Microsoft teased an early June debut for the Windows 8 Release Preview last month, but I guess it decided to pull the trigger early. The Windows 8 Release Preview is now out, and Windows chief Steven Sinofsky has put up an introductory post on the official Building Windows 8 blog.
According to Sinofsky, the Release Preview is the "final pre-release" version of the operating system. Next up will be the release-to-manufacturing build that will end up in retail boxes and on pre-built computers everywhere. Sinofsky expects that, if things go forward as planned, Windows 8 will enter the "final phases of the [release to manufacturing] process" in two months or so. If there are no snags there, the operating system will be out in time for the holidays.
Sinofsky adds, "Our focus from now until RTM is on continuing to maintain a quality level higher than Windows 7 in all the measures we focus on, including reliability over time; security to the core; PC, software, and peripheral compatibility; and resource utilization."
I just installed the Release Preview in VMware player, and so far, it doesn't look all that different from the Consumer Preview that came out in February. The installation process does seem a little more polished, though, and the desktop has gotten a partial Metro makeover. As we learned earlier this month, the finished Windows 8 release will go even further in that direction, abandoning translucent UI widgets entirely in favor of a completely flat and monochrome look. Still, it's pretty clear that we're awfully close to the final product in terms of look and feel and usability.
If you're not keen on installing the Release Preview via Microsoft's automated upgrade wizard, you can grab ISO images of the installer from this page. The 64-bit ISO weighs in at 3.3GB, while the 32-bit one is a slightly more manageable 2.5GB. In both cases, you'll want to jot down the product key printed just below the download links—the installer will ask you for it.