Microsoft is releasing a preview version of Windows 8 for download on Feb. 29, following an announcement at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, Spain.
The software maker has said little about how fully baked this version will be, but it should provide the strongest indications yet about what consumers can expect once the final version of Windows 8 debuts, most likely later this year. Here's a look at some key areas on which Windows 8 Consumer Preview should shed some light, and where it won't.
1. Hardware requirements. Microsoft has said that Windows 8 will run just fine on PCs that run Windows 7, and that it should even do well on XP machines. The Consumer Preview will provide general computer users with their first chance to test that out.
For the record, Windows 8 needs a PC with at least a 1-GHZ processor, 1 GB of RAM, 16 GB of available hard disk space, and DirectX-capable graphics.
2. No ARM preview. While much of the hype around Windows 8 has been focused on its optimization for touch-tablet computing on ARM systems, the preview version that Microsoft is releasing on Wednesday is limited to running on Intel or AMD-based PCs and slates.
Microsoft is making ARM-based tablets with Windows 8 preinstalled available for testing on Wednesday, but only to a small number of developers.
3. Legacy performance. A key point about ARM-based Windows 8 systems is that they will not run legacy Windows apps. Windows 8 on Intel and AMD chips should offer legacy support, however. At least that's the promise from Microsoft.
Windows 8 Consumer Preview will give users a chance to evaluate that pledge, while keeping in mind that the OS is still in the development stage. It could be a deal breaker for many users if Windows 8 chokes on older software.
4. Touch test. For those users who have touch-capable PCs and slates, Windows 8 CP will provide many with their first opportunity to experience touch-based computing on an operating system that was developed with such interaction in mind. Windows 7 supports touch, but the classic Windows interface it sports was really developed for the mouse and keyboard. With Windows 8, even on PCs, touch is far more than just an afterthought.