I recently made the assertion that the big deal with the Windows 8 Release Preview—currently due in the first week of June—wouldn't be the platform itself, since that was largely completed a few months ago. Instead, it’s the bundled apps that will matter most, since these apps were available only in App Preview mode in the previous Windows 8 milestone, the Consumer Preview. And most of those App Previews were pretty lousy.

This wasn’t just conjecture. And as details begin leaking out about what’s changing in the Release Preview—and yes, you can expect a flood of articles from me whenever that release does occur, as I did with the Consumer Preview—we can begin to discuss these changes. And the first meaningful leak I’ve seen so far involves changes to the Photos, Reader, and communications (Mail, Calendar, People, and Messaging) apps.

Curiously, this leak comes directly from Microsoft, which managed to post information about the coming Release Preview versions of these apps to the Windows Store Preview web site.

(Read carefully, please. I have a few details below you won’t see elsewhere.)

Photos

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The Photos leak is particularly fascinating since the user interface it shows didn’t actually show up in internal builds until this week. But it shows a much cleaner and nicer-looking UI than what we saw in the Consumer Preview, with smaller, tile-like elements that link to connected photos sources, including, new for the Release Preview, PCs that you’ve connected through the SkyDrive app. So in addition to your PC’s Pictures library, Facebook, Windows Live, and Flickr, you’ll also see entries for each connected PC.

Also new to this version of the app is the ability to import photos and videos from a camera. I’m eager to try that.

Windows Reader

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Reader doesn’t appear to have changed, from what I can see. The interface is the same, the app bar has the same buttons, and it still supports reading PDF and XPS documents, and adding comments but not true editing.

Nothing to see here, folks.

Communications apps: Mail, Calendar, People, Messaging

The core productivity apps in Windows 8, or what Microsoft calls the communications apps, Mail, Calendar, People, and Messaging, have all been updated in at least small ways.

Mail

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Mail now has a teal-colored live tile, for example, and a refined user interface in which often-needed tools like attachments can be added to new messages without actually selecting the body of the message first. Notifications work now, too. (Before only Messaging supported notifications.)

Calendar

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Calendar is getting a purple tile (it was green in the Consumer Preview) and now supports Windows Phone-like options where you can enable and disable, and color code, individual calendars. Calendar also supports notifications now.

People

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People picks up a much nicer layout for the What’s New module—a request I made in my Consumer Preview coverage, by the way—and now does contact de-duplication, just like Windows Phone. The People live tile also works like the one in Windows Phone, too, with an updating grid of contacts photos.

People can now be used as a Share contract target, allowing you to share information through supported social networking services.

Messaging

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Messaging sports a new light purple live tile and supports Windows Live Messenger and Facebook Chat, as before. But now it provides delayed message delivery for when a contact’s offline.

And that’s it for the Microsoft leaks, plus my own tidbits.

OK, one more. Stay tuned: There are new Metro-style apps coming in the Release Preview too.