Microsoft has released the final preview of Windows 8, the company has announced.
The new software includes an interface primarily for tablet computers, which Microsoft calls Metro, as well as an enhanced version of the existing Windows 7. Windows 8 is expected to launch in October.
The software expands on the Consumer Preview that Microsoft released in Barcelona earlier in the year, and is available free for users to download and test. Users are warned, however, that the free test expires and will entirely replace the existing Windows operating system.
Gabriel Aul, Director of Windows Programme Management, told the Telegraph that the release preview software was “all of what will be in the final product in terms of big features”. He added, however, that colours and themes were yet to be finalised.
The new software is designed to work as well on tablets as on traditional computers, and will replace Microsoft Windows 7, which has sold 525 million copies since it was released three years ago. Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer has already talked of 500million machines running Windows 8 within a year.
The Metro interface borrows heavily from Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform, while Microsoft has also redesigned the traditional ‘Start’ button, replacing it with a much more angular design that changes colour depending on which theme a user chooses. The Start menu has become an entire, customisable homesecreen, and in desktop mode the Start button is no longer a permanent fixture.
The new Metro interface features ‘Live tiles’ which update users on their contacts social media feeds and show pictures from the device or photo galleries online. It also features a unique ‘semantic zoom’ technology which means that, say, a list of search results changes to give more detailed information as a user zooms in to show a selection of results.
In the new Release Preview, Microsoft has also introduced more third-party apps in its App Store, as well as some new ones of its own for News, Travel and Sport.
Mr Aul said the redesign was “the biggest change since Windows 95”, but also said the company had focused on ‘learnability’. He claimed 82 per cent of users could easily navigate the software within an hour of first using it.
Windows 8 will also feature improved use of gestures, so swiping to the left of a tablet’s screen will tab through different open applications. Multiple devices will also work more effectively together, so, for instance, WiFi passwords will now be associated with a user’s account and remembered across different tablets and computers.
Retail sources said that shops were keen to market a competitor in tablets to Apple's iPad, and were also expecting a raft of new hardware for the October launch. This is likely to include new laptops with built-in touchscreens.