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Windows 8 Consumer Preview: features, apps, install guide, and more

That escalating sound you hear is the approaching juggernaut of Microsoft's next big OS iteration, Windows 8. Ahead of the usual release candidates and eventual release in the latter part of 2012, Windows 8 is being shown off to the world in a Consumer Preview build launched at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

  • Sean Hollister

    Jun 2, 2012

    Sean Hollister

    Nvidia's new graphics drivers are certified for Windows 8

    Nvidia HQ stock 1024
    Nvidia HQ stock 1024

    If you had any reason to suspect that Nvidia wouldn't have fully-functional graphics drivers in time for Windows 8, you can probably dismiss them now: the company's new R302 drivers have been WHQL-certified by Microsoft specifically for the new operating system. That's the word from Nvidia's official blog, which explains that the R302 drivers are specifically for Windows 8, as earlier versions of the operating system will stick with R300 drivers. The new branch includes support for all the new WDDM 1.2 features (including things like stereoscopic 3D optimizations and flicker-free screen rotation), and Nvidia says it will support Nvidia 3D Vision for 3D games right away. Sounds like just the thing to complement your Windows 8 Release Preview install when the drivers arrive next week.

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  • Dante D'Orazio

    Mar 10, 2012

    Dante D'Orazio

    Microsoft to let Windows 8 web browsers play nice with Metro, Firefox version in the works

    Firefox Internet browser metro windows 8
    Firefox Internet browser metro windows 8

    We previously heard that Mozilla was planning a Metro version of Firefox, and now developer Brian R. Bondy has announced that the company has begun work on it. While that's good for Firefox fans, the real news is that the program is going to belong to a new, third type of Windows 8 apps: "Metro style enabled desktop browsers." We're still trying to figure it all out (and we think Microsoft is too), but from what we understand, this new, third type is an exception to Microsoft's rules and lets traditional Windows web browsers participate in the Metro experience. The third category would co-exist alongside Windows 8's two current categories — one for apps in the traditional, Windows 7-like environment, and another for those that belong in Metro. Programs in the new category will be traditional desktop applications that are allowed to have live tiles on the new Start menu and will be compatible with Metro's app contracts and new snap features.

    According to a Microsoft document that explains how to develop an application in the new style, a Metro style enabled desktop browser will be a single app that works in both the Windows and Metro environments. To date, two different Internet Explorer programs have existed on Windows 8: a Metro version and a traditional version, but it sounds like that will soon change. However, according to Microsoft, the Metro version of these apps will only function if the user sets the program as the default web browser. Microsoft says that the limitation is in place to create a consistent user experience — one Metro internet browser that opens all web links from Metro apps. Unlike the Metro apps we've seen so far, these new browsers will be distributed via traditional methods instead of the Windows Store.

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  • Sam Byford

    Mar 7, 2012

    Sam Byford

    Bing Maps gets a new SDK for Metro style apps in Windows 8

    bing metro maps
    bing metro maps

    Microsoft has released a new SDK for Bing Maps designed to help developers integrate the mapping service into their Metro style apps for Windows 8. The SDK is a beta release, and includes a new Javascript control along with support for developers using C#, C++, and Visual Basic. It'll provide features such as traffic overlays and hardware accelerated rendering, and should go some way to improving compatibility in a similar way to how Enyo works with Bing Maps on webOS. Microsoft has also updated its licensing terms, giving developers free and unlimited use of Bing Maps APIs until Windows 8 is released. The company hasn't finalized plans for how this will work once Windows 8 becomes a commercial release, but is clearly trying to shore up as much support as possible for the Windows Store before launch.

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  • Chris Welch

    Mar 6, 2012

    Chris Welch

    Microsoft improves Windows 8 themes with panorama wallpapers, new features

    Windows 8 panoramic theme
    Windows 8 panoramic theme

    If you're anything like us, you'll be making an effort to spend the majority of your time using Windows 8 within its wonderfully-modern Metro interface. Still, the occasional visit to the classic Windows experience will be pretty much unavoidable. It should come as good news then that the company has taken steps to spruce up the appearance of that traditional UI, bringing new and improved theme functionality to Windows 8. The biggest addition is the ability to create panoramic background images that automatically span across two (and only two) monitors — so long as they share the same screen resolution. For non-panoramic themes, Windows 8 will now use a different background photo for each display, whereas Windows 7 would simply mirror the same image on both. If you're limited to a single-monitor setup, panoramic backgrounds will be centered on your desktop.

    The new "auto color" feature is a bit more subtle, automatically shifting the translucent color of the Windows "glass" to better match whichever theme background is in use. Those running the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 — and there are many of you — can head over to the Windows Personalization Gallery now to download the first theme built specifically for the new OS. Microsoft says it hopes to add more on a weekly basis.

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  • Tom Warren

    Mar 6, 2012

    Tom Warren

    How to: bring back the Windows 8 Start menu and Start button orb

    Windows 8 Start button / menu
    Windows 8 Start button / menu

    Microsoft took the bold steps of removing the traditional Windows 8 Start menu and Start button orb from its Windows 8 Consumer Preview last week. Desktop PC users are currently debating the merits of the Windows 8 Start Screen replacement and Microsoft's mouse / keyboard improvements in the latest beta copy, but some want the Start menu and Start button orb back. Microsoft MVP Vishal Gupta has discovered a rather quick and easy way to re-enable both options in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview:

    Some users have reported issues with the orb overlapping the Taskbar buttons, Gupta has some more detailed instructions if you experience problems with this, but it worked instantly on our Windows 8 test PCs. Most of the traditional Start menu functionality works, but "Pin to Start" will still attach items to the new Start Screen interface.

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  • Jeff Blagdon

    Mar 2, 2012

    Jeff Blagdon

    Kobo e-reader app available for Windows 8 with new UI, library search

    kobo logo 640
    kobo logo 640

    If you watched our Windows 8 Consumer Preview liveblog yesterday, you might have noticed the Kobo icon peeking out once or twice onstage at the event. Well, if you take a look at the Windows Store on a device running the new OS, you'll notice that the Kobo app is available for download, making it one of the only e-reader apps (along with Amazon's Kindle) to be available with the launch of the new store. Kobo's app features a revamped UI that's a little different from what it offers on other platforms, with a new, easier-to-search library, cloud storage for all your books, and a new Windows 8 desktop client to match its offerings for current-gen Windows and OS X. The desktop app lets you download books to read later, or transfer them over to your Windows 8 tablet — a useful feature if you like to grab new books while you're browsing on your desktop machine. Right now there are only a few apps in the Windows Store, and with 184 free ebooks for Kobo, there's no reason not to try it out.

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  • Mar 1, 2012

    Vlad Savov

    Windows 8 Consumer Preview downloaded a million times on day one

    sinofsky
    sinofsky

    Microsoft has just tweeted out the news that its Consumer Preview build of Windows 8 has been downloaded one million times within the first day of availability. Although still in its beta form, Windows 8 has attracted attention and sparked imaginations in a very big way, so it's little surprise to see the download counter crossing into seven figures so quickly. In total, the day one downloads tally up to over three and a half petabytes of data, or about 41GB per second. Using the international scale for measuring popularity, we'd say this qualifies as a thoroughly well received launch.

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  • Nilay Patel

    Mar 1, 2012

    Nilay Patel

    Microsoft bets on Windows 8 to succeed where Android has failed

    windows 8 apps
    windows 8 apps

    The battle for number two is about to get serious.

    A quick look through the halls of Mobile World Congress reveals an endless number of iPads, quite a few Android tablets, and almost no touchscreen Windows PCs. But Microsoft is here in Barcelona promising that balance will change dramatically by next year — the company just released Windows 8 Consumer Preview, a beta version of a radically new version of Windows built with tablets specifically in mind. And while Windows 8 has a long way to go before it can challenge the iPad, it feels almost inevitable that Microsoft will quickly succeed where Android tablets have thus far failed — especially because Microsoft is aggressively courting developers to write apps for its new Metro interface.

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  • Tom Warren

    Mar 1, 2012

    Tom Warren

    Windows 8: touch vs. keyboard and mouse navigation (hands-on video)

    Windows 8 Touch v Keyboard
    Windows 8 Touch v Keyboard

    Microsoft has greatly improved its keyboard and mouse support for the Metro style Start Screen in Windows 8 Consumer Preview. We got the chance to try out a ViewSonic P100 this week and compared the touch controls to a traditional laptop. There are seven key gestures in Windows 8 Consumer Preview and a bunch of new keyboard shortcuts, improved from the often critiqued Developer Preview version. Microsoft has listened to the feedback from developers and implemented equal ways to access the functions in Windows 8.

    In desktop mode with a keyboard and mouse, Windows 8 will provide a Start tip that lets users access the Start screen or a list of recently used apps. Right clicking on the tip brings up some power user features such as quick access to command prompt and device manager. There are other examples of where Microsoft's mouse and keyboard work has been improved, including scrolling and zooming. Closing Metro style apps is similar to the touch interface, using a mouse grabber to pull from the top of the screen, and there is a number of ways to replicate touch functionality using Windows key shortcuts. Here are some of our favorites:

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  • Mar 1, 2012

    Vlad Savov

    Windows 8 vs. iPad: feature by feature

    ipad vs windows 8 comparison
    ipad vs windows 8 comparison

    Microsoft's Windows 8 Consumer Preview was made available to download yesterday, giving everyone a chance to experience the company's most revolutionary change in user interface since Windows 95. The interaction paradigm has shifted from a mouse-centric desktop to a touch-friendly, highly visual Metro style UI. The old Start orb has been retired and replaced by a Charms bar, which is brought to life with an inward swipe from the right. A swipe from the top down dismisses the app you're in and returns you to the home screen, and the left and bottom edges also have actions associated with them. Gestures play a very significant role in Windows 8, but they're only one aspect of a truly gargantuan list of changes.

    While the Consumer Preview software remains at the beta stage, its central concepts have now been fleshed out, so we thought this would be a fitting time to compare them against Apple's iPad, the incumbent leader in the tablet space Microsoft is seeking to become a player in. iOS 5 and Windows 8 share a few similarities, but the user experience is fundamentally different and informed by different interaction metaphors. You can see those detailed in the video below, and if you care to learn more about what else has changed under the Windows hood with version 8, feel free to peruse our comprehensive preview of the Consumer Preview.

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  • Bryan Bishop

    Mar 1, 2012

    Bryan Bishop

    Microsoft Windows 8 Consumer Preview event videos now available online

    Windows 8 Consumer Preview Event Steven Sinofsky
    Windows 8 Consumer Preview Event Steven Sinofsky

    Microsoft covered a lot of ground this morning, giving us a look at the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, the new OS running on ARM tablets, and the Windows Store. If you've read our live coverage and hands-on articles and still want more, you're in luck: Redmond has posted videos of the event on its website for streaming or download. Head on over here to see it all for yourself.

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  • Feb 29, 2012

    Dante D'Orazio and Sean Hollister

    How to install the Windows 8 Consumer Preview

    Had enough of our Windows 8 Consumer Preview coverage, and want to boldly install the downloadable public beta for yourself? Believe it or not, it's a pretty easy thing to do. You don't need to look up an arcane command to access your BIOS, you don't need to partition a drive, and you don't need a blank DVD, a second PC or even a USB thumbdrive... unless that's how you roll. With just an internet connection, you can perform the entire operation on any existing Windows 7 machine without any outside help, just so long as it fulfills the minimum requirements.

    Here's how:

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  • Thomas Houston

    Feb 29, 2012

    Thomas Houston

    Windows Store hands-on and video

    windows store
    windows store

    Users of the Windows Phone Marketplace will feel right at home here. On launching the Windows Store, you'll see a curated Spotlight section, currently showing off the winners of Microsoft's First Apps Contest and the option to dig down into the top paid and free apps. Swiping left reveals apps organized by type, with the usual app store mix of everything from games and social to productivity and shopping. At launch, only some sections let you view the top paid/free views; we assume all sections will gain this view as the Windows Store fills out with more apps.

    While it's not immediately apparent, you can search the Windows Store by swiping in from the right side of the screen, and tap the search icon. Search results will appear in the main pane, where you can further tweak your search results by category, price, and sort order.

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  • Tom Warren

    Feb 29, 2012

    Tom Warren

    Windows 8: a closer look at Xbox Live, Music and Videos (pictures and video)

    Gallery Photo: Windows 8 Xbox Live, music, and video screenshots
    Gallery Photo: Windows 8 Xbox Live, music, and video screenshots

    Microsoft's entertainment strategy for Windows 8 appears to be closely aligned with its Xbox work. The software giant has included Music, Videos, and Xbox Live integration into Windows 8, alongside a powerful Xbox Live companion application. The Xbox Live hub in Windows 8 Consumer Preview allows users to get access to their friends list, recently played games, and avatar settings. Some of the preinstalled games in the Consumer Preview also include Xbox Live integration and you can also access these achievements in the main Xbox Live app.

    The most interesting part of Microsoft's Xbox work on Windows 8 is undoubtedly its Xbox Live Companion application. The companion lets you launch Xbox 360 console games from a Windows 8 PC and also includes a feature that can stream video to an Xbox 360. There doesn't appear to be a way to stream audio just yet, but Microsoft is clearly starting to position Windows 8 and Xbox as a way to compete against Apple's AirPlay feature.

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  • Feb 29, 2012

    Vlad Savov

    Windows 8 on an 82-inch display hands-on video

    Gallery Photo: Windows 8 Consumer Preview on an 82-inch display
    Gallery Photo: Windows 8 Consumer Preview on an 82-inch display

    One of Microsoft's surprises during the Windows 8 Consumer Preview demo event was the fact that the massive 82-inch display at the back of the stage was actually a touchscreen. Not only that, it was plugged into a PC running Windows 8 and Steven Sinofsky and Mike Angiulo went to it to demonstrate just how versatile the OS is and how well its experience scales across form factors. We couldn't let them have all the fun, however, and went up for a closer look ourselves.

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  • Jamie Keene

    Feb 29, 2012

    Jamie Keene

    Windows Store launches for Windows 8

    Windows 8 Store
    Windows 8 Store

    Microsoft has just launched the Windows Store for Windows 8, in the hopes of making the user experience of finding new software even easier. In line with other elements of the OS the Store adopts the Metro style, and promotes popular apps and games including USA Today and Cut the Rope. The store features a number of new Metro-styled apps from both Microsoft and third-party developers, including Kindle, WordPress, and iCookbook. Versions of apps will be available for both ARM and x86, with the Store automatically downloading the right version for your device.

    We've had a quick browse through, and a few other big-name apps caught our eye. Apps already available to download include MSNBC, Vimeo, Slacker Radio, Evernote, Hivemind, Wordament, Pirates Love Daisies, Train Titans, and Carmen Sandiego: Adventures in Math.

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  • Dieter Bohn

    Feb 29, 2012

    Dieter Bohn

    Microsoft to reveal more Windows 8 Enterprise details at CeBIT conference next week

    Windows 8 Enterprise
    Windows 8 Enterprise

    During today's Windows 8 keynote, Microsoft showed off a previously-known Enterprise features like Windows To Go, which allows a computer to boot into Windows 8 off of a USB stick. Microsoft also demoed "Storage Spaces," which allows a Windows 8 machine to act as a hard drive array, providing simple, massive storage to any computer on the network. It seems as though there's yet more to Windows 8 Enterprise that the company has yet to reveal, but more will be revealed next week at the CeBIT conference in Hanover. The conference begins on March 6th and The Verge will be there to bring you all the details from the next Windows 8 event.

    Microsoft also emphasized that enterprise users will benefit from the fact that Windows 8 offers the same experience on all manner of devices, from very small to very large and powerful. It's a theme that the company hit on consistently throughout the entire keynote, and very likely going to be one of the big talking points when it comes time to directly compete with Apple's iPad ecosystem.

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  • David Pierce

    Feb 29, 2012

    David Pierce

    Microsoft demos Windows 8 on an 82-inch, pen-friendly Perceptive Pixel PC

    Gallery Photo: Windows 8 on 82-inch Perceptive Pixel PC pictures
    Gallery Photo: Windows 8 on 82-inch Perceptive Pixel PC pictures

    Microsoft made a lot of announcements today, but one of the things it didn't talk much about was the giant, 82-inch, pen-friendly PC that the company used to demo some Windows 8 features. It's a Perceptive Pixel PC — Perceptive Pixel was founded by Jeff Han, who at TED in 2006 demonstrated touchscreen interfaces that were remarkably ahead of their time. It's a Gorilla Glass display, and is also touch- and pen-enabled; this thing puts the Galaxy Note to shame. It's just one of many devices Microsoft showed off, as part of its proving how many different types of devices can use the new operating system. Windows 8 even powered two of the enormous displays, running well over 100 inches of monitor space on a single PC.

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  • Nathan Ingraham

    Feb 29, 2012

    Nathan Ingraham

    Microsoft releases Internet Explorer 10 Platform Preview 5

    Internet Explorer 10 Platform Preview 5
    Internet Explorer 10 Platform Preview 5

    To go along with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, Microsoft is releasing Internet Explorer 10 Platform Preview 5. While Internet Explorer 10's radically redesigned interface has been available to developers for some time now, consumers will now be able to try Microsoft's new Metro-influenced take on the browser when they install the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, which is available now. As we already knew from previous developer previews of IE 10, the app will feature a redesigned "Metro" mode as well as the standard desktop experience, much like the rest of Windows 8. Microsoft is really playing up the full-screen experience with its new version of IE — it uses your entire screen for web pages, removing all navigation elements and tabs from your view unless you need to access them.

    There doesn't appear to be any major new consumer-facing features in this update to IE 10, but HTML5 support has been increased and overall performance continues to improve. Watching the video posted to Microsoft's blog shows IE10 running a complex HTML5 animation at a significantly higher framerate (between 30 and 40 FPS) compared to the same animation in Chrome (which runs at about 5 FPS). Overall, it's the same story Microsoft has been telling to developers — greatly increased HTML5 performance that exceeds that of the competition. We'll see if that holds true by the time the final version of Windows 8 ships to consumers.

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  • Sean Hollister

    Feb 29, 2012

    Sean Hollister

    Windows 8: system requirements for the Consumer Preview

    windows 8 hardware
    windows 8 hardware

    You can download the Windows 8 Consumer Preview (read: public beta) right now, and while we're afraid you won't be able to install it on your ARM tablet, just about any x86 desktop, laptop, or slate in recent memory should be able to run the new OS. All you need is a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM (or 2GB for 64-bit), 16GB of storage (or 20GB for 64-bit), and a DirectX 9 graphics card with WDDM 1.0 support. That said, you won't be able to take advantage of all the new features of Windows 8 without a few more specs, and the official Building Windows 8 blog just published a post detailing the rest of the guidelines there:

    Those notes aside, even last year's netbooks should be able to handle the build: Microsoft says it successfully and substantially tested the OS on the likes of the Dell Inspiron Duo. Installing a copy right now? Check out Microsoft's FAQ right here or at our source link below.

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  • Sam Byford

    Feb 29, 2012

    Sam Byford

    Microsoft shows off ARM-based Windows 8 tablets

    arm tablet windows 8
    arm tablet windows 8

    Microsoft is using its Windows 8 Consumer Preview event to show off some examples of hardware that'll come fresh out of the box with the new OS when it ships later this year. The company has demonstrated both ARM and Intel x86 flavors of Windows 8 running on reference machines. While the traditional Intel-based version is somewhat of a known quantity thanks to the developer preview, we haven't been able to see much of the ARM variety for ourselves — especially to what extent it'll be able to replicate the traditional desktop experience. Microsoft wasn't showing much new at first, with Julie Larson-Green starting out by using the Metro interface on the same Samsung preview slate we saw at BUILD last year, and Antoine Leblond demonstrating the software on a Lenovo U300s ultrabook. Later on, though, we heard that Intel is adding the Ivy Bridge processor and a touchscreen to the next generation ultrabook specification, meaning that laptop users will be able to get the full Metro experience as well.

    As for ARM, Steven Sinofsky was clear that Microsoft is going for a "no compromise" experience, with Mike Angiulo on hand to show off the OS running on a Nvidia Tegra 3-powered tablet. It's not the first time we've seen Windows 8 on Nvidia hardware, but also on hand were "next generation" devices from Texas Instruments and Qualcomm along with an Intel Clover Trail tablet. These represent the four systems-on-a-chip that Microsoft will head to market with, though all the models displayed were still at the demo stage. Anguilo said that the Windows 8 code was shared between Intel and ARM "all the way" to Internet Explorer, which doesn't necessarily sound all that far to us, but we'll have to wait and see to find out more. There shouldn't be much in the way of cross-compatibility issues, at least, with the Windows Store automatically downloading the correct x86 or ARM code for you. Elsewhere, we saw a video running in Internet Explorer through HTML5, and new class drivers for peripherals. So far, so mobile — we're still yet to see how exactly how "complete" Windows 8 will be on ARM hardware.

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  • Tom Warren

    Feb 29, 2012

    Tom Warren

    Windows 8: a closer look at how the new Start button works

    Windows 8
    Windows 8

    The Start button still exists and is available in the charms bar on the right hand side, providing access to the Start Screen. The button animates as it comes into view with what appears to be a flash of light over the Metro style logo. Although there is no Start button orb in the lower left on desktop mode, the functionality is fairly redundant thanks to the new Start Screen interface. It is a big break from Windows 95 though — an operating system that first introduced the Start menu and button — and one that signifies just how much change Windows 8 brings.

    Be sure to read our complete hands-on of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview here.

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  • Adi Robertson

    Feb 29, 2012

    Adi Robertson

    Microsoft shows off third-party Metro apps: Kindle, WordPress.com, and more

    metro apps
    metro apps

    On a tour of the new Windows Store, we briefly saw a Metro version of Flixter as well as an icon for the Telegraph, USA Today, Slacker, and Daily Motion. Microsoft also held an app contest and showed a bunch of icons, including at least one (likely 3rd party?) Facebook icon. Winners included Elements, PuzzleTouch, Air Soccer, Pew Pew, FlipStats, SigFig, and Cookbook.

    Bottom line: Microsoft knows that app support for Metro is one of the most important metrics for Windows 8's success, and the company believes it is on track to deliver.

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  • Tom Warren

    Feb 29, 2012

    Tom Warren

    Windows 8 Consumer Preview hands-on

    Windows 8 Consumer Preview on ViewSonic tablet
    Windows 8 Consumer Preview on ViewSonic tablet

    Microsoft is releasing the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 today, a highly anticipated software release from the company that marks the introduction of a full touch interface for Windows. The software giant has attempted to bring touch functionality to Windows over a number of years, but Windows 8 goes a huge step further by introducing a separate environment for new applications, designed with touch and Metro style in mind, to the masses of Windows users.

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  • Dante D'Orazio

    Feb 29, 2012

    Dante D'Orazio

    Windows 8 Consumer Preview now available to download

    Windows 8 betta fish
    Windows 8 betta fish

    The wait is finally over as Microsoft has published the highly anticipated Consumer Preview copy of Windows 8. Available as a public download, the Consumer Preview build includes access to Metro style applications and the over 100,000 changes Microsoft has made since the Windows 8 Developer Preview. You can download it here.

    The download comes bundled with a setup tool or in the form of an ISO file. The Consumer Preview it is currently available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions in English, Chinese, French, German, and Japanese. Microsoft's minimum requirements for the Consumer Preview are a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of free storage space, and a DirectX 9-compatible graphics card — the exact same requirements as Windows 7. While you're waiting for your download to finish, be sure to keep up with all the news on the Consumer Preview from our liveblog from Barcelona.

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