Windows 8 Consumer Preview Available Now

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.

There's a setup program, or direct ISO files for 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the OS. 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 8, head to our Windows 8 Resource Center.

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Copyright (c) 2012 PCWorld Communications, Inc.