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Microsoft Unveils 'Faster, Safer' Windows 8

What happened? 

The last test version of Windows 8 has arrived, before the full and final release of the next-generation operating system goes on sale in the autumn.

The Windows 8 Release Preview has few major surprises, but it does include changes to multi-monitor support and fresh apps, and it's noticeably faster than the last version. Windows president Steve Sinofsky said "hundreds of visible changes in the product and tens of thousands of under-the-hood changes" were carried out in response to user feedback.

Internet Explorer 10 has also been updated, and is now the first browser to have its Do Not Track anti-cookie system turned on by default. Microsoft had previously said third-party plug-ins like Flash would not work in the Metro version of the browser but it has now built Flash into the Metro Internet Explorer, making it more secure. However, it will only work with major sites approved by Microsoft. Flash will continue to work in the Desktop browser.

Few other major changes are expected before the final release, with Microsoft now focusing on boosting performance and building security and stability. However, the company said it was still listening to users and more changes could come. Also, the final version will be the first time we see the new user interface for the Desktop version of Windows 8, rather than the tablet-focused Metro UI.

If you can't wait the few months until the final version of Windows 8 becomes available, the preview is free to download from the Microsoft website.

Windows 8 is the first Microsoft OS to run on ARM-designed chips, but the ARM version- called Windows RT - has yet to be released as a test version for consumers to try. PC maker Acer suggested that Windows RT's performance wasn't up to scratch, and said not to expect devices to run it until next year. Intel said its PC-making partners have 20 Windows 8 laptops in development that use its next-gen 'Clover Trail' chips, but hasn't confirmed details of any devices that run the operating system using ARM chips.

How will it affect you? 

Most PC users in the UK use a Windows operating system, so it's great to see that Microsoft is addressing early complaints about Windows 8. Many of the changes may be confusing at first notably the disappearance of the Start but ton- but Microsoft has good form when it comes to keeping familiar elements. Bear in mind that if you're already running the Consumer Preview - the last test version - you'll need to do a clean install of the Release Preview, so back up any data and apps before you download it.

If you're not keen to try Windows 8 just yet, there's no reason to rush into the new OS; Windows 7 still works perfectly well.

We're also happy that Flash hasn't been scrapped. Yes, Adobe's software has its flaws, but it's too soon to abandon it for other web technologies, such as HTMLS, that aren't yet used widely enough.

What do we think? 

It's good news that Microsoft is listening to feedback from people who have tested the new OS. Windows 8 represents s a massive step for the software giant, and it can't afford to get it wrong.

That said, the company seems to be ignoring complaints about the missing Start button and the focus on the Metro screen. We expect a mixed reception from users when the final version arrives: some people will love the changes, while others will find it confusing and fiddly. The only way to find out yourself is to download the preview and try it out.