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Microsoft’s much-anticipated Windows 8 operating system is now available to download for free in its Consumer Preview form. You can download it here.

While the software is far from final, this is a great chance to dig into one of the slickest-looking operating systems around. Windows 8 is one the most important products this year, and will help define Microsoft’s future. The OS attempts to bridge the gap between desktop and mobile devices and experiences with the ability to support touch screens and switch between traditional apps and touch-friendly Metro apps.

The Consumer Preview download comes in the form of an ISO file, which can be burned to a disc for easy installation. The file will work for both 32-bit and 64-bit machines and has language support for English, Chinese, French, German, and Japanese. Minimum requirements for the Consumer Preview are a 1-GHz processor, 1GB of RAM (32-bit) or 2GB (64-bit), 16GB (32-bit) or 20GB (64-bit) of free storage space, and a DirectX 9-compatible graphics card. If you want to take advantage of all the touch abilities of the Metro UI, you’ll obviously need a touch screen of some kind.

In our just-published hands-on take of Windows 8 Consumer Preview, Executive Editor Dylan Tweney notes that the OS “shows a design sensibility and a clarity of purpose not often seen in a Microsoft product.” But he also points out that it is still predictably buggy — the Flash support is incomplete and sometimes the system stops responding all together. Simply put, you get what you pay for.

If you download the Consumer Preview, let us know how the installation process goes and share any first impressions of Windows 8 in the comments. You can also follow our live coverage of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview announcement in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress.

Windows 8 screenshot: Microsoft

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