Upgrading to Windows 8

3/28/2012 7:01:14 PM

Upgrading to Windows 8

Description: Windows 8

Starting the Windows 8 upgrade online could prove faster and easier than using a disc. Ian Paul and Gregg Keizer find out why

PC users will be able to upgrade to Windows 8, the next version of Microsoft's OS, using a download in favour of a disc purchased from a retailer.

Microsoft said it wants to make upgrading to Windows 8 from older versions of its desktop OS easier and faster.

"Our aim in improving setup is to reduce the time from start to finish," said Microsoft's Windows president, Steven Sinofsky.

The software firm is following in the footsteps of Apple, which offered a similar option with the release of OS X 10.7 Lion.

Description: OS X 10.7 Lion

Microsoft is still giving PC users the option to purchase a Windows 8 DVD, but the firm hopes more people will opt for the download option. Microsoft did not reveal whether there would be a pricing difference between online downloads and physical DVD purchases of Windows 8.

Those who opt for online delivery will still be able to create a bootable thumb drive or DVD to install the new version of Windows. This might be advisable for those who plan to back up their files to a second hard drive and do a clean install of Windows 8.

Microsoft claims that starting the upgrade wizard online and then completing the move to Windows 8 on the desktop will be "one continuous integrated experience from beginning to end"

Furthermore, Microsoft said this easy install option doesn't involve entering a 25-digit product key to activate the software. Instead, the product key will be embedded into the disk image you download during the setup process.

Upgrading to Windows 8 online

Microsoft starts the process by scanning a PC to determine Its compatibility with Windows 8, You can then read a simplified or detailed report on whether there are any upgrade problems with your installed software and peripheral devices. The compatibility scan also allows Microsoft to automatically determine in which language it should deliver the new OS and whether your PC can support a 32- or 64bit version.

Once this is complete, Windows 8 starts downloading to the PC. Windows 7 users can choose to retain their complete Windows profile, including their account settings, personal files and programs, only their personal files or nothing at all, with the latter option providing a clean slate. Vista users can keep their settings, user accounts and flies, while XP users are able to retain only their user accounts and files.

The process is said to have 82 percent fewer screen clicks than a Windows 7 upgrade.

A Windows 7 upgrade requires four different installation wizards, including the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor and Windows Easy Transfer, and up to 60 screen clicks to complete. However, Microsoft has dramatically reduced the maximum number of screen clicks during a Windows 8 upgrade to just 11. But does cutting back here result in a faster and streamlined upgrade process?

According Christa St Pierre, a member of Microsoft's Setup and Deployment team, it certainly does. She said a clean install - where all files and data are wiped from the drive prior to installing Windows 8 – should wrap up in 21 minutes, which is 35 percent less time than the 32 mins Microsoft  said it takes Windows 7 to do the same.

For what Microsoft called a "medium upgrade" - on a system with 213,000 files and 77 applications installed - Windows 8 is three times faster. An upgrade on such a PC is completed in just 42 mins, versus Windows 7's 2 hours and 11 mins.

The real time savings are revealed by machines sporting between 430,000 and 1,4 million files, and 90 to 120 applications. Here, Microsoft claims that Windows 8 was between four and 10 times faster in its initial time trials.

Microsoft hopes that improving its upgrade process will help convince the users of more than 450 million Windows 7 PCs worldwide to make the switch. It also has designs on the large number of computer users still running Vista and Windows XP, who may finally be ready to upgrade.

"We have integrated what was once many separate steps for people to perform when preparing and starting their setup into a streamlined user experience, with a fast and reliable setup engine under the hood," said St Pierre.

"Customers who choose to install Windows from an online source will have a greatly improved experience over what we've delivered in the past, with smaller and faster downloads, as well as increased resiliency and control. We hope you will find these improvements a great way to start your experience using Windows 8."

Although the final version of Windows 8 is yet to be released - and has no official launch date other than "some time in 2012" - the Developer Preview is available for download. You can grab your copy from our website (head to for the 32bit version; for 64bit), but 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.

What to expect

Steven Sinofsky has described the OS as a "reimagining of Windows from the chipset to the experience". For the first time, a Microsoft desktop OS will feature a dual interface. A Classic desktop is designed for traditional keyboard-and-mouse input, while a touch interface known as Metro is ideal for use with tablets and other touchscreen devices. You simply press what used to be the Start button to switch between the two.

Metro borrows heavily from Windows Phone 7, featuring a series of live tiles that contain real-time data or link to applications.

In another first for Windows, the OS will include an integrated app store, known as the Windows Store, where you can purchase apps for Metro, and traditional desktop software. Metro-based apps will work on devices that feature ARM processors, although traditional desktop programs will not - such software is unable to take advantage of ARM's advanced features, such as the ability to adjust power states when not in use. Sinofsky said that it would make little sense to provide a way to run such applications on ARM processors.

How Windows Store will collect payment for downloaded apps and whether the service will be available when Windows 8 launches remains to be seen.

Microsoft claims a PC running Windows 8 will take less than 10 seconds go from powered down to the Start screen. This speedy bootup is thanks to a new hybrid system that mixes processes used in cold boots and hibernation mode.

"We took everything great about Windows 7 and we made it even better," said Sinofsky.


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