Windows 8: What you need to get started

What the Consumer Preview requires, where to get it, how to install it

Early yesterday, Microsoft shipped the Consumer Preview for Windows 8, the drastically different refresh of the venerable operating system.

Head Windows executive Steven Sinofsky took to a stage in Barcelona, Spain to again chant the "no compromises" mantra that Microsoft has used to label Windows 8, and with help from other employees, demonstrate some of the key features.

With some experts saying Microsoft was "betting the farm" on Windows 8, it wasn't a shock that Sinofsky calling the OS a "generational change."

He wasn't joking. Microsoft has made many fundamental changes to Windows, particularly in the user interface, or UI, to drag the OS into the touch and tablet world.

That may either only temporarily stump long-time users, or send them into a spitting frenzy.

With all that on the line, plenty of people will want to try out Windows 8 themselves to decide whether it's another hit like Windows 7 or a repeat of the Vista mess.

So, where do you get it, how do you install it and who do you go to for help?

You have questions? We have the answers. Some of them, anyway.

Where do I get it? Start the download and install process at Microsoft's Consumer Preview website.

(And no, you don't have to give Microsoft your email address to grab a copy, although it may appear so.)

The result will be a 5MB setup executable that you'll run on a Windows 7, Vista or XP system, or on a PC that you earlier migrated to last year's Developer Preview. The setup file will, in turn, download the rest of the installation files and kick off the install process.

What do I need to install the preview? Microsoft has set the minimum requirements as a 1GHz processor, 1GB of memory (2GB for the 64-bit version), 16GB of free hard drive space and a graphics chip set or card able to support DirectX 9 graphics.

Those specs, by the way, are identical to what Microsoft has used since 2007 for both the glad-it's-gone Vista and the uber-successful Windows 7, making good, so to speak, on its promise that Windows 8 will run on PCs able to handle either of the predecessors.

How well Windows 8 actually works on a low-powered system like that is, of course, a different matter. Let's just say, "Your mileage may vary," and leave it at that.

Are there any screen resolution requirements? Indeed.

Using a mouse, instead of a touch interface, Microsoft showed how to control the interface on its new OS.

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