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Microsoft has announced the release of Windows 8 Consumer Preview, available to download now for anyone interested in trying it out. Microsoft says it’s a preview of what’s to come and represents a work in progress (FAQ), but it basically is what you’ll get when the product ships this fall.

Windows 8 may be one of the most important launches in Microsoft’s history, notes the Washington Post, as the company doubles down to keep its core business successful.

Windows 8 is designed to work on a wide range of devices , from touch-enabled tablets, to laptops, to desktops and all-in-ones. You can move between Windows 8 PCs easily and access your files and settings from virtually anywhere. You can navigate with touch or with a mouse and keyboard.

C/Net says the workflow is easy once you learn it, but not necessarily obvious at first blush. Second, more of your Windows 8 experience will be dependent on your hardware, because it will work on both desktops and laptops–as well as ARM-based tablets.

Microsoft unveiled the Windows 8 preview at Mobile World Congress, where they are also pushing Windows Phone. The five features that Microsoft highlighted are: Integration of touch, keyboard and mouse control; the Windows app store; Skydrive cloud services that link PCs and Windows Phone; Internet Explorer 10; and new hardware capabilities.

“Our goal with Windows 8 is to deliver PCs without compromise,” said Windows chief Steven Sinofsky, which means that the OS scales with you depending on how you want to use the OS and with what gadget – tablet, PC, or touch-based PC.”

The company also demoed an Acer ultrabook that booted up in about eight seconds. Sinofsky also talked up the Windows 8 system-on-a-chip (SOC) architecture. Windows on ARM (WOA) PCs will roll out at about the same time as Windows 8 PCs running on AMD or Intel processors, with beta software rolled out on parallel but separate tracks.

Consumers who want to run legacy Windows apps will be best served with a traditional Windows 8 PC running on either an AMD or Intel processor. Those seeking a clean break can migrate to new ARM-based devices. WOA will only ship preloaded on PCs. ARM-based test computers, featuring chips made by Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and Nvidia, will go to partners and software developers in the next several weeks.

The test version of Windows 8 has mail, calendar and messaging apps, but no evidence of Office, Microsoft’s dominant suite of work applications. Sinofsky said earlier this month that a version of Office would be included in Windows 8 for ARM tablets.

Windows 8 for PCs requires a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM (or 2GB for 64-bit), 16GB of storage (or 20GB for 64-bit), and a DirectX 9 graphics card with WDDM 1.0 support. But you won’t be able to take advantage of all the new features of Windows 8 without a few more specs, notes The Verge.


As with x86 machines, Windows 8 on ARM will let users choose either the new Metro design, which features tiles that update with new information, or revert to the current Windows design.

It’s mobile companion, Windows Phone 8, is expected to be available later this year with Skype fully integrated at the OS level.

Sprint released its first Windows Phone, the HTC Arrive, in March last year, but Qualcomm’s new MSM8960, a dual-core 1.5GHz system-on-chip, might enable both flavors of LTE on a “world phone”

Morgan Stanley analyst Mary Meeker previously predicted the shift to mobile (above). IDC predicts worldwide shipments of smartphones and media tablets will reach 284 million in 2010. In 2011, makers will ship 377 million of these devices, and in 2012, the number will reach 462 million shipments, exceeding PC shipments, says IDC.

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