Feb. 29, 2012 at 10:30 AM ET
We just got a chance to play with the Consumer Preview of Windows 8, and so far, it's living up to its promise as a touch-friendly "reimagining" of Windows. Don't believe us? Take a look for yourself. Today, Microsoft is rolling out the first beta for non-developers.
But before you jump to download it, watch this video:
Think of an operating system that is equal parts Windows Phone, iPad and traditional desktop Windows. If your head spins, you're not alone. When I first heard about the concept behind Windows 8 -- a full-blown Windows OS with a layer of touchy-feely Metro tile interface on top -- I had doubts.
But then I realized that it's not a layer of touch interface -- the Metro screen is the interface. The old-style Windows OS, which you can access anytime by launching certain apps or tapping the "Desktop" tile, is really just a legacy protector. The old Windows environment lets people run older Windows software they may rely on, and grants die-hard Windows nerds the administrative power to do the system tweaking that they are used to.
As you can see in the above video, most of the apps and actions you will engage in will take place in the Metro interface, especially if you are running Windows 8 on a tablet. That's where the interface comes alive, and that's what will spark the imagination of developers who work to build fun, new apps in time for the fall launch of actual Windows 8 products.
The challenges are great: Microsoft has to convince the world that the old stretchable-window interface is not where it's at. They also have to develop a tablet experience that is not just a full version of Windows, but can promise the long battery life and responsiveness that Apple delivers in an iPad. That's hard to do.
As we monitor developments on both of those fronts, however, we can at least rest assured that, at this point, Windows 8 holds the kind of promise of progress not seen in a Windows operating system since the launch of XP.
Intrigued? You can read more about it and download it yourself right here. But be aware that most hardware that you'd load it on probably won't have a touchscreen, so you'll miss out on the biggest leap ahead.
(Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal, but that does not grant us privileged access to Microsoft products, nor does it affect our opinions of those products.)