Stealing some spotlight away from Facebook is Microsoft, which just released Windows 8 “Consumer Preview” — the beta of a new version of its operating system.

This is a highly-anticipated release that introduces a full touch interface for Windows. Microsoft has attempted to bring touch functionality to its OS for years and Windows 8 combines keyboard, mouse, and touch effortlessly.

A lot of attention is being placed on its ability to compete with the iPad and Android tablets. One of the biggest changes is the new user interface. The old start button has been retired and programs are brought to life with swiping gestures.

It also introduces the Windows Store — intended to compete with Apple’s iOS and Mac App Stores — which offers free trial-version software. The only thing needed to start downloading apps is a Windows Live ID.

It will be interesting to see how Windows 8 stacks up against the iPad — considering the iPad 3 is expected to debut next week. But from early looks, Microsoft is creating an all new experience for its customers that might just give Apple a run for its money.

A release candidate for Windows 8 is expected in the next few months, but you can install the Consumer Preview now — be sure that you meet Microsoft’s requirements first.

[Via, Image credit: The Verge]