Microsoft has launched the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 today at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona.
The Windows Store, which will be the marketplace for acquiring applications for Windows 8, launches today too. You can download the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, for free, from Microsoft's Windows website.
Head of Windows Steven Sinofsky described Windows as a 'generational change' and said it was the biggest update to Windows since Windows 95. He said that where in those days most people were new to computing, the challenge now was to break down the barriers between smartphones, tablets and the desktop. He added that the cloud had to connect all of these aspects, and that Windows 8's Metro Interface would be a unifying force.
Julie Larson-Green and Antoine Leblond demonstrated the Metro interface and the Windows Store, saying that Windows 8 users would have 'hundreds of apps' on their devices. Larson-Green showed off gestures and apps using a Samsung built preview tablet device, making named groups of apps when zoomed out, and pinching to see everything. She showed off Internet Explorer, navigating back and forth between pages with swipes to the left and right.
"It's really easy to take HTML5 games and turn them into full Windows apps," she said, as showed off a variety of apps and games.
Larson-Green also demonstrated some of Windows 8's multitasking capabilities: ways of minimising apps with a gesture, and pinning contacts - 'people' in Windows 8 parlance - to the screen, running a video while pinning IM windows to the sides of the screen, and so on.
Leblond showed off Windows 8 running on a laptop, using a Lenovo U300s ultrabook
Windows 8: Consumer Preview
The Consumer Preview of Windows 8 is, in essence, an open beta for users who want a sneak peek at the new operating system.
Compared to the Developer Preview that Microsoft launched last September, the Consumer Preview should be more stable. It also includes some major user interface improvements that the company has added over the past five months, and will include an early version of the Windows Store.
As the name suggests, the Consumer Preview is meant for users to get acquainted with the big changes in Windows 8 before the commercial launch of Windows 8 in the second half of 2012. The Windows 8 Consumer Preview should, Microsoft hopes, answer questions that the earlier developer's preview didn't.
Chief among these is what applications will be available right away that are written in what Microsoft calls Metro style. Metro style refers both to the graphical look of the user interface, which relies on words rather than icons, and to the way individual applications interact with the touchscreen environment Windows 8 supports.
Tami Reller, corporate vice president for Windows, and Windows Head Steven Sinofsky introduced the Consumer Preview with a variety of Windows 8 systems on stage in Barcelona.
Introducing the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, Reller said: "We have hardware ecosystem partners here, we have developers, and our critical go-to-market partners. All of them will be critical to our success."
Sinofsky said: "We started this project as we wound down Windows 7. WIndows 7 was the most successful OS of all time. But we set out to reimagine the entire experience. It was a bold goal. We challenged ourselves to bring together the best of mobility and the best of PCs.
"Let's talk about where we are today. Today, we're not there yet. This show is the best of mobile. But as exciting as these devices are, we all face some yearning. We choose between productivity and consumption. A tablet or a laptop? A touch interface or a tablet and a mouse? Let's talk about where we are today. Today, we're not there yet. This show is the best of mobile. But as exciting as these devices are, we all face some yearning. We choose between productivity and consumption. A tablet or a laptop? A touch interface or a tablet and a mouse?
"The hardware, the OS, even the apps are all coming together. But there are still these seems in the experience. So our goal with Windows 8 was to deliver PCs without compromise. To realize this dream of a no-compromise experience, we took a look at three things we'll talk about today. The hardware, the apps, and the developer experience."
Windows 8 Developer Preview
"We wanted to maintain the hallmark of the PC experience: choice. This project all started in a way with the developer preview.
"We knew of course when we did the developer preview that the UI wasn't done — lots of it wasn't done. The goal was to get it out there and get people to understand what we were after. But today every element of the OS has been touched and improved as we prepared for the consumer preview of Windows 8. Since the developer preview in September, we have made over 100,000 changes in Windows 8. We think of it as complete all the way through. The best way to look at these is to start with the experience."
Windows 8: 'generational change'
"The first thing you're going to see with Windows 8 is that it's beautiful, it's modern, it's fast, and it's fluid - it's a generational change the product. We made Windows 8 easy for everyone. Things are a lot different than the last time we made a generational change in Windows — Windows 95.
"At that time, computing was new to most customers. But today, a huge amount of interfaces are everywhere. So the work we've done is to make it a super fun experience that'll come naturally to people. At that time, computing was new to most customers. But today, a huge amount of interfaces are everywhere. So the work we've done is to make it a super fun experience that'll come naturally to people.
"The world today — there's too many hard stops between phones and desktops and tablets. Apps are part of those either / or scenarios. You use this app or that app. That's not the right way, these islands of apps. You should add one app, all the other apps get better.
"Connection to the cloud is a very important part of how we thought about Windows 8. And everything comes together with our Metro-style design language. It's designed to scale with the capabilities of the devices. Whether you're on a small form factor through PCs through a console you're using with Kinect. We want to start by showing you the Windows 8 app and OS experience."
Windows 8: Metro and the Windows Store
Talking about the Metro interface and the Windows Store, Larson-Green said: "We're going to show you Windows 8 on a variety of PC experiences. When we started there were no devices like this [a Samsung tablet]. We started with a piece of cardboard. We made cutouts and walked around with these cutouts and tried to get a feel for the ergonomics of the devices. We learned the edges of the devices were very important. Your thumbs became important when you hold the device in a relaxed way.
"You want the device to know that it's yours when you pick it up. Showing the lock screen. "To get started I slide up from the bottom, and I come to a new way to log in to my PC. Windows 7 was good for dozens of apps. But with Windows 8 you'll have hundreds of apps.
"We test all of our features on whether they feel fast and fluid. If I want to see everything all at once I can pinch," she added.
"Windows has always been about launching, but also switching beween applications. If I don't want to slide through to find the one I want, I can just slide over and it'll give me the full list," said Larson-Green. "You don't need to close apps in Windows 8, but if you want to you can just slide down from the top of the screen."
Demonstrating multitasking on the Windows 8 tablet, she said: "I don't have to manage these windows, they don't overlap. If I click a link, it'll open IE and I don't have to manage where it went. In Windows 8 we have a system wide sharing concept. All the apps I can share with are right here. Apps don't need to know anything about each other for this to work."
Leblond demonstrated Windows 8 on a laptop. "When you go back home or back to your office, you'll probably be installing CP on laptop. It's a mouse and keyboard machine, it doesn't have a touchscreen," he said.
You can get the latest information about Windows 8 from Microsoft on the Microsoft website.