While all of us wait for the official launch of Windows 8 on October 26th, it actually wasn't that long ago that Microsoft offered a way for anyone to check out an early version of the company's next PC operating system. One year ago today, as part of Microsoft's first annual BUILD developer conference, Microsoft released the Developer Preview version of Windows 8 to the world.
It was the first time that a large amount of people could check out the biggest UI change in Windows history, with the colorful and touch screen oriented "Metro" style. It's a change that many loved, and many other hated and the debate over the new UI rages to this day.
Since then, Microsoft has released two other free preview versions of Windows 8 to the general: the Consumer Preview in late February and the Release Preview in late May. In August, Microsoft completed the Release to Manufacturing (RTM) build of Windows 8 and some people, mostly IT employees along with some students and teachers, have been able to gain access to it. The rest of us will have to wait until October 26th, the official launch date for Windows 8.
In the past year, we have reported on a number of unexpected Windows 8 news items, such as the first major details of Windows RT, the version of Windows 8 that will run on devices with processors based on designs from ARM. We have reported on how Microsoft is making it very cheap, at least at first, for people who have older Windows PCs to upgrade to Windows 8.
Along the way, word came down that Microsoft would no longer use the term "Metro" to describe the new Windows 8 UI, although the company has been shown to be slow to retire the branding.
The biggest surprise was Microsoft's announcement in June that it would make its own PC hardware device for the first time with Windows RT and Windows 8 versions of its Surface tablet. The Windows RT version will be released first on October 26th, with the Windows 8 Pro port to be released about three months later. Microsoft has been pretty quiet about its plans for the tablet since its announcement, but some viral marketing campaigns have already started for the Surface.
The Developer Preview version of Windows 8, the one that started it all, can still be used if you happen to still have it installed on your PC. However, the Developer Preview will officially expire on January 15, 2013. After that date, that build will send messages to the user saying it will restart Windows every hour until a new product activation key is entered.