Windows 8 Preview Available

Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 will be a radical departure from its operating system legacy, featuring a new interface designed for touchscreen, mouse, keyboard, and pen input. Microsoft announced on July 9, 2012, that Windows 8 will be released to manufacturing in August, and be made available to consumers by the end of October. You don’t have to wait until then, however. Microsoft has a “consumer preview” version that can be downloaded for free at http://preview.windows.com.

“We encourage IT professionals to begin using it to get a firsthand experience of how Windows 8 will give people a beautiful, fast and fluid experience with the mobility and familiarity they need to effortlessly move between what they want to do and what they need to do,” said Kevin Turner, chief operating officer at Microsoft.

These are some of the more prominent new features in Windows 8:

The new “Metro” interface features big, colorful tiles that the user can swipe and touch — similar to the way one would on a Windows Phone device. The tiles differ from traditional desktop icons by letting users view live information from Windows 8 Metro-style applications without actually accessing the apps. For instance, a tile for Windows Live Mail will show the latest message, while a tile for a social networking app will show notifications.

Windows 8 will be closely linked with the cloud. Users can log in through the cloud using a Windows Live ID, which makes their email, calendar, contacts and anything they’ve stored on SkyDrive available to them on any machine they sign into and also automatically syncs all of that stuff across all of their devices.

The OS will include a redesigned version of the Internet Explorer web browser. There are actually two versions of IE 10. One is a Metro-style app and more locked down and constrained while providing a unique full-screen browsing experience that will be useful on tablets and other highly mobile devices. The other is a traditional desktop application that looks and works much like its predecessor and is fully extensible with third-party add-ons.

For people who are increasingly mobile, Windows 8 includes Windows To Go — the ability to provide users with a full corporate copy of Windows 8 (along with users’ business apps, data and settings) on a USB storage device. Windows 8 also includes improvements to DirectAccess and built-in mobile broadband features that natively support 3G and 4G telecommunication. And Windows 8 can stay always connected with Metro style apps.

Windows 8 will also feature advances in virtualization designed to make it easier for IT departments to implement virtual desktop infrastructures in a more cost-effective way. In addition, Windows 8 includes Microsoft Hyper-V, a high-performing client virtualization technology that enables enterprise developers to develop, debug and test multiple configurations of apps and operating systems on a single PC instead of each configuration requiring its own PC.