After a successful developer preview debut last fall, Microsoft has unveiled the consumer preview of its newest operating system today at this the Barcelona Mobile Conference. Expectations are high after Microsoft surprised the developer crowd that had come to expect nothing special from Microsoft since the company failed to impress with Vista, or really any Windows product since 95. But the techies liked 8, with its redefined start menu and ability to run on both tablets and computers. Now the OS is ready for the masses on Microsoft's site. Here's what to expect. 

An operating system for every gadget.  Windows 8 will work on tablets, phones and regular old computers. "We all face some yearning. We choose between productivity and consumption. A tablet or a laptop? A touch interface or a tablet and a mouse?" Windows President Steven Sinofsky said at the conference. Windows 8 will provide what Sinofsky calls a "no compromise experience." Not only does that mean it works on all sorts of different platforms, but Microsoft 8 connects these devices, using a Microsoft account that will transfer settings from one device to the next. 

The start menu will look funny. Microsoft has decided to change its defining feature, creating "tiles" (see above) instead of the traditional start menu. The new menu shows apps as tiles laid out in a grid, more like the Metro interface first introduced on Windows Phone. And there is no start button. No more ctrl-alt-delete, I can just hit enter, which is nice.

All sorts of navigation options. Part of this cross-platform strategy gives users all sorts of ways to access the system. "The new Windows 8 Start screen provides an intuitive and easy-to-use interface," explains the consumer manual for businesses Microsoft recently posted. "With fully immersive Windows 8 apps and support for multi-touch and traditional keyboard and mouse."

And indeed, during the presentation senior vice president Julie Larson Green swiped from screen to screen on a tablet. "She's going through the app switching by swiping from the left side," explains The Verge, in live blog of the event. "It's pretty slick multitasking manager." Corporate vice president Antoine Leblond navigated the laptop and said, "I can use the wheel, the page up page down, anything you'd expect." As expected, clicks open apps. And, navigating to and from the home screen involves Microsoft's version of hot corners. "If I just want to go back to the start screen, I move to the bottom left corner. If you want to open an app, you move down there — it's where the start button used to be," he continues. 

An app store. Microsoft now has one. It's called the Windows Store and it has hundreds of apps from both third party developers and Microsoft, explains the just issued Press Release. Bonus: the apps are free, during the consumer preview, at least.

On the developer side, back when Microsoft announced its developer preview of Windows 8, we suggested developers would like Microsoft's open system. Microsoft confirms this. "One of the fun things about working on the Consumer Preview has been talking to developers," said Leblond. "They're really happy about the transparency and clarity with adding apps to the store. We have the best app economics out there. We have unprecedented reach for their applications."