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Windows 8 screenshots reveal ribbon interface

Photos taken from pre-beta builds of Windows 8 sent to various Microsoft partners show greater use of the ribbon interface, a new welcome screen, and a few other surprises.

Images from a pre-beta version of Windows 8 reveal that Microsoft is apparently expanding its use of the ribbon interface to replace traditional pull-down menus and toolbars.

Following Microsoft's release of the latest pre-beta build of Windows 8 to select partners recently, screenshots of certain features in the upcoming OS were allegedly posted online. In particular, images displayed on enthusiast site Within Windows by "Windows 8 Secrets" co-authors Rafael Rivera and Paul Thurrott show the ribbon interface reaching Windows Explorer.

Introduced with Office 2007, the ribbon interface has been loved by some and reviled by others. But Microsoft has expanded its use of the ribbon, adding it to such programs as Paint and WordPad in Windows 7. Noting that the ribbon interface in the pre-beta Windows 8 is only half-finished and rather "unattractive," Rivera and Thurrott suggest that its potential appearance in Explorer may be controversial within Microsoft itself.

Beyond showing off the ribbon, the two authors also revealed a new welcome screen in Windows 8, which they say is based on the lock screen in Windows Phone 7. Displaying the date and time and offering a changeable background image, the new screen reportedly will also feature audio controls so people can play and adjust their music even when the screen is locked.

Microsoft has supposedly been looking to splash a bit of the Windows Phone 7 Metro UI look and feel onto the next generation of Windows. Beyond just the welcome screen, other alleged images of a recent Windows 8 build show a set-up routine and overall interface that takes a page from the design of the Metro UI, according to enthusiast site WinRumors.

Windows 8 could also offer built-in integration with some of Microsoft's Windows Live features. Looking at the screenshots of the new Windows Explorer, enthusiast site spotted one option for Sync, which it believes could refer to Microsoft's cloud-based Windows Live Mesh. Another option called "Web sharing" could point to online storage service Windows Live SkyDrive.

Of course, Windows 8 is still at a very early stage in development, so its look, feel, and features are likely to be debated and tweaked within Microsoft before the new OS finally reaches consumers. Microsoft has been generally mum about Windows 8 and hasn't give any clues as to a launch date. However, a blog post on the company's Dutch Web site may have spilled a few beans last October when it stated that Windows 8 was about two years away, putting its release toward the end of 2012.