Microsoft launched the Windows 8 Consumer Preview today at 9:30 a.m. ET, opening the gates to users who want to try the desktop edition of the company's upcoming upgrade.
Computerworld was able to begin the retrieval process shortly after the preview went live, although the actual download pace was at times sluggish, likely because of the number of people trying to grab the software.
The Consumer Preview -- Microsoft has avoided the word "beta" to describe the build -- appeared on the company's website while executives were on stage in Barcelona, Spain to tout the new operating system's features.
Users can download a 5MB setup file or retrieve a disk image file in .iso format that must then be "burned" onto physical media to create a bootable installation DVD or flash drive.
The .iso files range in size from 2.5GB for the 32-bit edition to 3.3GB for the 64-bit version. Microsoft has made disk images available for English, Chinese, French, German and Japanese languages.
Windows 8 Consumer Preview can be installed as an upgrade for the developer's preview that Microsoft shipped last September, and for Windows 7, Vista and even the decade-old Windows XP. While an upgrade from Windows 7 keeps all programs, settings, data files and user accounts intact, only the latter two are preserved from the earlier Windows 8 preview or XP.
When users run Windows 8 Consumer Preview setup, it verifies that the PC is capable of running the build, then begins downloading the actual upgrade: The time necessary for the second step depends on the speed of the connection to the Internet.
Those download packages are considerably smaller than the disk images, weighing in at 1.5GB for the 32-bit edition and 1.9GB for the 64-bit.
Microsoft has not set a ship date for Windows 8, but most analysts expect that it will be ready in time for computer makers to prepare systems for sale during the 2012 holiday season.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.