(NEW YORK) — Windows 8 — the new operating system Microsoft has designed for tablets and touch screens as well as laptops and desktop computers — is inching closer to reality with an improved preview version now available for download.
Back in February, Microsoft released a Consumer Preview version of Windows 8, and Thursday its so-called Release Preview will be available for download in 14 languages at http://preview.windows.com.
The Release Preview is still meant for early adopters and developers, and Microsoft isn’t saying exactly when the new version of Windows will be officially released for sale or in new devices, but this is a step forward.
The new version of the software is by and large the same as the version ABC News took a deep look at in February, but it has a number of tweaks, including improvements to the Mail, Photos, and People apps. Microsoft has also added new Bing apps for Travel, News and Sports.
New family safety features and privacy settings have also been integrated. Notably, “Do Not Track” capabilities are turned on by default in Internet Explorer 10. Microsoft has also made sure that Flash animation is supported in both the desktop and Metro versions of the browser (Metro is intended for touch screens), a change since the announcement of Windows 8 in September 2011.
Windows 8 looks entirely different from previous versions of Windows. Instead of centering everything around a Desktop with a Start Menu in the corner, Windows 8 has a home screen of live tiles or apps. Free and paid Windows 8 apps will be available in Microsoft’s Windows Store. The software lends itself to touch, but also was designed to work well with a mouse and keyboard. It is expected that a number of PC manufacturers will release different types of computers and tablets running Windows 8, including tablets with keyboards and laptops with touch screens.
While Microsoft hasn’t said when you can buy devices with Windows 8 in them, it is announcing an upgrade program for those that cannot wait to buy a computer until after it comes out. Starting on June 2, any person who buys a Windows 7 PC can purchase an upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for $14.99.
The Release Preview step is the final stage before the operating system is released to manufacturers, which will then ship their devices with the new software. It is expected that Windows 8 computers and tablets will be out before the end of the year.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Julia Horowitz, CNN
Ivaylo Vezenkov and Lauren del Valle, CNN