Now is the time to buy a new personal computer.
Anyone who buys a new Windows 7 machine between today and January 31 will be offered an upgrade to the Windows 8 operating system for $19.99.
Microsoft announced its Windows upgrade offer as it made the release preview of the new touch-sensitive operating system available for free download in 14 languages at: preview.windows.com.
The preview includes thousands of refinements to the new-look operating system designed for the world's IT managers to test on their organisation's machines.
The preview will cease to work when the commercial version of Windows 8 finally becomes available later in the year.
Windows 8 will work on personal computers built for the two most recent versions of Microsoft's operating system - the popular Windows 7 and the much- maligned Windows Vista.
It will also launch a whole new range of touch-sensitive computer hardware, from all-in-one desktop computers through to laptops, ultrabooks and smartphones.
Two other Windows 8 previews have been released, with February's consumer preview attracting one million downloads in 24 hours.
Staff from Microsoft's communications and marketing team at headquarters in Redmond, Washington yesterday hosted an international conference call for journalists but would not answer questions on the release schedule.
But if Microsoft follows its three-year product cycle Windows 8 will hit shelves in October and cost hundreds of dollars.
The preview, Microsoft said, delivered a new user interface that responded equally as well to touch as it did to keyboard and mouse.
It is called Metro and replaces small program icons with large tiles which are easier to launch on smaller screens. The tile for the Windows 8 email application, for example, displays live information which means it will tell you how many emails you have waiting when you start your computer.
Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live Division at Microsoft, said Microsoft was thrilled to be at this milestone with the Windows 8 release preview.
The preview delivers new applications from Microsoft and its partners including Bing Travel, News and Sports, as well as Gaming and Music Xbox applications that integrate with Microsoft's Zune service.
The refinements include increased personalisation options for the home screen, improved multi-monitor support and new family safety features.
Windows 8 will also include the 10th version of Internet Explorer which is being redesigned with touch screens in mind.
Microsoft will share more about Windows 8 with developers at a series of Tech Ed conferences across the world.
New Zealand's conference is in September in Auckland.
- © Fairfax NZ News