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Microsoft unveils free preview version of Windows 8 OS

Microsoft Windows 8 SkyDrive.jpg

SkyDrive and an Internet connection give you access to practically everything on your PC.Microsoft Corp.

Microsoft on Thursday rolled out a near-complete version of its new operating system Windows 8 for consumers to try out, another key step in the company's effort to reboot its flagship software for a computing era dominated by mobile gadgets such as Apple's iPhone.

Microsoft in recent months has launched early test editions of Windows 8 for software developers and for consumers, but the introduction of the so-called Release Preview Thursday is a sign the Redmond, Wash., company has locked in the form and features of its software. That's a crucial step for the company and for the slew of PC makers and independent software developers in Microsoft's orbit.

'We’re thrilled to be at this milestone with the Windows 8 Release Preview.'

- Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows division at Microsoft

"We're thrilled to be at this milestone with the Windows 8 Release Preview," said Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows division.

Analysts say the timing of the release preview indicates the broad launch of Windows 8 should be in September or October. The release preview can be downloaded on Microsoft's site.

With Microsoft now nearly finished with its next-generation operating system, attention will turn to Microsoft's hardware partners such as Dell, Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard to prepare new PCs that show off the Microsoft software. 

At next week's Computex trade show in Taiwan, many PC makers for the first time will be showing off touch-screen laptops and other new devices slated for the launch of Microsoft's new operating system.

Read more on Microsoft's new version of Windows at The Wall Street Journal.