In this edition of the Mailbag: Which Windows Phone 8 handset I’ll choose, Windows 8 and BIOS, whether you can revert to Windows 7 after installing Windows 8, photo editing and collection management, evaluating the final version of Windows 8 before it ships, when Media Center will ship for Windows 8, whether Microsoft plans a Surface tablet with a Retina display, whether Windows Server 2012 Standard and Datacenter support centralized PC backup, and when the final version of Windows Server 2012 Essentials will ship.

If you have questions, please email me.

Which Windows Phone 8 handset will you choose?

A number of readers are curious which Windows Phone 8 handset I’ll be choosing. Many make specific arguments for the phone they perceive to be superior, such as the camera in the Lumia 920.

I’ll need to compare these phones head-to-head to be sure, though the front-runner, for now, is the HTC Windows Phone 8X. But I’ll review each and see. Remember that this kind of decision is very personal: I have a pet-peeve about camera quality, but maybe the storage or screen size (or whatever) is a bigger issue for you.

Windows 8 and BIOS

Ronald M. asks:

I was wondering if Windows 8 still supports the BIOS.

Modern, Windows 8-logoed PCs will use UEFI type firmware, but Windows 8 still supports BIOS for legacy PCs.

Returning to Windows 7 after using web-based Setup to install Windows 8

Ron L. asks:

Can you revert to Windows 7 after you have installed Windows 8 through the Web Installer which you seem to favor?

Not through some Windows 8 facility. But if you created an image backup of your Windows 7 install before upgrading to Windows 8, you can use a Windows 7 repair disc to restore your PC to that install again. (This would work with any Windows 7 install type.)

Photo editing and collection management

John A. asks:

I took a look at what you use and see that you use Windows Live Photo Gallery to manage the collection and Picasa to edit.  I was wondering why you chose different products to manage and edit and not use the same for both.

I use Windows Photo Gallery to acquire pictures from the camera and do some editing. But I don't "manage" photos with it, per se. I store them on a home server and manage them in the file system. There's no reason not to keep a couple of tools on hand for photo editing. Both Windows Photo Gallery and Picasa are free and work well.

Best way to evaluate Windows 8 before the launch?

Tim P. asks:

I am writing to find out if there is any possible way for me to obtain access to a final shipping version of Windows 8 immediately.  Any "loopholes" you can unofficially point me to so that I may get up to speed in my learning curve prior to having to wait until the end of October?

If you’re interested in learning about Windows 8 by using it, and don’t want to wait until the launch on October 26, I can recommend two approaches:

1. Windows 8 Enterprise evaluation. The problem with this version is that you can’t upgrade it to a non-time-bombed version of Windows 8.

2. TechNet Standard. If you don't mind paying, you can also get Windows 8 through TechNet Standard, which costs $199, but gives you access to two Windows 8 Pro product keys, each of which can be used for up to 10 installs. (These are designed for evaluation purposes, of course, but are the full retail versions.)

Media Center for Windows 8

Thomas J. asks:

Any idea when Media Center for Windows 8 will be released?

I sort of assumed it would hit on or right before October 26, but Microsoft has never commented on this, sorry.

Will Microsoft release a version of Surface with a Retina display?

Dennis B. asks:

I was planning to buy a Surface the end of October but then I woke up and realized the screen resolution will not be as Apple puts it Retina.  Do you know if MS is planning a high resolution RT Surface?

Microsoft has announced two Surface models, one with HD (1366 x 768) resolution running Windows RT and one with full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution running Windows 8. That's what they're going to market with.

But I'm a bit confused why this one qualifier would help you decide between two completely different platforms. You either want the power of a full PC or you want an iPad. Seems like that would be the first decider. And if the Surface resolution wasn't high enough for some reason I admittedly don't understand, that it would be time to research RT-based alternatives, and not an iPad.

Centralized PC backup on Windows Server 2012 Standard or Datacenter?

Chris H. asks:

As a former user of Home Server I've been following your recent articles on Server 2012 Essentials with some interest.  I have a quick question which I hope you can clarify.  I have a copy of Server 2012 (presumably Datacenter) through Dreamspark. Does this version support the PC client backup functionality from Essentials 2012?

No, this functionality is unique to the "Colorado" servers (WHS 2011, Essentials 2012, and Storage Server 2008 R2) and to Essentials 2012.

Windows Server 2012 Essentials availability?

Ryan K. asks:

I have a TechNet subscription and Windows Server 2012 Essentials doesn't seem to be listed.  The release preview of it is but not the gold master. I thought this was released?  I was wondering if you know anything about it.  Windows Server 2012 is there. 

Essentials hasn't RTMd yet. It will before the end of the year, according to Microsoft. But I expect it to happen much more quickly than that.