As expected on this Leap Day, Microsoft has gone ahead and released the next milestone version of Windows 8 in the Consumer Preview version for free on its website with a few key differences.
In order for the release to be as painless as possible for the majority of users expected to test the new release, Microsoft has opted to offer the release primarily as an executable file that pulls the necessary data from Microsoft’s servers after doing a preliminary system check, much in the same way Apple’s OS X Lion and Mountain Lion are and will be offered to the public respectively.
Another key difference is that while disc images are still being offered for the release, Microsoft is asking users to use those for installs on new systems and pointing general users to the executable, suggesting that Microsoft will offer the release in a similar manner to Apple’s operating system releases through the Mac App Store via the new forthcoming Microsoft Store while OEM builders and manufacturers will be able to deploy Windows 8 as normal with individual product keys.
In practice, this will allow Microsoft to offer Windows 8 at a much cheaper price compared to past versions of the operating system while getting rid of the retail and OEM boxed sales options, which were typically priced between $149-249 depending on which variant was chosen.
This new distribution model would also allow Microsoft to better manage piracy on a more direct level than having to rely on its current online activation methods which can still be bypassed by more advanced users and is common in developing countries, where licenses are more expensive despite subsidies. The Consumer Release is also expected to be one of the last major preview versions of Windows 8 before hitting RTM status later this year.