Don't say we didn't warn you. As anticipated, Leap Day is all about Microsoft in Barcelona, and Microsoft is all about you, the consumer. Redmond today officially unveiled the Consumer Preview of its forthcoming desktop operating system. Want to get an early look at the OS? Peep the source link below. Keep in mind: you'll need a 1GHz processor, either 1GB (32-bit) / 2 GB (64-bit) of RAM, 16GB (32-bit) / 20 GB (64-bit) available disk space, DirectX 9 graphics with WDDM 1.0 or higher and 1024 x 768 minimum screen resolution to run the new OS. Or, for the more faint of heart, check out our detailed preview and have a look at the press info after the break. The beta version of Windows Server "8" is available now as well for those who may be interested, via the TechNet link that follows.

[Thanks, all]

Billy Steele contributed to this report.
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Microsoft Announces Availability of Windows 8 Consumer Preview

BARCELONA, Spain, Feb. 29, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Microsoft Corp. today announced the availability of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview - the next milestone of the Windows operating system. This latest preview will be made available for download starting today at http://preview.windows.com. The Windows 8 Consumer Preview offers a more robust experience for testing the world's most popular operating system and is available to the widest range of people yet following the initial release of the Windows 8 Developer Preview late last year. The Developer Preview received more than 3 million downloads.

(Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20000822/MSFTLOGO)

"With Windows 8, we reimagined the different ways people interact with their PC and how to make everything feel like a natural extension of the device, whether using a Windows 8 tablet, laptop or all-in-one," said Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live Division at Microsoft. "The Windows 8 Consumer Preview brings a no-compromises approach to using your PC."

At a Windows 8 Consumer Preview event in Barcelona that was attended by partners from Europe and around the world, the company shared some key new updates in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview:

Broad range of product changes and improvements. Since the Developer Preview in September, designed to preview the programming platform, Windows 8 has progressed across every dimension. From completing the user experience for touch, keyboard and mouse to refining the development platform, the Consumer Preview improves performance, quality and reliability across all subsystems. With the added features, it represents a more complete view of the capabilities of Windows 8.
Windows Store with new apps. The Windows 8 Consumer Preview marks the beta opening of the Windows Store, which is filled with a variety of new Metro style apps from both third-party developers and Microsoft. During the Consumer Preview, these apps are available to try and experience at no cost to users. The Windows Store will offer personalized recommendations, and Windows 8 gives users the ability to take their apps and settings with them across multiple PCs, making it easy to discover and try new apps while offering developers the greatest opportunity of any platform.
Connecting to the cloud across Windows-based PCs and Windows Phone. The Windows 8 Consumer Preview offers seamless integration with the content people care about across their devices. An optional additional sign-on with a Microsoft account provides access to a host of features, including the ability to roam all settings, use cloud storage, communicate with email, calendar and contacts, and connect to a broad range of services. Your connection to the cloud works across your Windows-based PCs and your Windows Phones.
Internet Explorer 10 Platform Preview 5. The best way to experience the Web on Windows is with Internet Explorer 10. The browser has been re-imagined to create a new experience designed specifically for Windows 8 devices. It provides an edge-to-edge user interface that is all about less browser and more Web. Fast and fluid, Internet Explorer is hardware-accelerated to enable Web performance.
Preview of new hardware capabilities. At the event, Microsoft also showcased Windows 8 running on a wide range of new x86- and ARM-based reference hardware. This hardware will be available to select developers for trial and testing as previously announced.

The Windows 8 Consumer Preview will be available worldwide for download in English, French, German, Japanese and simplified Chinese languages. More information about Windows 8 and how to download the Consumer Preview is available at http://preview.windows.com or http://windowsteamblog.com.