Microsoft has made the next preview release of its Windows 8 operating system available for download, while at the same time opening up the Windows Store to showcase the first Metro-style apps designed for the new platform.
Announced at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, the Windows 8 Consumer Preview offers a more robust experience for users to try out what is coming in the next version of Windows, Microsoft said.
The company claims to have made a host of refinements across the board since the Developer Preview was released at Microsoft's Build conference last September, including improvements to the user experience for touch, keyboard and mouse input.
"Based on a broad range of feedback, we have made over 100,000 code changes and the Consumer Preview represents a refined product ready for broad and daily usage by those of you willing to test a pre-release OS," said Windows president Steven Sinofsky, writing on the Building Windows 8 blog.
However, the major news is the beta opening of the Windows Store, which is already populated with new Metro-style apps from both third-party developers and Microsoft, currently available to download free of charge while Windows 8 is still at the preview stage.
Microsoft warned that the Windows Store apps along with the pre-installed apps on Windows 8 devices are at an early stage of development, but will be kept updated via the Windows Store itself.
Although Windows 8 will be for both x86 PCs and ARM-based devices, the Consumer Preview is only bring offered for download in a version for x86 chips, as with the Developer Preview.
This is consistent with Microsoft's position that Windows on ARM (WOA) will only be available pre-loaded on devices, and will not be installable by end users.
However, Microsoft revealed at MWC that there are already Windows 8 tablet devices based on ARM chips from Texas Instruments, Nvidia's Tegra 3, Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4, as well as Intel's Clover Trail Atom platform.
Microsoft also re-iterated a number of Windows 8 features that it had previously disclosed, such as greater integration with Microsoft's cloud services to synchronise settings and content across all of a user's Windows 8 devices and Windows Phone handsets.
Also in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview is an updated pre-release build of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 10 browser, identified by Microsoft as the fifth IE 10 Platform Preview.
This is several versions newer than the most recent version for Windows 7, which was IE 10 Platform Preview Build 2, released in June 2011.
The Windows 8 Consumer preview can be downloaded as an ISO image, or users can download the Windows 8 Consumer Preview Setup from V3 to check their system is suitable for installing Windows 8 and automatically fetching the correct version.
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