Hands on: Windows 8 review
Windows 8 Consumer Preview (here's the Windows 8 download) updates the look of the Developer Preview, adds a lot of new features and revamps a few old ones.The round Start button is gone, the Metro-style Start screen remains and yes, you can only pick from nine colours and five patterns for the Start screen background.
But there's far more to the Consumer Preview user interface than the Start screen, and far more to Windows 8 than the user interface.
There are new ways of switching between apps, as well as more updates to the desktop tools. There are changes under the hood to file copying, power management, security, networking, hardware support and more.
And then there are the first real Metro apps, so you can find out what it's like to use Metro for more than just trying out Metro, and the Windows Store for the first third-party apps from real developers.
This is the version of Windows 8 that's going to give you a real feel for what the final operating system will be like and the first version you could realistically use for day-to-day work. But will you want to?
Running the Windows 8 Consumer PreviewFirst of all, it's worth noting that the Consumer Preview is only for x86/64 PCs; there isn't an ARM version that you can download and try out, since there aren't any ARM devices that will run it.
That's because of the extremely custom way that ARM devices are built, where not even the way to control a physical button is standard. Microsoft isn't supporting tablets built to run Android or WebOS, either.
Much of what we're seeing in the Consumer Preview will be the same on Windows on ARM (WOA) systems. Most stuff - from the Metro user interface to the touch gestures, to the Windows desktop and built-in Windows tools such as Explorer and Task Manager - will be practically the same. But until we see it in action, we don't know what WOA performance and battery life will be like.
Consumer Preview doesn't include the desktop Office apps that will be bundled with WOA either - and of course it runs all the x86 desktop apps that won't work on WOA.
You can still burn an ISO if you want, and the installer can also create a bootable USB stick so you can download Consumer Preview once and install it on multiple machines.
The tools for creating a Windows To Go USB stick aren't available yet, so you can't run Windows 8 directly from USB, but you'll get a far better feel for how Windows 8 performs if you can try it out directly on a PC.