Windows 8 Consumer Preview: Try it Yourself!

windows 8 logo

I know a lot of us are still getting used to Windows 7, having only recently upgraded or purchased a new computer with it preinstalled.  But guess what?  Windows “8” is right around the corner, and you can try it for yourself today by visiting http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-8/consumer-preview.  Microsoft has released a free preview version of Windows 8 to the public that, on the whole, will be largely the same as the full release, minus some bugs that will be ironed out between now and its official release date, which is rumored to be late Q3 or early Q4 of 2012. 

So what’s the big deal about Windows 8 and why would you want to try before you buy?  Windows 8 is Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android which power most of the smartphones and tablet computers currently on the market.  Are you a smartphone or tablet user?  If so, I bet after a few days of using that device, working on a keyboard and mouse computer feels a little like taking a step backward.  Now that I’ve had my new iPad surgically grafted to my hand, I hardly ever use my home PC (joke about the grafting, but the rest is true).  Microsoft realizes this and has built Windows 8 from the ground up to be a completely new experience, different than anything we’ve seen in Windows before.  It is being designed to run on classic PCs, tablet computers, and smartphones with a uniform design throughout.  And trust me, as someone who’s tried it, you’re really going to want a chance to play with it before buying.  It truly is a brand new Windows experience.  For instance: no more Start Menu!

The most direct means of trying Windows 8 would be to download the preview DVD image (.iso) file from their website, burn it to a DVD and install it to your computer.  You DON’T want to do that!  This will overwrite your current operating system and all its files.  Also, Windows 8 preview will cease functioning on January 15th, 2013, so it’s only good for a short while.  You could also partition your hard drive with a tool like EaseUS Partition Master Free Edition and install it to the new partition, but that’s more hassle than it’s worth for something like this, trust me. 

Here’s my recommendation: install Windows 8 on a virtual computer!  This is likely a new concept for many readers, so let me explain.  You can download software that will create a fake or “virtual” PC environment on your computer.  You can then install a new OS, such as Linux or in this case, Windows 8, and run it inside of Windows 7 (or Vista or XP or Mac OS X).  You’re basically tricking the OS into thinking it’s running on its own machine, but really, you’ve created a little sandbox walled off from the rest of your physical computer for the OS to play inside of.  Pretty cool, right?  The software I recommend, Oracle VM VirtualBox (https://www.virtualbox.org/) is free and it’s fairly easy to use as well!  Before you get started, however, I would recommend making sure your computer is running an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor; you can try it with a Core i3 or even a Core 2 Duo, but it will run very slowly.  I would also recommend making sure you have at least 4GB of memory.  Computers that don’t match these specs will not be able to run a virtualized version of Windows 8 very well, if at all. 

Here’s a quick run-through on how to pull this off:

Get Windows 8 Consumer’s Preview

  1. Go to http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-8/iso; don’t bother giving them your email address unless you want to receive their bulletin – it’s not required for downloading the software. 
  2. Click on the download link for the English 32-bit (x86) version and write down the Product Key listed below it; you’ll need that when installing Windows 8. 
  3. Make sure you know where the file has downloaded to.  It is a 2.5 GB file, so you may have to wait a few hours for the download to finish.  If you only have a dial-up Internet connection you’ll want to try to get a friend with broadband to download it for you. 

Get & Install Oracle VM VirtualBox

  1. Go to https://www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Downloads and download the Virtual Box installer for your operating system.
  2. Once the download has completed, run the installer and say yes to everything until it has finished. 

Installing Windows 8 Inside of VirtualBox

  1. Once Virtual Box is installed and the Windows 8 .iso file has finished downloading, run Virtual Box.
  2. Click the New button in the top-left corner.
  3. Click Next.
  4. In the name field, type Windows 8.  For the Operating System, be sure to choose Microsoft Windows.  For the Version, choose Windows 8 (do not choose the 64-bit version).  Click Next.
  5. For the memory, choose at least 1024 MB.  If you have the memory to spare, I might bump that up to 2048 MB, but only if the slider is still in the green area.  Click Next
  6. In the following window, make sure that the option to Create new hard disk is selected and click Next.
  7. In the next window, select the option that reads VDI and click Next
  8. In the next window, select the option that reads Dynamically allocated and click Next
  9. In the next window, set the virtual disk to be 20.00 GB and click Next
  10. In the final window, click Create.
  11. You should now have an entry in the left column of the VirtualBox window that reads Windows 8.  Double-click this entry.
  12. You will be greeted with the First Run Wizard.  Click Next.
  13. In the Select Installation Media window, click the little folder icon, navigate to the folder where the Windows 8 .iso file was saved to (usually My Documents/Downloads) and select the file.  Click Open. Then click Next
  14. Click Start
  15. Wait a few seconds.  You’ll see a weird picture of a fish while the virtual computer boots (don’t ask me!). 
  16. Follow the prompts on the screen to install Windows 8.  This may take a quite a while to finish depending on the speed of your computer. 

That’s it!  Go play with your new Windows 8 virtual PC!  I can’t guarantee that it will work properly, or at all, for you.  That’s why it’s important to try it on a virtual pc – this is experimental software and by running it in a virtualized session you can play without risk. 

You can also use Virtual Box to play with Linux without having to completely mess up your computer.  Ever heard of Ubuntu Linux?  Completely free, completely awesome operating system that many people consider to be miles ahead of both Windows and Mac OS.  Go to http://www.ubuntu.com/download/ubuntu/download and get the 32-bit version of Ubuntu.  Follow the steps above making adjustments in step 4 to choose Linux and Ubuntu rather than Windows 8. 

Enjoy!