Windows 8, Windows Server 8 Betas Released; Windows Store Launches

Microsoft released the betas for Windows 8 and Windows Server 8, as well as launched the Windows Store for applications, on Wednesday at an event in in Barcelona, Spain.

The Windows 8 release, which Microsoft is calling a "consumer preview," has been updated from the developer preview version of Windows 8 that was released at last September's BUILD conference. The consumer preview can be downloaded and tested here, and is available for x86/x64 hardware in 32-bit and 64-bit versions. Supported languages are English, simplified Chinese, French, German and Japanese.

However, the ARM-based version of the Windows 8 consumer preview is not yet generally available, as it requires the use of specialized hardware that's not readily available, as Microsoft explained this month.

Microsoft does not plan to announce the Windows Server 8 beta until Thursday, but it's already available for download at Microsoft's TechNet portal here. Users of Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2 can upgrade to the 64-bit Windows Server 8 beta. However, once that's done, no subsequent upgrade can be done from the beta installation, according to Microsoft's system requirements document (PDF) for Windows Server 8.

Windows Store
There are no big surprises in the Windows 8 consumer preview compared with the earlier preview release. However, Microsoft did announce today that it has opened up its Windows Store, which provides access to applications for x86/x64- and ARM-based apps vetted by Microsoft. All of the applications in the Windows Store are free to use until further notice. The applications can be installed on as many as five Windows 8-based PCs, according to Microsoft's Windows 8 FAQ. Users need to have a screen resolution of 1024 x 768 to access the Windows Store and download their apps.

In addition, users need to have a "Microsoft account" to download the apps from the Windows Store using Windows 8. This new account requirement appears to be a revamp of Microsoft's Windows Live universal password, with the added feature that Microsoft account will save settings preferences in the Internet cloud, allowing users to access their desktop setup from different Windows 8-based PCs and devices.

Hardware Requirements
In terms of hardware requirements, Microsoft's view is that a system capable of running Windows 7 will be able to run the Windows 8 beta. Here's the list of what is required of devices to run the new OS:

  • Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster
  • RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit)
  • Hard disk space: 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
  • Graphics card: MicrosoftDirectX 9 graphics device or higher

However, the Windows 8 beta is touch-enabled, as well as being keyboard- and mouse-driven. Consequently, there are additional hardware requirements in order to access Windows 8's touch features. The device's monitor needs to support multitouch, which means it has to be capable of supporting five simultaneous touch points, according to a Microsoft Windows team blog.

Microsoft also disclosed a limitation with its "snap apps" feature, which aligns two running applications side by side. The device needs to have a screen resolution of "at least 1366 x 768" for that feature to work. Using a Metro-style app with a smaller screen size will produce an error message, according to this "Building Windows 8" blog.

Microsoft described a lot of other details about the Windows 8 consumer preview. It includes the new Platform Preview 5 of the Internet Explorer 10 browser. The company also provided information about using secure boot (which depends on UEFI and is not broadly available yet), BitLocker (it requires a PC with a "trusted platform module") and Hyper-V. Hyper-V is available on the Windows 8 client, but it's for use on 64-bit systems capable of second-level address translation capabilities. Hyper-V for Windows 8 on ARM-based devices isn't available.

The betas are designed for use on test machines and aren't complete products yet. Microsoft cautions that there is "no rollback after an upgrade installation," so users likely will want to use a test machine for the Windows 8 beta.

An interesting new aspect is that it is possible to upgrade from the Windows 8 developer preview, Windows 7, Windows Vista and even Windows XP to the Windows 8 beta. Each upgrade option has its limitations, as described in Microsoft's FAQ, but all of the upgrades will let the user keep their accounts and files. If installing from media, such as an ISO disk, the upgrade won't keep the installed programs, files or settings.

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About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.