FAQ: How to get Windows 8 now...legally

Beat the hoi polloi by installing the new OS today

Starting yesterday, Microsoft began releasing the final code of Windows 8 to developers, IT professionals and businesses that license the company's products in volume.

That's all well and good for them, but how can you get your hands on the new operating system before it officially launches Oct. 26?

We spell out two ways -- one free, one not -- that you can use right now to try out the revamped OS.

Is there a way to get Windows 8 RTM for free? Yes, there is, but it's not a use-forever copy. Microsoft offers a limited-time trial of Windows 8 Enterprise -- the version aimed at, surprise, enterprises -- that anyone can download free of charge.

Although Microsoft says that the evaluation copy is "intended for developers building Windows 8 apps and IT professionals interested in trying Windows 8 Enterprise on behalf of their organization," it's not blocking others from grabbing the .iso, or disk image, file.

To download the 90-day trial -- it's available in 32- and 64-bit versions -- start at this Microsoft website.

What's the catch? The eval runs for only 90 days. When your time is up, Windows 8 drops into the same punitive mode that Microsoft uses for counterfeit copies of its operating systems. The desktop background fades to a permanent black, you'll see constant on-screen messages that the operating system is not genuine, and the machine, whether physical or virtual -- shuts down every hour.

In other words, it's completely useless.

On the bright side, if you download and install the trial today, you can use it through Nov. 13, 2012, long enough to get a good feel for the OS, or how it really runs on older hardware, such as a Windows XP or Vista PC, like Microsoft claims.

Can I upgrade the trial version later? No, you can't.

Microsoft makes it clear that the 90-day evaluation is a dead end. "It is not possible to upgrade the evaluation to a licensed working version of Windows 8," the company says on the website that details the trial. "A clean installation is required."

Doesn't sound like that's for me. What else you got? If you can spring for $199, you can purchase a one-year membership to TechNet's lowest-priced subscription plan, which lets you download the real deal, not a 90-day wonder.

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