Warm up your cable and DSL modems, they’re about to get busy. The Windows 8 Consumer Preview (read: beta) is ready for the general public to download and install. The Consumer Preview is definitely not a fully complete and tested copy of Windows 8, so make sure you don’t do anything crazy like wipe out your existing Windows installation or run it on a machine you use for mission-critical work.
Download the Windows 8 Consumer Preview here.
Most modern PCs should probably grab the 64-bit version. Note that just because there’s only one edition of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, that doesn’t mean there will be only one upon release. Microsoft has not yet said how many editions of Windows 8 we can expect, nor what they'll each include.
Here’s a few of the things you can expect from the Preview:
- The Start Screen with its Metro interface, including the Pictures and People hubs and several built-in applications like Mail, Calendar, and Maps.
- Tweaks and improvements to the Windows 8 desktop.
- Tight integration with Skydrive and Live services.
- A select set of applications in the Windows 8 Store. The applications in the Store should all be free, and come from partners Microsoft has been working with prior to launch.
- A look at Internet Explorer 10, both in the Metro interface and on the desktop.
- The new Music and Video hubs, which integrate with the Zune music and video store (but don’t use Zune branding).
- A new Xbox Live gaming hub with downloadable games and your Xbox Live avatar.
- Enhanced Multi-monitor support.
In short, it's a good look at some of the dramatic changes Windows 8 will bring, but it still needs some polishing, tweaking, and lots of performance and compatibility testing. If you have a spare partition on your PC or an entire PC to dedicate to testing it, download it and give it a shot, then let us know what you think in the comments.
For more on Windows out, head to our Windows 8 Resource Center.