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Windows 8 beta could star at preview event on 29 February

Microsoft will be showing off Windows 8 at an event at MWC in Barcelona, which could well signal the start of the public beta.

29 February only comes round every four years, but new operating systems from Microsoft are becoming more frequent than our intercalary correction mechanism. This year on our extra day, Microsoft is planning a consumer preview for Windows 8, its new desktop OS, which could well signal the start of the public beta.

Being in beta means Windows 8 will be pretty much ready to use as your main OS, without many bugs. You can't expect a total absence of niggles, and we'd advise against installing it unless you're happy with the prospect of reinstalling your OS from scratch.

Microsoft has previously said the beta will be available in February, as PC Pro points out, so they're cutting it fine to meet that deadline. The full release will be later this year, with a launch date yet to be confirmed.

Microsoft will be showing off Windows 8 at an event at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, so we're expecting its performance on tablets to be the main focus. What we've seen so far indicates it borrows heavily from the easy to use and thoroughly likeable Windows Phone system.

MS desperately needs Windows 8 to take on the iPad, which is currently killing sales of laptops stone dead. If it can cultivate an ecosystem of apps that can work seamlessly across desktop, tablet and phone, it'll stand a very good chance of winning back consumers -- but it's a massive task.

CNET UK will be hitting Barcelona with monster-truck force, so you can expect the exhaustive lowdown on Windows 8, as well as all of this year's most exciting smart phones and tablets. Probably most of the boring ones too, to be honest.

If you can't wait for 29 February, read our handy guide on how to install the current build of Windows 8 alongside your main OS.

Are you psyched for Windows 8? Confident it can perform equally well on touchscreens and monitors? Or will all that touchy-feely nonsense get in the way? Holler in the comments, or over on our tantalisingly tactile Facebook page.