Microsoft's Windows 8 Release Preview Shows Improvement, but More Is Needed

Initial assessments of the Release Preview of Windows 8, introduced May 31, indicate that improvements have been made to the Metro user interface, but that more work needs to be done, analysts say.

Microsoft seems to have smoothed out some of the glitches in the Metro user interface in the upcoming Windows 8 operating system, but a look at the Release Preview version of the operating system, unveiled May 31, shows some work still needs to be done before the general availability release, analysts say.

Microsoft unveiled the Release Preview perhaps a little earlier than it had planned to because of an inadvertent posting of the news a day earlier, but the latest build of the new OS shows considerable improvement and considerable promise as a competitor in the tablet OS market, even against the vaunted Apple iPad.

Improvements seem to have been made in the user interface from the previous build, but Microsoft indicates it still may make further changes before the release-to-manufacture of the OS and general availability this fall, says Rob Enderle, principal analyst with Enderle Group.

The UI is based on the same tiled appearance on the start screen of the Windows Phone 7 OS for smartphones. But Microsoft still has work to do to bridge the touch-screen interface in tablets and some notebooks built on the ARM processor architecture with the mouse interface on x86 desktops, where much work needs to be done. Enderle has a tablet running a beta version of Windows 8 with the Metro interface.

"I use it myself and it works really well with touch, but it pretty much sucks without it," he said. Enderle was also encouraged to learn that the version of Windows 8 for ARM processors and the version for Intel x86 processors will both be ready at about the same time, possibly October.

The challenge of making an OS that runs on tablets and desktop/notebook computers is what Apple CEO Tim Cook was talking about when he voiced skepticism about the wisdom of trying to bridge the differences between the two devices by having one operating system.

In an interview May 29 at the AllThingsD conference in Southern California, Cook, in his first major public appearance since succeeding the late Steve Jobs as CEO last August, argued that when you try to combine a PC with a tablet, the tablet will be "encumbered by the legacy of the PC."

"Convergence is great in many areas, but I think that products are about tradeoffs and you have to make tough decisions. And the fact is, the more you look at a tablet as a PC, the more the baggage from the past affects the product," Cook said in an interview with Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, co-editors of AllThingsD, a Dow Jones news site.

But Microsoft may have a thing or two to show Apple when Windows 8 products finally come out, said Charles King, president and principal analyst with Pund-IT, a research firm.

"No disrespect to Mr. Cook; he and Apple may believe that that's the case," King said. "Until this fall, consumers will have never had the opportunity to test out the thesis of a fullty-functional consumer-focused tablet computer, and [Microsoft] may have some interesting lessons to teach Apple and some other vendors."

King makes the point that Windows 8 on an ARM-based tablet, and some notebook and small desktop machines, will offer a unique package with the touch-screen capability and a mini version of Microsoft Office suited to the smaller form factor. Meanwhile, Windows 8 for x86 machines, including some laptops and desktop computers, will have "the full-blown PC experience" suitable to those types of machines. Both may satisfy each type of customer well, he said.