Microsoft Windows 8 Release Preview: download or not?

The Microsoft Windows 8 Release Preview download presents a simple choice for the tech enthusiast of the PC persuasion: should you install it or not?

Well, first, it’s probably a good idea to know what a release preview build is. So far, Microsoft has parted with standard testing phase nomenclature - alpha, beta and release candidate - and presented the world with the Windows 8 Developer Preview, Consumer Preview and now the Release Preview. Whether or not the company will go on to release a full version of the Windows 8 Release Candidate (the versions designed have the potential to be the end product) or whether this is indeed it, is unclear.

All the same, the short, simple advice to you, our good PL reader, is, yes, do give the Windows 8 Release Preview a crack. Why? Well, in the past, Microsoft has stated that those suitable for this kind of testing should:

a) like to use the latest software and enjoy experimenting with new technology

b) be comfortable backing up a PC, formatting a hard drive, and installing an operating system from scratch

c) feel comfortable troubleshooting PC problems youself

d) not mind updating software frequently

e) have the installation or recovery media and the knowledge to restore your previous operating system after you're done testing Windows 8 preview.

If that doesn’t sound like you, then you’re probably on the wrong website.

Of course, what you should pay lots of attention to is statement e). In the recent past, Microsoft has not let users upgrade the release candidate versions of the Windows software to the full blown thing. So don’t expect this to be a way of getting yourself a freebie. That said, the Windows 7 RC version did run a good 6 months or so after the official RTM (release to manufacturer) software hit the shelves. So, at the least consider it a stay of execution before you have to shell out the bucks.

What are the minimum specs?

The Windows 8 Release Preview minimum requirements are likely much the same as those of the Consumer Preview, ie: a 1GHz or faster CPU, 1 or 2GB or RAM depending if you’re going for the 32- or 64-bit version and 16GB or 20GB of HDD space ready and waiting. If you're computer is already not running too well on Windows 7, then regardless of these specs, do not bother.

You should also note that, if you want to get the most out of the experience, it would be handy to have a touch-enabled monitor and a screen resolution of no less than 1366 x 768 pixels. It’s still worth downloading if you don’t have a touchscreen but you probably won’t enjoy the Metro UI all that much.

How do I install the Windows 8 Release Preview?

Naturally, it’s not as easy as it could be but that’s partly to put off the kind of people that shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. As well as the actual release build itself, there’s also a Windows Driver Kit 8 pack to get too otherwise you’ll probably find that a lot of your hardware won’t actually operate.

You can get the Windows 8 Release Preview from Microsoft here

What should I expect?

Windows 8 brings a dual interface to the Microsoft desktop equation and is set to unify the Windows Phone and even Xbox experiences by bringing that familiar, tile-based Metro UI to the very front of the OS. You can still get behind it to the more standard Windows look and feel and there will still be plenty of features to explore in that section too.

For a closer look at Windows 8, have a click on our thoughts on the Windows 8 Consumer Preview and Windows 8 preview for tablets too. There are lots of pictures, we promise.

Top things you should know about the Windows 8 Release Preview include the inclusion of new Bing apps, including ones for Travel, News and Sports, improvements throughout the platform including improvements to Mail, Photos and People apps since Consumer Preview, increased personalization options for the Start screen and improved multi-monitor support.

Microsoft has also made refinements to the way people find and download apps through the Windows Store, introduced new Family Safety features and enriched privacy and security controls when browsing online, including Do Not Track capabilities being turned on by default with Internet Explorer 10 and added better touch support Internet Explorer 10,.

A new capability called “flip ahead” that allows users the option to flip between pages with the swipe of a finger very much like they can in Google's Chrome browser with a mouse or trackpad has also been added. Adobe Flash Player now fully integrated into IE10. 

Word to the wise

We’ve probably said this already but, just in case...do, please back everything up that you have if you plan to give the Windows 8 Release Preview a bash. You cannot revert to your old version of Windows. It will require a complete reinstall, so keep it safe. Otherwise, click, download and enjoy a glimpse of the future.

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