Windows 8 Public Beta in Late February, Microsoft Says

Microsoft will release the first public taste of the operating system that powers the vast majority of the world's computers soon, the company said Tuesday. Well, soon-ish.

The beta version of Windows 8, the tablet-centric iteration of the Windows operating system, will be released in late February rather than a widely anticipated early January date, the company announced at an event in San Francisco. It is expected to to be finished and shipping on new computers toward the end of 2012.

More than three million copies of a very early version of the OS -- made available at a Sept. 13 event to computer programmers -- have been downloaded to date, according to a report on Computerworld.

A company spokeswoman confirmed to that this is the first time the company has officially announced the release date for the beta, which many tech experts had expected to be unveiled at the January Consumer Electronics Show (CES). In 2009, the company released a beta version of Windows 7 at the show, leading to a massive rush to download the operating system.

The news came at an event where the company unveiled the Windows App store, which it said would be made available with the beta.

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"Opening its doors at Windows 8 Beta in late February 2012, the Windows Store will welcome developers to begin submitting apps starting today," a spokeswoman said.

So what will Windows 8 look like?

Microsoft didn't announce any new details on the operating system, but comments from Steve Sinofsky, president of the Windows division, at the Sept. developer event point to the company's very large plans.

"We're going to re-imagine Windows," Sinofsky said at the BUILD event, from the fundamental basics including how the system uses memory and interacts with the processor "all the way up to a brand new user interface."

That interface is called "Metro." It will run on top of the operating system and is clearly intended to work not just with all those computers but also with the emerging world of tablets that have taken consumers by storm. The new UI will displays applications as tiles for quick and easy access while allowing toggling between a classic Windows look.

This represents a complete overhaul of of the Windows interface -- something you certainly don't see every day.

User interface changes include a new "lock screen" for the operating system that gives far more information at a glance than the current iteration of Windows. The operating system also includes pervasive touch input controls -- a signal that Microsoft will be focused on devices that emphasize touch -- namely tablets.