Microsoft announced today at Mobile World Congress that the Windows 8 Consumer Preview is now available as a free download for testing.
It follows on from the Windows 8 Developer Preview released late last year which, according to Microsoft, saw 3 million downloads.
Windows 8 is the next generation of Windows operating systems, expressly designed to run on tablets and touch screen interfaces, alongside traditional PCs.
It is also Microsoft’s first non-smartphone based operating system that supports ARM processors, low powered chips found on almost all smartphones and tablets.
It features a completely new interface, called Metro, which gets rid of the classic ‘start’ button and replaces it with a tile based interface, expressly designed for touch-screen devices – such as tablets and touch screen monitors. None of the hardware has been released as of yet.
The best point of comparison is Windows Phone 7.5 Mango’s ‘live’ tile based operating system featured on the Nokia Lumia 800 which CBR reviewed here.
As part of the preview, users will also have access to a beta version of the Windows Store, Cloud services and Internet Explorer 10.
The beta version of the new Windows Store will compete with the Android App Store and Apple’s iTunes App Store. CBR interviewed one of the first Windows Store app developers, Soluto, here.
Cloud access, including the ability to roam all settings, use cloud storage, communicate with email, calendar and contacts will also be available, and will work across your Windows-based PCs and your Windows Phones. It also has access to the online video game service Xbox Live, and is also expected to integrate with the Xbox360 video game console more intimately later on. Internet Explorer 10 is also included and has been remodelled to work with tablet devices, most notably by almost completely doing away with a tool bar.
Users interested can download a copy here, at their own risk. Microsoft notes that it is an unfinished program, and users will have to resinstall all their original software if they decide to go back to their previous operating system.