Trial version of Microsoft's new operating system is consumers' first chance to kick tires on new Metro interface.
Beta: Visual Tour
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Windows 8 isn't officially available yet, but it already has more than one million users. That's the number of individuals who have downloaded the Windows 8 Consumer Preview since it was made available last month, Microsoft said. A final version of the operating system is expected by year's end.
Built with touch computing and apps in mind, Windows 8 is crucial to Microsoft's efforts to make inroads against Apple and Google in the red-hot tablet market. Redmond is significantly behind its rivals in the tablet market following a failed campaign to convince hardware makers and telecom carriers of Windows 7's suitability as a tablet OS.
To run Windows 8 Consumer Preview, consumers will need a PC or laptop with at least a 1 GHz Intel or AMD processor; 1 GB of RAM on 32-bit systems or 2 GB of RAM on 64-bit machines; 16 GB or 20 GB of disk space, respectively; and a graphics card compatible with DirectX9 or higher.
Users will also need a touch-enabled PC to take advantage of Windows 8's touch features. A version of Windows 8 that is built to run on tablets powered by chips designed by ARM is not included in the preview. Windows on ARM is currently available only to developers.
Windows 8 Consumer Preview marks the first opportunity for the general public to see and weigh in on Windows 8, which represents a radical departure from previous Windows operating systems, including Windows 7, which debuted in late 2009.
The most notable difference is Windows 8's Metro interface, which Microsoft borrowed from Windows Phone 7. Metro is based around a home screen that eschews standard application icons in favor of so-called Live Tiles, blocks of screen real estate that display real-time updates from social networks, instant messaging, email, and other services. Metro is also designed to run full-screen mobile-style apps.
Microsoft's goal was to introduce an operating system designed from the ground up to be used on touch-based devices like tablets, as well as touch-capable PCs. Windows 8, when run on a standard PC, also allows users to switch to the familiar Windows Explorer interface so they can interact with their system via keyboard and mouse.
Microsoft has also opened a beta version of its Windows Store, which will be the sole source of Metro-style apps for Windows 8. During the preview period, the store will offer apps that consumers can download and use at no charge.
The company is warning that Windows 8 Consumer Preview is trial software, and they should back up important data and applications before installing the OS.
Windows is currently a nobody in the tablet market. That could change with the release of Windows 8, the first version designed for touch screens and the tablet form factor. With the new Metro user interface, Microsoft will try to serve both tablet and desktop markets. Can it succeed? Find out at our Byte webcast, What Impact Will Windows 8 Have On The Tablet Market?. It happens March 14. (Free registration required.)
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