Mobile World Congress, which has not generally been known as the kind of affair where a PC operating system is the headliner.A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed to ReadWriteWeb this afternoon that the Consumer Preview phase of Windows 8 testing is slated to begin on Wednesday, February 29, with a gala rollout event in Barcelona. That's to coincide - for the first time - with
The venue may definitely steal some of the thunder from Google Chairman Eric Schmidt's keynote, which remains set for the day before.
A rollout at what's arguably the world's largest mobile tech show is a clear indicator that eliminating the Start button will not be Topic #1. Just the venue itself is the next best thing to a confirmation of news leaked last week and subsequently semi-confirmed by my colleague, Paul Thurrott: The Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 kernels will be the same; and subsequently, there should eventually, if not right away, be some degree of compatibility for "Metro-style" apps running on both platforms. This much has been discussed quite a bit in the press and not repudiated by Microsoft, but not officially confirmed either.
For Windows 8 to recapture the mindshare that PC-related software developments have lost over the past five years, Microsoft would have to execute a completely game-changing strategy, redefining the computing category by essentially merging mobile and desktop into the same class. There's only one way to accomplish this: by aligning every consumer-facing product with the Windows brand on a single kernel, with at least one flexible software platform among all form factors. This appears to be exactly the move that Microsoft is making, and the fact that it's declaring Barcelona to be ground-zero for this announcement indicates it will be firing everything in its arsenal.
The completely revised Start Menu for the Windows 8 Developer Preview, released last September. The Consumer Preview, in three weeks if not sooner, should feature a blue background by default, though it may have personalization options.
Granted, the expected changes between the existing Developer Preview and the coming Consumer Preview, as revealed by leaked screenshots of an evidently current build, are worth noting. As many developers noted last year, including myself, the familiar Start Button on the Windows 8 Desktop acted as a kind of trap door into an unfamiliar "Metro" world with which only frequent users of Zune or Windows Media Center might find themselves at home. The leaked screenshots indicate that Microsoft has at least listened to these complaints.
The steps it's taking to address these concerns would appear - at least from the leaked screenshots - to include the complete removal of the Start Button altogether. Some unofficial sources have also said that the functionality of the Taskbar has been extended to compensate, perhaps alleviating the problem of Windows 7's most useful control feature being relegated to a "Desktop" that no longer resides, in the Windows 8 world, on a "Desk" but rather in what in the Developer Preview looked like a sinkhole.
The spokesperson did leave open the possibility that the Consumer Preview may be made available for download prior to February 29. Subscribers to the company's MSDN program may be offered advance downloads, if history with Windows 7 is any indication.