Microsoft's Windows 8 Consumer Preview Event Feb. 29

Microsoft will host a Windows 8 Consumer Preview event in Barcelona Feb. 29. That's likely the launch date of Windows 8 beta.

Microsoft will almost certainly use this year€™s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona as the venue for whipping back the curtain from its Windows 8 Consumer Preview. The company has sent eWEEK and other media an invitation to a €œWindows 8 Consumer Preview€-themed event at 3 pm Feb. 29 at the Hotel Miramar.

If a release of the Consumer Preview is indeed in the making, that€™s in line with Microsoft€™s previous predictions that the Windows 8 beta (€œConsumer Preview€ is a fancy synonym) would arrive sometime in February. It€™s widely expected that the release version of the next-generation operating system will hit the market late in 2012.

In a bid to expand Windows€™ reach to tablets and more mobile form factors, Microsoft€™s engineers have subjected the operating system to some fairly radical alterations. Chief among them: a start-screen based around large, colorful tiles linked to applications. That interface conforms to the same €œMetro€ design aesthetic underlying many of Microsoft€™s properties, including Windows Phone and the latest Xbox dashboard. In theory, those big tiles€”along with other features such as a mobile-applications storefront€”will facilitate Windows 8€™s operation on tablets.

By hosting the event at the Mobile World Congress, Microsoft is again re-emphasizing its aim to make Windows 8 a major player in the mobile arena.

Those who want a more €œtraditional€ Windows experience can flip from that start-screen to a desktop interface with a single tap or click. For power users, Microsoft€™s teams are busy tweaking Windows 8€™s file systems for more streamlined and powerful operation. While many of those adjustments are in response to feedback€”at least according to Microsoft€™s official Building Windows 8 blog€”some of its revisions have proven a bit controversial: the company€™s decision to include a €œribbon€ user interface for Windows Explorer, for example, attracted ire from those who dislike that particular feature.

Provided it releases in late 2012, Windows 8 will arrive exactly three years after Windows 7 hit the market. That could make it a hard sell to customers and businesses that recently upgraded. Over the past few months, Microsoft executives have taken pains to emphasize Windows 8€™s enhancements and tweaks to longtime Windows features.

In the tablet arena, Microsoft will face competition of an altogether different sort: Apple€™s iPad, currently the dominant device in that segment. The burgeoning number of Google Android tablets also present significant competition.

During his keynote address at this year€™s Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer suggested that Windows 8 on tablets would surpass those rival devices by offering heavy-duty functionality. €œPeople don€™t want to compromise on what they have today,€ he told the audience. €œThey want the best of what they have, and the best of what they want.€

The Consumer Preview will give consumers their first chance to see whether Windows 8 indeed achieves that lofty goal.

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