Product Notes: Windows 8 Consumer Preview for Providers

(current information on Windows 8 can be found here)

Following the release of a Developer Preview in September 2011, Microsoft released a Consumer Preview (formerly called a "public beta") of Windows 8 on February 29th, 2012. Most industry observers now expect vendors to ship systems with the release version of Windows 8 in time for the 2012 winter holiday buying season.

Arguably, Windows 8 marks the biggest change to the user-facing portions of Windows since Windows 95, and perhaps all the way back to the original Windows 1.0. The default interface, designated "Metro", is optimized for touch, with large finger-friendly tiles and various swipes to activate and manipulate. Users of Windows Phone 7.x and other Microsoft consumer devices will find this interface to be somewhat familiar, though it is not identical.

Signs of this major interface transition pervade the Consumer Preview. There are two versions of Windows Internet Explorer 10 - one that works within the Metro interface and one that runs within the traditional desktop. They share neither user preferences nor the same range of capabilities. The traditional desktop itself is merely another tile within the Start screen, and that screen shares only its name with previous Start menus. Another example is that basic preferences are manipulated within the Metro interface, while detailed preferences require an exit to the traditional Control Panel.

The biggest behind-the-scenes change is the addition of ARM-licensed processor support, which should allow lightweight tablets with excellent battery life. ARM-based systems generally will not be backward compatible with older Windows applications - they will only run applications written for the Metro interface.

On a current Intel-based Tablet PC running the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, some University applications function with varying degrees of difficulty; these include AirPennNet, Online Directory, Exchange, and Zimbra. There is no supported Symantec antivirus at this point (SEP 12.1 installs but renders the operating system non-functional), and the automated XpressConnect installer does not function.

There are many unknowns with Windows 8. Microsoft has not yet committed to pricing, versions, or release date. Licensing and distribution is also unclear, though one of the delivery methods almost certainly will be Microsoft's app store. Finally, there is much uncertainty about how Microsoft plans to sell a touch and tablet-centric operating system to an installed base where tablets are the exception and not the rule.

Information Systems & Computing (ISC) expects to support Windows 8 at some point after its release - whether it becomes the dominant operating system for the majority of the University's Windows installed base remains to be seen. We will continue to provide updates as Windows 8 nears release.

-- John Mulhern III, Lead for Client Technologies, ISC Technology Support Services (March 1, 2012)

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Date Posted: February 29, 2012

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