Microsoft has put the Windows 8 Release Preview up for download, giving users their first glimpse at what the next generation operating system will really be like at launch.
The primary changes over previous releases are new apps for the divisive Metro UI, including Bing Travel, Bing News and Bing Sports apps. If you think that's a bit Bing heavy, there's also a Gaming app and a Music app designed for use with Zune Pass on the company's Xbox 360 games console. The existing Mail, Photos and People apps have also been tweaked based on user feedback.
Additional improvements include enhanced multi-monitor support, increased personalisation options for the Start screen, a tweaked Windows Store interface and Family Safety features.
The real news, however, comes in the inclusion of a new build of Internet Explorer 10, which includes for the first time a default setting of 'Do Not Track.'
Introduced in multiple browsers to enhance user privacy, the 'Do Not Track' flag tells websites that the user does not want their doings recorded for behavioural advertising. Many browsers include the option, but Microsoft is going a step further by switching the flag on by default in Windows 8.
It's a move which has advertisers worried. 'Advertising has always been about connecting consumers to products and services that are likely of interest to them,
' claimed Stu Ingis, general counsel for the Digital Advertising Alliance, in a statement regarding Microsoft's announcement. 'While new Web technologies deliver more relevant advertising to consumers, comprehensive industry self-regulation is also providing consumers with meaningful choices about the collection of their data. The Administration and FTC have praised these efforts. Today’s technology announcement, however, threatens to undermine that balance, limiting the availability and diversity of Internet content and services for consumers.
According to the DAA, Microsoft's decision to enable the Do Not Track flag - described by the group as 'a unilateral decision by one browser maker, made without consultation within the self-regulatory process
' - could have a serious impact on advertising-funded products and services available over the internet. Privacy advocates, naturally, disagree and have applauded Microsoft's move.
The Windows 8 Release Preview is available for free download now from the official website
- but be warned: there's no in-place upgrade for users of previous releases.