Microsoft announced the launch of the Windows 8 Release Preview yesterday, the last beta version of the software before the final finished version of the OS launches later in the year.
Here's an overview of the key new features based on Microsoft's release and coverage by reviewers on the web.
Adobe’s Flash is used for IE10 browsing
Microsoft has somewhat surprisingly integrated Adobe Flash directly into the Metro-style version of Internet Explorer 10.
Despite this, it would seem that Microsoft’s goal isn’t to run all things Flash, but to simply improve the overall web browsing user experience, especially those websites (like Disney’s, for example) which are Flash-heavy.
New apps for News, Travel and Sport
This latest beta brings about a plethora of new and improved Windows 8 applications, most of which are Microsoft’s own efforts. Indeed, Microsoft has included news apps for News, Travel and Sport, while the Redmond giant's Music, Photo and Video versions have been updated.
The News app is certainly interesting because it would seem to be Microsoft’s own attempt at a kind of Flipboard competitor. According to ZDNet’s Ed Bott, the app leverages Bing’s back-end for a continually updated news feed, with users able to drill down into this news by category and source. There’s even a My News section to place your favorite content.
The Sports app offers the same aggregation style for sports fans to clock news from different sources, be if for tracking NFL, NBA, golf or soccer, but more interesting is the functionality that lets fans follow news and information with a single tap.
The Travel app lets you buy plane tickets, and book hotels, while also enabling you to pick up travel guide information.
Improvements have also been made to a number of existing applications, including Microsoft’s own Music, Photo and Video apps, as well as Calendar and Mail.
The Windows 8 lock screen has been enhanced so that Video and Music apps can be controlled from it directly, while the Music app has inherited ZunePass - Microsoft's digital media player software - and gained DLNA support for enhanced streaming.
The Calendar app can now consolidate multiple calendars on the screen at same time, with color coding used to distinguish between them, and the Mail app is reported to have been updated with better multiple account support and folder organization.
Microsoft’s Photo app displays local images but is also able to integrate with Facebook and Flickr, and the Contacts offering serves up a universal set of contacts across social networks.
Bing and SkyDrive feature heavily
According to reviews of the latest preview, both Bing and SkyDrive feature heavily, as you would perhaps expect. The Bing search engine is being used to power the News, Sport and Travel apps, and essentially acts as the back-bone to sourcing all of this continuously-updated content from the web.
SkyDrive integration also features heavily, with Microsoft offering a nice deal of 7GB of free SkyDrive storage on Windows 8 devices, but up to 25GB free to those who sign up to the “Limited time loyalty offer” page. As the note says, this is a time-limited offer. SkyDrive has its own Metro-style Windows 8 app, and this has a new “fetch" option to grab pictures from other computers with SkyDrive installed.
The Metro UI looks similar, but has been polished
A number of reviews note that the Metro-style UI for Windows 8 largely remains the same from the Consumer Preview, but is slightly more refined.
A number of usability enhancements have been detailed on the Building Windows 8 Blog, including the ability to "pin" favorite content. This essentially allows specific email accounts, sports information or news from favorite publications, to be pinned to the home screen for faster access.
The “What’s New” page is also a handy new addition for perusing the latest news from your social media accounts.
Windows 7 upgrade offer to Windows 8
Microsoft also revealed its Windows 8 upgrade pricing of $14.99 for Windows 7 PC owners. The offer starts tomorrow (June 2) and continues until January 31, 2013.