Staring today users of Windows 7 will be able to try out the “reimagined” Windows 8 operating system ahead of its full release.
Microsoft unveiled Windows 8 for public testing on Wednesday in the hope that it will help the brand win back some of the ground it has been losing to Apple and Google.
Windows 8 Consumer Preview can be downloaded for free from Microsoft’s website, which also offers a diagnostic program users can run to verify that their systems are compatible with the OS. At the moment, no newsreader has claimed compatibility with the OS, but if it is anything like previous versions of Windows since Vista, running in compatibility mode should allow them to run without issue.
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.
Essentially, those who are running a PC with a Windows 7 logo sticker on it will be cleared for takeoff for Windows 8. Of course, since the Windows 7 requirements were no more demanding than those for Windows Vista, anyone with even a semi-modern PC from the last handful of years should be able to run Windows 8 – at least the Consumer Preview.
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.
Metro style applications have a minimum of 1024×768 screen resolution, and 1366×768 for the snap feature. If you attempt to launch a Metro style app with less than this resolution (e.g. 800×600, 1024×600) you will receive an error message.
Microsoft demonstrated Windows 8 Consumer Preview during an event early Wednesday at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, Spain. The company warned consumers that Windows 8 Consumer Preview is trial software, and that they should back up important data and applications before installing the OS on their systems.