We explain how to prepare for an upgrade to Windows 8, and get to grips with Microsoft's new ‘Metro' touchscreen interface.
Windows 7 is hugely popular with consumers, but its succcessor has been in development ever since the operating system's (OS') launch. Windows 8 was first unveiled by CEO Steve Ballmer at CES in January; in September, a Developer Preview was released at Microsoft's Build conference.
Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows division, describes the forthcoming OS as "a reimagining of Windows, from the chipset to the experience".
For the first time, Microsoft's desktop OS is optimised for touch input. Windows 8 has two interfaces: a classic version, operated by a keyboard and mouse; and a new ‘Metro' interface, which borrows heavily from Windows Phone 7. It's simple to quickly switch between the two.
Metro swaps traditional desktop icons for a series of ‘live tiles', which you can organise into groups. These can offer shortcuts to applications, or data that's updated in real time.
“Icons are yesterday's way of representing apps,” says Microsoft.
Microsoft says the OS will also offer faster boot times, and run on ARM-powered devices. Internet Explorer 10.0 will be included. Windows 8 will be the first version of the desktop operating system to have an integrated app store.
Microsoft has not yet announced a release date for Windows 8, but it is widely expected to be onsale by summer 2012.
If you can't wait until then to find out what Microsoft has in store, you'll be pleased to learn that use of the Developer Preview isn't restricted to developers – but it's not something novices should attempt to install either.
"The software is provided as is, and you bear the risk of using it," Microsoft cautions. "It may not be stable, operate correctly or work the way the final version of the software will. It should not be used in a production environment."
We've had no problems running this early build, but we don't recommend trying it out on your primary PC, laptop, tablet, or even smartphone. Neither can we accept responsibility if anything goes wrong, and advise that you first back up all your data.
Install Windows 8 Developer Preview
The Windows 8 Developer Preview is open to anyone who wishes to try it out. Both 32- and 64bit versions are available, and you don't need to be part of the Microsoft TechNet inner circle to trial it. You can grab your copy from our website:
- Microsoft Windows 8 Developer Preview (64-bit)
- Microsoft Windows 8 Developer Preview (32-bit)
- Microsoft Windows 8 Developer Preview (64-bit w/ developer tools)
However, note that the Windows 8 Developer Preview is in development code and should be installed only by experienced users. PC Advisor accepts no responsibility for any problems incurred.
The download will be in the form of an ISO file, which you should burn to DVD. Right-click the file, choose ‘Burn Disc Image', check your DVD drive is selected, then click Burn.
Click Start, Computer, then double-click your disc drive. Click Yes when asked whether you want to run the program. The Windows 8 installation will commence, and should last no longer than 10 minutes.
You'll be prompted to enter a name for the PC, then click Next.
Windows will detect any wireless networks in range. Assuming that you aren't using an ethernet connection to access the web, select your wireless network from the list and enter your password. You can skip this step if you don't have this information to hand.
Click Next, and the installer will ask whether you want to accept Microsoft's Express Settings. These include a range of pre-defined options for your region, preferred keyboard layout, automatic updates and filesharing.
Click ‘Use Express Settings', or select only the options that are relevant to you by choosing ‘Customize'.
A Windows Live ID isn't necessary to install and run the OS, but it's useful if you'll be using more than one Windows 8 device and would like to sync your bookmarks, browser history and more between them. There's an option to create this ID if you don't already have one, although your PC must be connected to the web. Note that a mobile number or alternate email address will be requested in case you forget the password for your Windows Live account.
Following a reboot, you'll see a screensaver featuring the time and date. Simultaneously hold down the left-click button and scroll upwards to remove this.
If you chose the Windows Live option in the previous step, you'll now need to enter your associated email address. Alternatively, enter your local user account name. Enter the password to reveal the Start screen.
Windows 8: Faster boot times
Microsoft claims that a Windows 8 PC can go from powered down to the Start screen in less than 10 seconds. This is possible due to a hybrid system that mixes processes used in cold boots with hibernation mode. “We designed Windows 8 so that you shouldn't have to boot all that often. But when you do boot, we want it to be as fast as possible,” says Steve Sinofsky.
If you're worried about whether your current system is up to the job of running the new OS, don't be. Microsoft says the system requirements for Windows 8 are exactly the same as for Windows 7.
“In both our Windows 8 previews, we talked about continuing on with the important trend that we started with Windows 7, keeping system requirements either flat or reducing them over time,” says Window's corporate vice-president, Tami Reller. “Windows 8 will be able to run on a wide range of machines because it will have the same requirements or lower.”
The minimum system requirements for a PC running Windows 7 include a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of hard-disk space and a DirectX 9-compatible graphics card. These are also the same minimum requirements for the OS' predecessor, Windows Vista.
Windows 8: Preparation is everything
We can't stress enough that it's a very, very bad idea to install the Windows 8 Developer Preview on your primary PC. Time will likely provide the antidote for this problem but, for now, it's highly probable that some of the software you use on a daily basis won't work with this early build of the OS. Worse still, you could lose important documents, precious photographic memories and vast collections of music and video stored on the PC.
If a second machine isn't available to serve as a test bed for the new OS, you should install the Developer Preview on a separate partition of your hard drive to your current OS – or a second drive.
Follow the instructions we've given above for downloading the Windows 8 ISO image and burning it to disc. If you're using a spare hard drive, switch off the PC and swap over the drives now. If you're using a separate partition of your primary hard drive, ensure that you specify as much during installation. You can then continue with the rest of the procedure as we've detailed above.
If you absolutely must install the OS over the top of your previous Windows installation, back up all your important data to an online storage service or external hard drive. Dig out your Windows disc and licence key, plus those for any software you currently run on your machine. Should anything go wrong, you can reinstall your current OS, software and data.
NEXT: navigating Windows 8 >>
You've installed Windows 8 on your PC. Here's how to navigate Windows 8's Metro interface.
Navigate Windows 8
Step 1. Start up a Windows 8 PC and, in place of the classic desktop, you'll be presented with the touch-optimised Metro interface. A series of live tiles contain shortcuts to apps or data that's updated in real time (see Step 3). You can alter their grouping by clicking and dragging on individual tiles.
Step 2. Click a tile to launch its associated app in a new window. No longer will you find a red cross in the top right corner to later close this window; instead, tap the onscreen Start button or press the Windows key on your keyboard. Press Alt, Tab to see all running apps, and use Windows, Tab to skip through them.
Step 3. Various tiles offer live data, including a Socialite tile that connects with your Facebook account and displays various images on the social network. Another neat feature is Windows Snap. This lets you run two apps side by side, with one occupying around 70 percent of the display and the other taking up the remainder.
Step 4. Hold down the left-click button and drag the cursor from the bottom right to left of the screen to access Windows 8's five ‘Charms': Start, Search, Share, Devices and Settings. Start always returns you to the home screen, while the other Charms are relevant to the app that's currently open.
Step 5. The Share Charm lets you make content relevant to the current app available to other users. In Internet Explorer, for example, you can post a link to the site you're browsing on Facebook or Twitter. Meanwhile, the Devices Charm lets you access items such as networked printers, and Search finds specific files on your PC.
Step 6. If you would prefer to use Window's classic desktop, it's straightforward to switch between the two interfaces. Simply press the Windows key on your keyboard or click the Desktop app on Metro's home screen. Your will now see the familiar Windows desktop, complete with traditional shortcut icons.
Step 7. Internet Explorer 10.0 is bundled with the Developer Preview. In Metro, the browser doesn't support Flash or plug-ins. It also has a sparse design with no Favorites bar. Press Start, Desktop and open the browser in the classic Windows interface, however, and the browser history will remember the page you were viewing in Metro.
Step 8. Windows Explorer has had a redesign in Windows 8, and now features Microsoft's Ribbon toolbar first introduced in Office 2007. When you've finished looking around the Developer Preview, open the Settings Charm from the home screen and choose to shut down or restart the PC from the box on the right.
Windows 8: Windows App Store
Rumours that Windows 8 would have an integrated app store similar to Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market were confirmed both by Microsoft itself and by the Store tile present in the Developer Preview. Click this tile, however, and you'll discover that the feature is not yet working in this early build of the OS.
Details of the App Store are still thin on the ground. Microsoft has yet to outline when the Store will go live and how payments for app purchases will be made.
What we do know is that both traditional Windows software and touch-optimised Metro apps will be available, including apps for productivity, photos, entertainment, social networking and games. The interface will have a similar look and feel to Metro, with apps divided into categories such as entertainment, finance and games. Each category will also include featured apps, plus the lists of top rated, paid and free apps that are typical to other app stores.
Developers will be able to offer free trial periods of anywhere between 24 hours and 30 days for their apps. Microsoft has also confirmed that any apps submitted to the Store will have to undergo the same certification process that applies to Windows Phone 7 mobile apps. The company uses a similar model to Apple, whereby the chances of malicious software getting on to user devices is reduced. The certification process also demands that apps meet basic standards of quality and usability.
Traditional desktop software will continue to be available elsewhere, such as vendor websites and Amazon, but Windows 8 apps can be purchased only through the Windows Store.
According to Ted Dworkin, a Microsoft director with the Windows Store development team, the company hopes that by restricting the distribution of apps to the Windows Store it can ensure the software is secure and appropriate.