March 03, 2012, 7:14 AM — Microsoft used the backdrop of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona Wednesday to launch its long-awaited Windows 8 Consumer Preview. In doing so, Microsoft makes a big statement about where it sees Windows' future role on mobile devices--tablets and laptops, but no mention of phones, yet.
The Consumer Preview went live during the event, and Microsoft said that in the first hour, it had already had downloads from over 70 different countries. The company revealed little news; it's still too early to have details about availability, pricing, and distribution for Microsoft's radically new OS. But we did get a look at the Microsoft Windows Store--now live--and more insight on how Windows on ARM will work.
The Microsoft Windows Store, first previewed in December of last year, is now live. And all apps during the Consumer Preview period will be free but only when using the new preview version of the OS.
We got glimpses of some of the apps that are ready, among them Microsoft Word for Metro, Amazon Kindle, and Vimeo. Microsoft also announced the eight winners of its app contest; those apps will come with the final version of Windows 8.
More Than 100,000 Updates to Previous Version
Microsoft said there are more than 100,000 changes to the OS since the Developers' Preview released in September 2011. The free Consumer Preview is now available in English, German, French, Japanese, and Standard Chinese. Plus, for developers, the big news is that the Visual Studio 11 beta is now available as well.
"We set out to do a bold re-imagination of the [PC] experience," Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows Division at Microsoft, told a private event the software giant held for several hundred members of the media, industry analysts, and Microsoft partners. "We challenged ourselves to bring [together] the best of mobility and the best of PCs, without compromise."
To do so, Sinofsky said, "We took a new approach to building Windows 8. We looked across the OS, the apps, the development platform, and the hardware itself, to see how we could engineer better, and with more efficiency, to enable a broad array of choice for consumers. And to do it all with a unified OS experience across all devices."
It appears that Windows 8 marks the biggest shift in how PC owners will interact with Windows since the launch of Windows 95. And Sinofsky himself noted that "Windows 8 is a generational change in the operating system. It's a generational change in the functionality, and in how we do things."
What's New in Windows 8 Consumer Preview