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Posting from Anaheim: Following its preview of Windows 8 for hardware and software developers here yesterday, Microsoft last night released a very preliminary version of the new operating system for them to download, complete with the new “Metro” user interface.

A customized Windows 8 start screen. (Click for larger view.)

It’s not actually meant for widespread public use yet — that won’t be the case until the first public beta — but if you have the stomach (and the hardware) for it, there’s nothing stopping you from visiting this link to download and installing it yourself, even if you’re not a developer, as long as you have (or get) a Windows Live ID.

I’m hearing that the company has been getting a very large number of downloads, so you wouldn’t be alone in giving it a try.

But here’s a big word of advice: Don’t put this on your primary computer. If you have an existing Windows Vista or Windows 7 machine, you have the option of installing the Windows 8 preview (minus the developer tools) as an upgrade, preserving your existing files, accounts and settings). Windows XP machines can be upgraded while preserving files and accounts. But the Windows 8 Developer Preview can’t be uninstalled, so if you want to revert to your old operating system, you’ll need to fully reinstall that previous version.

Even though Windows 8 is designed with touch screens in mind, it also works with keyboards and mice, so you don’t need a fancy tablet to run Windows 8 or get a sense for the experience.

Here are the system requirements, essentially the same as those for Windows 7 and Vista.

  • 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 1 gigabyte (GB) RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit)
  • 16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
  • DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver
  • Taking advantage of touch input requires a screen that supports multi-touch

I’ve been using Windows 8 on a touch-screen tablet loaned from the company this week, and I can attest to the fact that it’s pre-release software. For example, sometimes the Start screen becomes sluggish and slow to respond to gestures, requiring me to restart. That’s not a criticism — keep in mind that this isn’t even a beta yet — but just a way of making clear what you’re getting into if you do this.

That said, if you do give this a go, please let us know what the experience is like for you.

I’m planning to install Windows 8 on a 5-year-old IBM ThinkPad with 1GB of memory (currently running Windows 7 very nicely) but the download is 2.8 GB, so I’m waiting until I get home to my high-speed (and non-metered) connection. I’ll report back on what happens.

GeekWire will have more from Anaheim today, as Microsoft meets with Wall Street analysts and continues its sessions for developers. Here’s more of our coverage from the Build conference.

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