Microsoft has launched a beta version of its upcoming Windows 8 operating system (OS) for consumers to install and try out.

The OS has generated considerable buzz in technology forum as it is seen as the technology giant's foray into creating a unified OS experience across platforms — desktop, tablets and mobile.

The look and the feel of the Windows 8 operating system have been making the rounds on online technology forums for some months now. The ‘tiles' start-up screen, which has already been seen on Windows Mobile 7.5 OS phones and has won kudos, returns on the Windows 8.0. Apart from that, other improvements in design border on the minimalistic trend that has become the industry watchword for interface design over the past decade.

With the beta release, consumers will be able to download the ‘pre-release' OS onto their systems. On their blog, www.windowsteamblog.com, he Microsoft team urges only advanced users to try out the beta as there are bound to be some bugs and glitches. Kent Walter of the Windows team writes: “If you're used to running pre-release (beta) software, you're OK with a little troubleshooting. If you don't mind doing a few technical tasks here and there, then you'll probably be OK giving the Windows 8 Consumer Preview a spin.”

The basic system requirements to run Windows 8 consumer preview are: 1 GHz or faster processor, 1 GB RAM (for the 32 bit version)/ 2 GB RAM (64 bit), 16 GB hard-disk space (32 bit) or 20 GB (64 bit), DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1 or higher driver and a minimum screen resolution of 1024 X 768 pixels.

The operating system will feature a new Apps (application) store featuring winners of the Windows 8 First App Contest that Microsoft ran for developers. All the Apps featured in consumer preview will be available for free. Paid apps are expected to be made available once the finished OS is released for retail.

The OS also features the Xbox Live Connect service.

The preview can be downloaded at http://preview.windows.com.