The wait is over and the Windows 8 Consumer Preview (CP) is available and can be downloaded here. The Developer Preview (DP) which has been available since last year made a tremendous impact at the Build conference and now the CP continues that momentum with some new and improved features namely the applications (e.g. Mail, Calendar, SkyDrive, Photos, People, Messaging, etc.), cloud connectivity, Windows Store and IE10. Add in the ability to run Windows on everything, from tablets to laptops to all-in-ones and the Windows 8 CP is truly a milestone in development.

I’ve been using the DP for quite some time now, albeit within a VM but have been extremely pleased by the Metro UI and the concept of live tiles. There are quite a few changes that the CP has incorporated so let’s go through the most noteworthy ones:

All the apps you want

What’s the most important part of the Windows experience? If you said “apps” then you guessed correctly. Windows has always been about apps, and now this is true more than ever. Apps are the heart of Windows 8. They define the Windows 8 experience. If you want to email a photo it is as easy as selecting the photo and using the Share charm - select Mail and you are done.

Another important thing about Windows 8 is not only are great apps available but apps work together and make each other better. Using the previous example, the Mail and Photos apps are sharing information via an app contract and thus enable you to build an email which includes photos in a fast and easy way. If you want to send lots of high resolution files, with one click or tap you can choose to send the email using SkyDrive.

Cloud-connected

Windows 8 is connected to the cloud and because of that you’ll always be connected to the people, files and apps that you care about.

A great example of how Windows 8 is cloud-connected is the SkyDrive app. When you open the SkyDrive Metro style app, you’ll see all your files stored online, so they are always available to you, on any device. This integration allows you to use your files stored online with other apps. You don’t have to download the file; you can just get it straight from the cloud.

Another way Windows 8 is cloud-connected is with your settings, such as your favorite websites and Picture Password. You can log in to any Windows 8 PC and these settings follow you wherever you go.

Internet Explorer 10

With IE10 the web is fast. No more slow browsing on a tablet – by taking advantage of Windows 8 and a device’s hardware, browsing with Internet Explorer is as fast and fluid as everything else. Every navigation and every action feels instant and since IE is from screen edge to edge the whole web experience is more immersive. And with the continued innovations around hardware acceleration, Internet Explorer allows web developers and designers to build increasingly rich web applications/experiences that run as fast as built-in apps on your Windows 8 PC.

As far as selecting content from a page, it could not be an easier. While browsing you can send a snippet or an entire page to your friends or colleagues, using the Share charm. No more “copy and paste" (unless you want to of course).

Windows Store

A natural question is: where do I get more apps? From the Start screen you can go to the Windows Store. Here you can find familiar, new and popular apps. It is easy to discover new apps with New releases, Top free, Top paid, and All stars lists or you can even see a list of recommended Picks for you. You can also browse through the different categories.

And the best part is that you can have the same apps on all your PCs. All you have to do is to go to the Store settings, see all the apps that you have already purchased, and then choose the ones you want to install on your new device. You don’t have to buy them again.

Power Users

First things first, all the apps and devices you are accustom to using on a Windows 7 PC should run on Windows 8. I say “should” because are there going to be exceptions? Sure, however, generally speaking if your apps run on Windows 7 they will run on Windows 8.

Windows Explorer is enhanced to make file management straightforward. The ribbon reveals features that used to be hidden. The Up button is back. It’s easier to view and manage all of your file operations in one place.

For real enthusiasts, you can even mount an ISO file and read the files directly in Windows Explorer.

The new Task Manager is a handy dashboard that you can use to monitor and control your PC. Color-coded tiles makes it easy to keep track of resources efficiently and in real-time with graphs and details about processes, apps, and history.

Windows 8 also provides an enhanced desktop experience across multiple monitors. You can display the Start screen on one monitor and the desktop on the others. Desktop backgrounds can be different on each monitor or can span across screens.

There is clearly much more to the Windows 8 CP as I have only scratched the surface of what it offers so I strongly encourage you to get the bits, explore the aforementioned features (among others) and see how Windows has been reimagined.

Here are some great resources to help you learn more: