Microsoft is set to release a trial version of its touch-centric operating system to everyday computer users.
Slideshow: Windows 8 Upgrade Plans: Exclusive Research
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The general public won't have to wait long to get its hands on Windows 8, as Microsoft has confirmed the date on which it will make a trial version of its newest operating system freely available to anyone who wants to download it and kick the tires.
Microsoft will hold an event in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb. 29 to formally launch Windows 8 Consumer Preview, according to an invitation the company sent to journalists Wednesday. The date and location coincide with the World Mobile Congress, an indication that Microsoft is serious about pushing Windows 8 as a mobile operating system for tablets, as well as for traditional desktops and laptops.
The preview will allow everyday consumers to download and use a pre-release (Microsoft has not officially dubbed this as beta software) version of Windows 8. The catch is that, because it's pre-release code, the operating system likely will contain numerous bugs and features that aren't completely finished.
Microsoft typically warns users that unfinished software can cause system problems and that users should try it only if they have reasonably advanced computer skills.
Microsoft in September released the Windows 8 Developer Preview along with tools that programmers could use to build apps and get familiar with Windows 8.
The new OS represents the most fundamental redesign of the OS since the debut of Windows 95. For its interface, Windows 8 relies heavily on design elements taken from Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 environment, including Metro themes and Live Tiles. Tiles are blocks of screen real-estate that feed real-time updates from social networks, messaging, e-mail, and other services to the home screen.
Leaked screenshots appear to show that Microsoft has even eliminated the Start button, a familiar Windows navigation tool in past versions, and replaced it with a swipeable area users can touch to bring up various menus.
Such a design is more tablet friendly, and Microsoft has made little secret of the fact that it's counting on Windows 8 to make it a player in the tablet market, which is dominated by Apple and Google-powered devices.
Microsoft has not announced a release date for the final version of Windows 8, saying that it prefers to work from "milestone to milestone." Still, many analysts believe the OS could show up in some consumer products in time for the 2012 holiday season.
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