Part of a continuing series on the ins and outs of Microsoft's coming Windows 8 operating system.
Windows 8 is Microsoft's next generation operating system. As we've seen, it's promising to completely change the look and feel of PCs, with its elegant Metro stylings and stunning new Start menu. Even though it won't be out until next year, you can play with it right now - for free.
In much the same fashion as its Windows 7 release just a couple of years ago, Microsoft has made a preliminary version of Windows 8 available for anyone to download and play with. It's targeted mostly at developers, since it is very important for application authors to ensure that their software is compatible with the new operating system.
There is no check, however, so if you want to look at Windows 8 and plan how to roll it out in your organization, or maybe just play around with the cutting edge of computer software, you're just a few clicks (and a four or five gigabyte download) away.
Before we go any further, however, it must be stressed that this is just a PREVIEW version of the software. Microsoft isn't even calling it a beta. There are still a number of bugs in the software that must be worked out. Sometimes it will lock up and freeze, requiring a hard restart. Sometimes it will react strangely on your hardware, not scrolling when it's supposed to or scrolling when it isn't. You might lose data.
Then again, you might not; it's fairly stable, but you should know the risks going in all the same. It is ill-advised to put Windows 8 on your computer if it's your only daily machine, or if you can't afford to completely format the hard drive and reinstall your current operating system from scratch.
Step 1: Go to Microsoft's Windows Developer Preview downloads page.
There, you'll see a number of options for Windows 8 versions to download. If you're a developer, you can pull down the first link, which includes Windows 8, a number of Metro-styled programs, and the development tools necessary to write your own. All for free! If you aren't a developer, then you can choose between the other two download links, which just contain Windows 8 and the new Metro apps.
If you need a 64-bit version, download that one; if you prefer a 32-bit version, download that one, instead. Your need is determined largely by your system's memory; three gigs or less, and you can download the 32-bit version just fine. Once you start getting up near 4GB or more, however, the 64-bit variant is recommended (32-bit operating systems can only address a maximum of 4GB of memory, which includes the RAM of every device in your system).
Step 2: Download the ISO file.
Save the version of Windows 8 you wish to install to your hard drive. Even on a relatively fast connection, it will probably take you at least half an hour or so. In the meantime, you can figure out how you want to install the software - either via USB drive or optical drive.
Burning the software to a DVD is easy, especially in Windows 7. Just pop in a blank disc, double-click the ISO file, pick your DVD drive, and boom - you're on your way! Using a USB drive is a little more complex. If you want to use a USB drive, move on to Step 3. Otherwise, you can skip straight to Step 4.
Step 3: Download Microsoft's Windows 7 USB/DVD download tool.
There are a number of ways to prepare a USB drive for use when booting your computer, but this is the easiest. In order to install Windows 8 on your machine with a USB drive, you'll need at least an 8GB stick. Make sure your drive contains no important files, since it will be erased as part of the process.
Insert your drive into a USB port and run the USB tool. It'll ask you which drive letter you want to use, and where the ISO file you downloaded is. That's all there is to it. Tell it that it's okay to go ahead and format your drive, and it'll prep your USB key and copy all of the Windows 8 installation files over for you.
Step 4: Make sure your computer is set to boot from USB or DVD.
Depending on which method you plan to use for installation, you'll want to make sure your computer is set to boot from that device. This typically means going into the BIOS (generlally, hold down F2 or Delete as your computer reboots) and changing the order of boot devices on your computer.
Once you change the boot order, make sure to save your BIOS settings.
Step 5: Reboot.
Hopefully, your computer will now boot from the installation media, and you're on your way to checking out the future of the Windows operating system. You'll have the option to install an upgrade or clean install, and by all means, don't upgrade. Performing a clean install means that you won't have access to your installed programs, but it also means that Windows will run free and clear, unencumbered by all that cruft.
Windows 8 does a great job of detecting a lot of current PC hardware, so you should be able to get online and download further drivers and software updates without any additional help. The process for installing Windows 8 on a recent Apple computer are a little bit different than the above instructions imply, and we'll cover that in a later how-to.
In the meantime, check out the swanky new Metro apps and enjoy Windows 8! Do you have a particular feature about the new OS that you love? What about one that you hate? Sound off in our comments, below!
More articles in DesktopReview's continuing series on the upcoming release of Microsoft's next-generation Windows 8 operating system, scheduled for release sometime late this year.
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