Windows 8 Beta May Arrive in February

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The chance to try Windows 8 in beta form may be just a couple months away.

Citing “sources close to Microsoft,” The Next Web reports that Microsoft will launch a public beta of Windows 8 in late February. However, it’s not clear what features the beta will include, and of course, this is just a rumor for now.

(PICTURES: The First Windows 8 Tablet)

In fact, Microsoft hasn’t even announced a release date for Windows 8, although device makers are talking openly about launching Windows 8 tablets in the second half of 2012, as Bloomberg previously reported. The Next Web’s Alex Wilhelm anticipated a beta sooner than February, but he still expects Windows 8 to arrive in the third quarter of next year. The tech world will be shocked if Windows 8 machines aren’t on store shelves by next year’s holiday season.

If you’re really curious, you can already get an early look at Windows 8 by installing the Developer Preview, but you’ll either have to perform a clean install–in other words, wipe out everything on your existing PC–or run a virtual machine, which requires a lot of resources. (Lifehacker has some tips on that.) Anyway, the Developer Preview is missing key features like a native e-mail app, and overall it’s a rudimentary experience.

The big deal with Windows 8 is its redesigned interface that accommodates tablets, with a new kind of app–Microsoft calls them “Metro-style”–meant for touch screens. The old Windows desktop will still be available, but to reach it, users will have to go through the new Metro interface with its grid of app-like tiles. The beta will be a good chance for Microsoft to see how power users react to these major changes.

MORE: Why Apple Enthusiasts Are Wrong About Windows 8