Microsoft today at the Mobile World Congress tradeshow in Barcelona launched the Consumer Preview of Windows 8. The Windows Store, which will be the marketplace for acquiring applications for Windows 8, launches today too, and all apps are free throughout the Consumer Preview period. Within the first two hours after launch Microsoft said the Windows 8 Consumer Preview had been downloaded in more than 70 countries. Read: Where to download Windows 8 Consumer Preview to find out how to get it.

See also: Microsoft Windows 8 review. See also: Windows 8 Consumer Preview in pictures.

The Consumer Preview builds on the previous Windows 8 releases, adding in the Windows Store with preview apps, cloud services, and hardware support for new hardware as well as a new Internet Explorer 10 build with a fresh rendering engine that is the heart and soul of the browser.

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. "You can think of all this as a super fancy cloud connected clipboard," he said.

Microsoft introduced the idea of a Windows Account: like a Google or Apple ID that allows multiple devices to offer access to the same data, settings and levels of access. It's Windows Live on steroids and rebranded, in essence.

In summing up Windows 8, Sinofsky said: "Windows 8 is fast, fluid, and responsive. It's Windows reimagined. Windows is the only OS that spans form factors so you can use what you want to use."

He also said "You don't have to compromise because of the form factor you use. One OS will scale across the smallest tablets to the largest desktop [PC]", neatly teeing up Mike Angiulo to demostrate Windows running on Arm-powered tablet - the NVIDIA Tegra 3.

Microsoft also demonstrated Intel tablets and Ultrabooks, and showed off the much-trailed Metro connection UI, with 'airplane' mode and what Microsoft is calling "cost-aware" networking, that switches from cellular data to Wi-Fi in order to always use the cheapest method.

Angiulo and Sinofsky then delved into the world of touch, showing off an 100-finger multiple person touch, 86-inch optically bonded Gorilla Glass display, demonstrating the potential for multiple people to interact with the same screen: perhaps in a game. (And if you think an 86in PC is weird, it also had a pen for input...)

They then showed how Windows 8 could pull together any storage attached to a device, creating in effect one large disk or 'pool'. This looked undeniably impressive, but raises several questions: what happens when storage is removed if data is written to it? Is Microsoft in effect crowd-sourcing storage and utilising storage like a bank uses money (could be a bad example in the current climate...)?

Describing the ongoing Windows 8 release cycle, Sinofsky said: "The next milestone the release candidate, after that is the release to manufacturing, and after that is general availability." No fixed date was given for the consumer launch of Windows 8, and no pricing revealed.

Read our newly updated Windows 8 review.

Windows 8: tablet, all-in-one and laptop (and Arm devices)

Julie Larson-Green and Antoine Leblond demonstrated Windows 8, 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.

Later, she returned to the stage to demonstrate Windows 8 on an all-in-one PC with a touchscreen. She said that the way users would interact with Windows 8 was not an 'either or' decision, but a question of which device happens to be at hand or most appropriate for the task in hand. "You're going to want to install Consumer Preview on a number of different machines and give it a try," she said.

She demonstrated using the Microsoft Account to access multiple devices, and searching all loaded apps without using a browser.

In showing off the Arm tablet from nVidia, Angiulo said that the same Windows features will run across Intel, AMD and Arm systems, but that on Arm, they will be connected even when on standby, so that emails and social posts are up to date from the moment you boot (a feature that will soon be available on some Windows 7 Ultrabooks). He showed off HTML5 video playing in Internet Explorer on the Nvidia tablet, and said there'd be all-new class drivers for easy printer, mouse, keyboard connections.

Windows 8: "Super fast, super fluid, no compromises."

Leblond showed off Windows 8 running on a laptop, using a Lenovo U300s ultrabook. He said that Microsoft had paid just as much attention to more traditional desktop computing as to portable devices, when it built Windows 8. He added that Windows 8 is just as comfortable to use with a keyboard and mouse as it is using a touchscreen.

Control-Alt-Delete has been replaced by simply hitting Enter, apps are opened with a single click. Leblond said that a mouse is better than your fingers at certain tasks, and vice versa, and suggested that Windows 8 was designed with this in mind. He succesfully demonstrated organising Metro apps and zooming using a mouse as his input device. "It's just as easy to navigate the system with the mouse as it is your fingers," LeBlond said. He said that apps didn't need to be designed to talk to each other in order to communicat, describing the Windows 8 experience thus: "Super fast, super fluid, no compromises."

"Windows 8 is an even better Windows than Windows 7," he added.

Windows 8: the desktop, and the Windows Store

Leblond demonstrated using Word on a Windows 8 system. "The desktop is great for working with multiple apps at the same time," he said, showing off Word and PowerPoint docked to the left and right of the desktop. That's right: the desktop. It's still in Windows 8 as Leblond demonstrated, but it becomes another app within the Windows 8 Metro interface, albeit a full-screen app. There's no Start menu, either.

Leblond also showed off the Windows Store. "We designed the store with one main goal: to find and discover applications," he said. "During the Consumer Preview period all of the apps in the store will be free, and as we go through the period we'll keep adding apps to the store."

He said that app developers were excited about working on Windows 8, which will have to be true in order for it to succeed. Indeed, Steve Sinofsky returned to the stage to say: "We're at just the beginning of an amazing opportunity for developers."

NEXT PAGE: Windows 8 Consumer Preview - the details, and quotes from today's event >>

Microsoft today launched the Consumer Preview of Windows 8. Here are the details, and quotes from today's event:

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.

Windows 8 Consumer Preview: in quotes

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. "We paid just as much attention to using Windows 8 with a mouse and keyboard. No more ctrl-alt-delete, I can just hit enter, which is nice. I can use the wheel, the page up page down, anything you'd expect.

"Let me talk about the difference between the mouse and your fingers. The mouse is a very precise pointing device, but it's not great for gestures. But there are four spots on the screen that are really easy to move to with the mouse. Those are the corners."

Using a mouse, he navigated around his Windows 8 laptop. "If I just want to go back to the start screen, I move to the bottom left corner. If you want to open an app, you move down there — it's where the start button used to be."

"One of the things power users do is hit the Windows key, type the name of the app and hit enter," said Leblond. "Same thing works here."

"That's the desktop on Windows 8 — part of the no-compromises approach we have. All thing things in Windows 7 you know and love are still there."

Talking about app developers and the Windows Store, Leblond said: "One of the fun things about working on the Consumer Preview has been talking to developers. They're really happy about the transparency and clarity with adding apps to the store. We have the best app economics out there. We have unprecedented reach for their applications."

Sinofsky added: "We showed you a bunch of apps that are preview apps. The OS is at the consumer preview level, the apps are at the app preview level — all subject to change. It's early. Now is not a good time to start reviewing the apps, or listing them, or categorizing them. It's also no-compromise for apps — you can use an app, and another app, and they can pull information from each other. When you use one app, all the other apps get better."

Speaking about Windows on ARM, Angiulo said: "While your PC is on standby it's still connected — when you turn it on you have your mail and messages. These PCs are the same Windows."

Windows 8: latest news and reviews

PC Advisor will be bringing you the latest news, as it happens, about Windows 8. Why not famililiarise yourself with the current Developer Preview build of Windows 8 by reading our Microsoft Windows 8 review. We'll be updating it with details of the Consumer Preview once we've had a good play with it. Join in the discussion in our Windows 8 Forum, and catch up with all the latest Windows news, reviews, tips and tricks in our Windows 8 Advisor Zone.

You can get the latest information about Windows 8 from Microsoft on the Microsoft website.

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