Microsoft may launch the Consumer Preview (read: "open beta") of Windows on February 29th. Members of the press recently received an invitation to a special Windows 8 Customer Preview event in Barcelona as part of the Mobile World Congress trade show. The event is on the 29th, and it is assumed that the Customer Preview will be made available to the public in conjunction with it.
To be clear: Microsoft has confirmed with us that is did not announce the launch of the Consumer Preview on the 29th. The only thing communicated from Microsoft is an invitation to a press event. Still, the safe money is on the Consumer Preview launching at the same time, or at least very close, to the Barcelona event.
Note the precise nomenclature here. It is a "Consumer Preview", rather than a "public beta". Perhaps the shift from "public beta" to "Consumer Preview" is a function of a transition in the role of the program.
The very idea of a "beta" is that it is incomplete, and the software vendor is soliciting feedback from real-world users through the beta program. Microsoft has switched to releasing a "preview" that is more or less feature complete and ready to go as a means of generating some anticipation for the actual product launch, but it isn't necessarily expecting the consumer preview community to identify and report bugs. The software will undoubtedly be tweaked based on feedback, but Microsoft wants to get the public involved, and straying away from the scary "beta" word may be an attempt to do that.
It's not an accident that the event is being hosted in Barcelona. Interestingly, the Microsoft launch of its next generation flagship operating system is being held at the Mobile World Congress which is going on that week. Much of the excitement around Windows 8 has centered around Windows 8-based tablets and the touch-centric Metro UI, so it makes sense for Microsoft to unveil Windows 8 at an event focused on mobile devices.
Aside from Windows 8 tablets, Windows 8 will also bring a variety of changes and updates for Windows users. The ribbon interface that has been slowly spreading throughout the Microsoft ecosystem will play a more prominent role in some desktop applications -- although, Microsoft is apparently scaling back the ribbon as a result of some preemptive backlash.
Windows 8 may also do away with the iconic Start button Windows users are familiar with. Also, despite rumors and overt statements to the effect that the Windows 8 desktop OS will not run on ARM-based tablets, there are now hints that ARM-based tablets will, in fact, be able to run the full OS.
The biggest change will come in the form of the full-screen "Start Screen", with live tiles and a "Metro" design that is very similar to Windows Phone 7 and the latest Xbox 360 software update. Apps for this Start Screen will focus on touch, and be available through a built-in marketplace called the Store.
So, get ready. On February 29, or thereabouts, you will probably be able to acquire the Windows 8 Consumer Preview and find out for yourself what the new OS is all about. Do you plan to check it out? What features are you looking forward to most? Are there any aspects of Windows 8 that you find concerning?