (Click to enlarge.) Like all of the new Microsoft Metro apps, the Metro Bing Finance app acts like a shell with data poured into it from the Bing site. So it should be easy to fix this gaffe. Let’s see how long it takes Microsoft to correct it.
The Metro Bing News app
The Metro Bing News app brings a visual punch to everything it covers. Over the weekend, the top story featured a great shot of the President, which you can see replicated on the Metro Start screen in the preceding slide. The downside? There’s so much visual punch, there isn’t much room left for the news. (Click to enlarge.)
This is the main Metro Bing News app screen, viewed at the new Metro standard 1366 x 768 pixels. You can see one story, with edges of two more on the right. Scroll to the right, and you can see six more tiles with six associated news stories. Keep this slide in mind when you look at the next one.
The Bing app for iPad
Fourteen months ago, Microsoft released an iPad app called, succinctly, Bing for iPad. I’ve used it quite a bit, and it works well.
Here’s the home screen for the Bing for iPad app, which you can download free at the Apple AppStore. Although the screen here is limited to 1024 x 768 pixels (I shot this on an iPad 2), you can see some uncanny similarities. (Click to enlarge.) Tap the weather tile and you get an hourly and a ten-day forecast, just like the Metro Bing Weather app. Tap the Finance tile and you can put your choice of three stocks or indices on the screen. No big deal.
Bing for iPad News screen
I count 24 stories on one screen, give or take an unfortunately chopped off head. Keep in mind that the Windows 8 Metro Bing News screen has 30 percent more pixels than this screen. (Click to enlarge.)
What do you think? I guess it depends on how much you crave the visual punch and the ability to see a scrolling picture on the home page tile.
While I have my devil’s advocate suit on, horns waggling in the breeze, let me show you one more screen.
The Bing News site on the Web
This is what Bing’s news website looks like using Metro IE 10 with all of the “chrome” tucked away, at 1366 x 768. The site’s designed to encourage you to put RSS feeds and news alerts associated with your Microsoft account on the right side. (Click to enlarge.) If you click on the tabs at the top, Bing shows you the latest news items in typical search result style, with a link at the top of each item, a short blurb, and possibly a picture on the left. If you were to rely on Bing for your daily news would you prefer the Windows 8 Metro style (Slide 3), the iPad style (Slide 5), or the native Web style (this slide)?
Metro Mail handles multiple accounts separately
In Windows Consumer Preview, multiple email accounts caused enormous headaches. In Release Preview, there are three columns, and they stay put. The first column has one entry for each of your email accounts: Click on an entry, and the Inbox, Drafts, Sent Items, and so on appear for that account only. (Click to enlarge.)
The iPad’s Mail app lets you choose which account to view, or it lets you consolidate all of your accounts, so you can read all of your messages at once. Just sayin'.
On our way to Flatland
The Windows 8 Release Preview has rid windows of much of their sordid accoutrement. Gone are the rounded corners, glowing buttons, glass, and reflections. There’s still a little bit of transparency, as you can see in this slide, but that’s about to go on the chopping block, too. (Click to enlarge.)
As Microsoft’s Building Windows blog puts it, “These stylistic elements represented the design sensibilities of the time, reflecting the capabilities of the brand-new digital tools used to create and render them. This style of simulating faux-realistic materials (such as glass or aluminum) on the screen looks dated and cheesy now, but at the time, it was very much en vogue.”
Where windows will be by RTM
Microsoft posted this screenshot of the final Windows 8 window chrome, on the Building Windows 8 blog.
Windows 8 RP isn’t here yet, but this is where we’re headed. (Click to enlarge.) According to Microsoft, “We made the appearance of windows crisper by removing unnecessary shadows and transparency.... [We] updated the appearance of most common controls, such as buttons, check boxes, sliders, and the Ribbon. We squared off the rounded edges, cleaned away gradients, and flattened the control backgrounds to align with our chrome changes. We also tweaked the colors to make them feel more modern and neutral.”
Do Not Track turned on by default
In one of the gutsiest moves Microsoft has ever made with Internet Explorer, IE 10 ships with the Do Not Track header turned on by default. Although the header relies on website cooperation to put a dent in different kinds of tracking -- and the details of DNT are by no means set in concrete -- there’s no question that Microsoft’s come out on the side of the consumer. Of course, after Microsoft made its DNT announcement, the draft proposal of the standard was updated to require users to opt-in to the policy in order for it to take effect, thus rendering IE 10 non-compliant. No doubt DNT remains a moving target that we'll be hearing about more in the years to come.