Microsoft’s Windows 8 Release Preview

Windows 8’s vision, oddly enough, sprouted from smart phones. Before smart phones became commonplace, people thought of computers as deskbound workhorses. For decades, people sat down at a computer because they wanted to create something: They’d write documents, for example, or crunch numbers, punching keys inside their office cubicle.

When smart phones arrived, though, people began keeping a computer in their pocket, ready for 24-hour access. Smartphone programs — apps — grew in power, letting people instantly read e-mails, call up maps when lost, or quickly find the best restaurant in a new town.

People no longer relied upon computers simply to create things. Now, computers helped people consume information while away from the desktop.

Apple, ever the innovator, packaged the smart phone concept into a new product with a bigger screen, the iPad. A huge seller, the iPad brings a new level of comfort to couch-top computing.

But Microsoft missed the revolution when computers transformed from deskbound machines of creation to handheld gadgets for consumption. And now, with Windows 8, Microsoft’s trying hard to catch up.

Windows 8’s new touchable Start screen lets you access information while on the go.
Windows 8’s new touchable Start screen lets you access information while on the go.

With the Windows 8 Release Preview, Microsoft is giving Windows 8 one last shakedown test before releasing the final version later this year. Thousands of people are running this early version of Windows 8; most either love it or hate it, leaving little middle ground.

The controversy boils down to this: With Windows 8, Microsoft has created one operating system that does it all. By contrast, Apple’s iPads run one operating system, while the iPad runs a completely different one. You can’t take an iPad app and run it on your Apple laptop, or vice versa.

Windows 8, by contrast, runs on desktop PCs, laptops, smart phones, and tablets. When you learn Windows 8 on one device, and you’ll know how to use it on all of them. Likewise, when programmers write an app for Windows 8, a few minor tweaks let that app run on your Windows 8 laptop, tablet, phone, and desktop PC.

With Windows 8, Microsoft says people can have the best of both worlds: Windows 8’s new Start screen works well for travel, serving up informational tidbits you need while away from work. And when it’s time to work, open Windows 8’s Desktop app, and the full Windows desktop appears, effectively turning your tablet into a desktop PC.

Open Windows 8’s Desktop app, and Windows’ traditional desktop appears, ready for serio
Open Windows 8’s Desktop app, and Windows’ traditional desktop appears, ready for serious work.

With Windows 8’s “two computers in one” approach, people no longer need to lug around two computers: a tablet for on-the-go computing, and a laptop for when real work beckons. Now, Microsoft says, one tablet really can do it all.

Note: At the time of this writing, Microsoft hadn’t yet completed Windows 8. Some of these details could change when Microsoft releases Windows 8 later this year.

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