The earliest versions of Microsoft's next big version of Windows appear to have been shipped to hardware OEMs and, routinely, begun to leak out to the rest of the industry. At least, a few screenshots and some basic information appears to be leaking out.
Mary Jo Foley, still remarkably sane despite having been the best source of inside tech information on Microsoft for longer than most of the executives trying to conceal it have been there, lists a few of the leaks, many of which came from other people.
She uses the word "allegedly" so often I suspect the actual Windows 8 feature set is still uncertain enough that many of the leaks may come from companies testing features that may not make the final cut.
The most lascivious of the leaks is a series of Windows 8 screenshots at cnBeta.com showing the install and desktop. The shots looks legitimate if only because they're pretty boring and show and error code on the screen showing that the PC needs to restart.
Others show Microsoft extending the painful, awkward, un-intuitive, obnoxious ribbon-based tool interface introduced with Office 2007 to Windows 8. The ribbon was supposed to make things easier by exposing more functions in menus than the Office 2003-era menu format.
Many, many end users hated it, including me. It broke all the habits and shortcuts we'd all developed over long experience, made our primary work tools less efficient and required a learning curve for a UI designed to be used, not memorized.
I still have to hunt for some of the commands I need, or even search the Help file to figure out where to find them if I can't remember the hot-key commands.
I'm not looking forward to the extension of that metaphor to the OS itself.
On the positive side are a couple of features users shouldn't normally even see, which is entirely appropriate for an operating system. It's supposed to do a job for you without your having to hunt around a ribbon to figure out where to find a command for which the hotkey doesn't work anymore.
The best is the History Vault – allegedly Microsoft's analog for the Time Machine in the MacOS, which backs up files and sequential snapshots of your system automatically, allowing you (theoretically) to dial the system back to a happier time when file corruptions or driver conflicts launch a case of Windos Horribilus.
You can already do that with System Restore, if the problem doesn't cause Windows to lose track of all its previous Restore Points or keep it from reading data on attached storage devices or not complete at all because one of the running services decided to leave cryptic messages behind in the Registry when it decided to commit suicide.
History Vault theoretically would allow you to restore your document files to one time (today) and system files to a different time (last time they worked correctly), managing sequential backups automatically and making them available with a GUI that is easier to use.
I hope that doesn't mean adding a ribbon.
There is also a System Reset function designed to let you reset Windows to factory settings, just like every bit of cheap networking gear and peripheral you ever plugged into a PC. It's designed to make it easier for businesses to restore a system before handing it off to the replacement for the person who futzed it up in the first place, or just relaunch a virtual OS from a server to keep from having to manage the OS at every desktop.
Mary Jo Foley actually apologized for waffling about the features she was talking about, because Microsoft developers have still not hit the milestone after which Windows 8 will ship out to anything but a tiny slice of OEMs.
Until then – one or two rounds of large-audience-testing before the Community Test Preview or beta test round – specific features might be under furious development but may not make the final cut.
Until then, even the most-renowned provider of anti-competitive pre-release information on formerly monopolistic operating systems isn't saying much about its next generation.
" Microsoft officials still are not talking about Windows 8, and — believe it or not — still not confirming officially that the next version of Windows will be 'Windows 8,'" Foley said.