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Posted on March 1st, 2012 by Barry Collins

Upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Windows 8 desktop new

This morning I did something monumentally stupid. Something that I wouldn’t recommend you do, something that I’ve written many times in the past that you should never do. I upgraded my main work laptop to a beta version of an operating system, namely Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

I’m not completely certifiable. I first installed it on an old (touchscreen) laptop kicking around the office to make sure there were no obvious showstopper bugs in the new release. And I took a full backup of my Windows 7 PC before I started, to make sure I wasn’t putting any data at risk. Nevertheless, it would have been a considerable pain in the rump had this gone horribly wrong.

But having toyed with Windows 8 on the test laptop, I’d swiftly concluded that the only way to properly road test the operating system was to put it to everyday use. I’m happy – and somewhat relieved – to report that the upgrade went smoothly. Here’s how I did it and what I’ve learnt so far.

I was faintly terrified of what might await me when the PC first booted into the Windows desktop

Choosing the right installer

The main reason that I was willing to risk my work PC with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview was that it’s possible to upgrade in place. All of your installed apps, data and settings can (theoretically, at least) be retained if you’re upgrading from Windows 7.

However, if you’re going to do this, you should use the EXE file provided by Microsoft on the Windows 8 download site. This is a small 5MB installer that checks your current PC has the right spec, and the compatibility of any applications you have pre-installed. In my case, it warned that iTunes would treat the upgraded PC as a new computer (meaning any iPads/iPhones/iPods would need to be reauthorised), and it forced me to uninstall Microsoft Security Essentials, as this is built into Windows 8 under the new guise of Windows Defender.

Once you’ve passed all the necessary checks, the installer then proceeds to download the operating system. Frustratingly, there’s no option to simply point the installer at an ISO you’ve already spent two hours downloading. It must be downloaded afresh. Harumph.

Upgrade process

The upgrade process itself was relatively painless. It’s certainly not as fast as the 10-minute clean install I performed on the old touchscreen laptop last night, but after the download was completed (which took only 10 minutes or so on our speedy office connection), the rest of the upgrade installation took around 45 minutes to complete on an ageing Core 2 Duo laptop with a mere 2GB of RAM (it’s hard to believe I’m the editor of a computer magazine, isn’t it?).

The installer gives you the option to install over the top of your current hard disk partition or into a new partition. I chose to install over the top; whether the latter would have created a dual-boot PC that could start up in either Windows 7 or Windows 8, I’m not sure, but please let me know in comments below if you took that option.

The Windows 8 experience

I won’t lie to you: I was faintly terrified of what might await me when the PC first booted into Windows 8. But before I even reached that point, I had to plough through a few configuration screens, which allow you to set the Metro desktop background colour and so forth.

The wizard also asks you for you an email address for your Windows Live account, to help synchronise services such as SkyDrive and Xbox Live integration. Crazily, it wouldn’t allow me to use the Hotmail address that forms my login for those services. Instead, I was forced to create another Windows Live account. This is beyond stupidity.

Of course, this meant that when I finally arrived in the new Windows 8 desktop, all my services were tied to the wrong Windows Live account. None of my documents appeared in SkyDrive, none of the pictures saved in my Microsoft account appeared in the Photos app. Worse, there was no obvious way to change the Windows Live account associated with my Windows 8 login.

A cry for help on Twitter paid dividends, however, with the resourceful @adagis to thank for a workaround. Go to Settings | User and switch to a local account that is stored on your PC. Then switch back to a Microsoft account, using your Hotmail address, and everything is hunky dory.

Why Windows 8 didn’t let me sign in with that address in the first place is bewildering. Others have reported the same problem, but some claim to have activated with a Hotmail address first time round. Whatever the cause, Microsoft needs to get it fixed in time for the final release.

Smooth migration

Other than that snafu with my Windows Live account, the rest of the migration was peachy smooth. All of my applications and settings were carried over; saved browser passwords and settings were preserved; Windows Explorer favourites and Libraries were perfectly intact; and applications pinned to the old-school Windows desktop remained pinned (albeit with the sneaky addition of Internet Explorer once more).

Windows 8 traditional desktop

I’ve not had any trouble with any of my pre-installed applications, including the Office apps, browsers, Paint.Net and TweetDeck. Documents, photos, music and other files all appear to be fine.

Interestingly, and probably wisely, Windows 8 doesn’t pin any of your pre-installed desktop apps to the Metro interface. You can do this manually, or simply start typing the name of the app you want to open and select it from the search screen.

The new Metro interface certainly takes a bit of getting used to, much more so on a dual-monitor desktop set-up than it did on the touchscreen laptop. There are new behaviours to be learnt, such as flinging the mouse up to the top-left corner of the Metro screen to get Android-style thumbnails of all the open apps, or up to the top-right to open the so-called “Charms” (Search, Share, Settings etc).

However, in next to no time, I was back working exactly as I was in Windows 7. The Metro interface can be largely ignored. The old-school Windows desktop can be extended across both screens – although curiously, the Taskbar icons are also duplicated across both – and it’s almost like Metro never existed. That is, until you go to look for the Start button, realise it’s not there, and are instead plunged back into Metro when you click in the bottom-left corner of the screen.

It certainly jars at first. But after a few hours, I’m getting used to it. And you can always just click on the Search Charm and get an almighty list of every app installed on your PC.

Windows 8 App list

In short, I think Windows 8 is beginning to grow on me. There’s a lot more to the new OS that isn’t covered here, but we’ll be covering in much greater depth on the website and magazine in the coming weeks.

And remember: just because I’ve had a largely trouble-free upgrade, it doesn’t mean you will. This is a glorified beta. Proceed with caution, especially on mission-critical PCs.  Let me know below how you get on, but please don’t ring me for technical support if it goes belly-up.

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41 Responses to “ Upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 8 Consumer Preview ”

  1. Adam Dunlop Says:
    March 1st, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    I did a clean install on a core 2 laptop, and the longest process was the download. No problems with using my hotmail login for live services, with Skydrive docs immediately available. I can’t understand though why they have only gone half way to restoring the start menu. I am lost without the good old reliable button, and menu system. The new way seems to clunky to me

  2. Reid Says:
    March 1st, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    Virtualbox performance was awful, I think I am going to shrink a partition and install it for fun

  3. Nishant Says:
    March 1st, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    Can i upgrade to Windows 8 using ISO format?

  4. Basil Says:
    March 1st, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Did a clean install on a 50GB partition. No problems at all. Jsu have to get use to the MetroUI.

  5. Andy Says:
    March 1st, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    I want to like it, really I do.
    But the first hour or so has been a frustrating experience taken up with trying to do tasks that I’ve been used to for years.
    To be fair I think the biggest problem is the assumption that the Metro interface is a touch device, for example when you set a local account, the procedure for logging on is not intuative (it requires you to swipe up the screen to reveal the login box), and the ‘charms’ seem to require me to sort of waggle my mouse a bit to the left a bit sort of till it appears.
    I fully appreciate that it is new and will take some getting used to but the metro interface seems out of place on a standard laptop.
    I bought me parents an Ipad some time ago and didn’t need to give them any instructions, but if I was to upgrade from Windows 7 on their desktop to 8 I fear they would be stuck.
    I would be very interested to see how other people think of it.
    Full marks to Microsoft for having the courage to try something new but I hope that it doesn’t come back to bite them.

  6. Mart Brom Says:
    March 1st, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    I installed the thing on a separate partition on my laptop and for the life of me I cannot see any real world benefits over Win7 64bit. Whether anyone likes the new MetroUI or not, I’ve yet to hear anyone speak about the real world benefits. Maybe that’s not the case with a touch screen but where you need a mouse and keyboard, certainly for web design, etc just what is the point of ‘upgrading’??

  7. Richard Long Says:
    March 1st, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    I did a shrink on my 500GB HDD running Windows7 x64. I shrunk enough to gain about 40GB on that disk for another Parition to Install Windows8 CR.

    I burned the ISO Image I downloaded using ImgBurn and rebooted the Computer, ran from Disc, and proceeded to Install Windows8 CR. (I now have a Dual-boot System.)

    I works fairly well. There are still SOME small issues, though it’s not that big of a deal. I’ve used it for 2 days now, and can switch between my old Windows7 and the new Windows8 at any time. It works great!

  8. Chris Hamer Says:
    March 2nd, 2012 at 1:47 am

    You can just do a registry edit and remove the metro UI and get your start menu back :D

  9. Paul Says:
    March 2nd, 2012 at 6:09 am

    I personally have always found the start menu a big bonus. I pin my 7 or 8 most used applications to it.

    I’ve never once thought – “I wish they’d get rid of this damn start menu”

    Windows 8 is really very much a touchpad OS made to work on a desktop/laptop.

    Usable yes but personally it sounds like a downgrade.

  10. Nichole Says:
    March 2nd, 2012 at 7:47 am

    oh boy guys… I seriously messed up. I was super hyped about hearing about the Windows 8 consumer preview and I downloaded on my laptop but that is now my operating system with no back up!! What the heck can I do? I have no CD for my laptop that was running on Windows XP

  11. Nichole Says:
    March 2nd, 2012 at 7:48 am

    and now I do not have access to run Microsoft Excel/Word etc..

  12. Mark Wilkinson Says:
    March 2nd, 2012 at 8:25 am

    Just upgraded Windows 7 Ultimate to Consumer Preview Edition. Went without a hitch, very pleasant upgrade experience. Previous programs seem to be working fine. Windows 8 take a little while to get used to but once you do, you seem to have the main benefits of 7 with the app-like environment of a touch-screen/mobile/tablet world. Never thought I would say this but good to see Microsoft going in the right direction.

  13. Akshit Baunthiyal Says:
    March 2nd, 2012 at 9:35 am

    Is there a way to restore Win 7 without the disk in case anything goes wrong with Win 8??

  14. wittgenfrog Says:
    March 2nd, 2012 at 10:39 am

    I did a ‘clean’ install on a spare HTPC device (I3 \ 4GB RAM)and had no problems apart from the ususal SNAFU with the disk controller on the Gigabyte motherboard. I have an issue of the new disk not being recognised each time I install an OS, so not a W8 problem.

    W8 is very lively and after about 40 minutes I was getting the hang of the Windows 8 way of doing things, though new features keept ‘appearing’ as I got more confident.

    As far as I’m concerned, W8 is highly functional (I especially like the Mail App) and when a few thousand Apps are available likely to be good fun too. I have no problem with the new UI. I’m sure it works more intuitively with touch.
    I intend to buy a Tablet later in the year. I’m currently undecided about whether to go Intel or WOA. I suspect cost will be the determinant!

    I’m not going to get involved in pointless debates about ‘Metro’. Every change causes conservatives to shriek ‘over my dead body’. I’m sure most of the critics will be suitably awed when Apple copies most of W8 into ios\OSX and tells the world about its ‘innobations’ !!

    Windows 8 works, and is highly usable on my PC for me. For anyone else YMMV.

  15. David Wright Says:
    March 2nd, 2012 at 10:59 am

    I like the Metro tiles, what worries me is that apps in the future will be Metro style full screen apps.

    As long as apps work on the desktop, I have no problem, but as apps become more and more Metro based and “full screen”, I am going to run into problems.

    As a writer of technical documentation and re-writing German laws and government regulations into readable German and English, which means having several windows from different apps open at one time. If the apps are all Metro style and only allow a 2/3 1/3 split at best, it is going to make working incredibly difficult and unproductive.

    I think this is a question that Microsoft needs to answer quickly. So far, they have concentrated on tablets and touch, but that is irrelevant for a majority of users, especially in business. I think they need to start talking about normal desktop users and how they will be catered for.

    For example, a Twitter feed needs around 10% of the width of my monitor, it looks silly at 2560X1440.

  16. jon Siddall Says:
    March 2nd, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    Really impressed with Windows 8
    The metro interface is actually better than the start menu once you get used to it. Installed no problems and the new OS is absolutely flying on a Core i7 930 and SSD drive. Best OS ever.
    So put in a bit of time to learn the new features.
    After 1 day its already better than Windows 7. Luv it ;)

  17. james016 Says:
    March 2nd, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    I did a fresh install on to a 3 year old laptop. Runs better than XP. It does take some getting used to but there are some useful keyboard short cuts: Windows key + I is a really useful one.

    Right click the Metro background and you get a button to bring up all your installed apps.

  18. kieran Says:
    March 2nd, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Typing from Asus slate. The new touch screen keyboard is over the top. Compared to win 7/64.

    I cannot however configure the little tiles in the metro to do anything meaningful. I do not play video games and cannot delete tiles that I don’t want. (Xbox $h!=)
    I will try real hard to like it because the touch interface is that much better. But wouldn’t even think of installing on touch desktop or laptops.

    And where o where did they put start menu? I would have been happy with one big bulldog touch button that opened the start menu. One of the previously frustrating things was touching start would often foul the explorer bar.

  19. Jeff Coote Says:
    March 2nd, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    Not sure if they’ve created the first version of LCARS or XBOX for Business.

  20. Mart Brom Says:
    March 2nd, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    ‘Chris Hamer wrote: You can just do a registry edit and remove the metro UI and get your start menu back’

    Any ideas how Chris as according to MS the classic menu is no longer available with the consumer review

  21. Khalil Says:
    March 2nd, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    Hi, dear all,
    can I install it on a 160 gb external usb hard drive as a second operating system?

  22. Simon Judd Says:
    March 2nd, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    Just installed Win 8 onto a spare HDD in my PC and it dual boots perfectly with Win 7. It will make 8 the default choice at startup, but that’s easy to change at the startup menu if needed.

  23. Mart Brom Says:
    March 3rd, 2012 at 1:27 am

    Not sure why my post was removed. All I asked was for details of the registry hack to get the Classic UI rather than the Metro. As far as I was aware this facility has been removed in the consumer preview version. Such is censorship.

  24. Andrey Says:
    March 3rd, 2012 at 7:47 am

    There is another way to get all the apps. Right Click ans All Apps in the bar that appears in the bottom of the screen.

    Effectively, it is the old Start Menu, only better.

  25. Trash Bin Says:
    March 3rd, 2012 at 10:12 am

    My only concern is when installing to a separate partition any program will need to be installed & re-registered along with all of the pain involved (Microsoft). Some a new license would have to be purchased unless I uninstall first.

  26. David Wright Says:
    March 3rd, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    I did a Bootcamp install on my iMac. The good news: it runs better than OS X Lion on this machine! The Metro Start Screen is great, but thereagain, I like my Windows Phone 7 phone.

    The bad news: Metro full screen apps really aren’t designed to be used on a screen much larger than 11″.

    Taking a Metro app, designed for an 11″ screen and blowing up the fonts and images by 210% to fill a desktop screen doesn’t make for a good user experience!

    Whereas this browser window takes up less than half the width of my monitor, Metro Internet Explorer uses 100% of the screen, make it much harder to read – at least it doesn’t scale up the fonts.

    Solitaire, which used to run in a small window in the corner of the screen, for when I was waiting for a task to finish, now takes over the complete screen, with cards the size of my fist! It has gone from a simple time waster in the corner to a pre-school app. It might work beautifully on a tablet, but it just looks plain stupid on a 24″ screen!

    The same for Contacts and Calendar, instead of using the extra real-estate to provide more information, they just blow up the fonts and images to fill the screen with the same amount of information as I would get on an 11″ tablet! The end result feels somehow insulting – “your getting old, let me magnify everything by 200% so you can read it more easily.”

    I know I’m getting old, you bastard, but I can still read 10pt text on my 15.6″ laptop with a 1920×1080 display, I don’t need the text to be boosted up to 24pt when I’m working on a screen nearly twice the physical size!

    At leas the desktop is still there, but the question is, for how much longer, and how many of today’s desktop applications are still going to be available in future generations?

    Metro is proving that taking a phone/tablet interface and just scaling it up for a desktop PC doesn’t work.

  27. Richard Taylor Says:
    March 4th, 2012 at 8:41 am

    I did the same upgrade path to the consumer preview, and the installation went perfectly. However trying to use Windows 8 was an insanely complicated experience. Being used to an iPhone and iPad I thought it would be intuitive, but it just wasn’t. How do you get to your program’s (Apps)? How do you log on (it took about 10 minutes to figure out you have to swipe upwards, which is a pain with a mouse). How on earth do you Shut Down? It’s completely un-intuitive and in my opinion will only speed up the rate that our customers demand iMacs and MacBook Pros instead of Wndows PCs and Laptops. Already we have seen a monumental shift in both home and business towards using Apple machines and iPads, and I fear Windows 8 will only speed up that process – its just too complicated and counter intuitive.

  28. mike coles Says:
    March 4th, 2012 at 11:10 am

    Did a install on partition, so now running dual boot with Windows 7.
    Seems to be running ok, getting use to the metro.Only snag is trying to add gmail account to link it in to run on Mail.

  29. Damian Says:
    March 4th, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    “its just too complicated and counter intuitive.”

    Consumer preview. Preview. PREVIEW! Most standard home owners wouldn’t even bother to install but once the FULL version appears it’ll have prompts on how to do things.

  30. Clive Pugh Says:
    March 5th, 2012 at 8:27 am

    Can I get some money back on the win 7 I paid a lot for if I install win 8?

  31. wittgenfrog Says:
    March 5th, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    Its new, its different, Its great!!!

  32. Tim Says:
    March 6th, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    I have installed Win 8 on a old Dell Inspiron 1501, and it runs better than ever before (some linux comes close) the download and install was painless, i like the new start screen, i just wish all the tiles could be adjusted for size.

  33. Tim Jenkins Says:
    March 7th, 2012 at 11:48 am

    Barry; nice article, but you refer to having Microsoft Security Essentials on your Work PC. Are you guys on a special licensing arrangement for this? With a turnover ‘in excess of £95 million a year’ I don’t quite see how Dennis Publishing is a ’small business’, as required by the standard EULA…

  34. Ekun Says:
    March 29th, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    …(it’s hard to believe I’m the editor of a computer magazine, isn’t it?).
    Are you really the editor of a computer magazine? It’s supprising to me that you have these many problems. You did not even know how to correctly install an OS. Do you actually get paid to do that job? because this article is seriously flawed and basically useless.

  35. n2charlton Says:
    April 12th, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    I have been using a version running in virtual box for around a month. As an IT admin I am finding a number of issues with it.
    Remote desktop: it has a nice little app, but you can’t get back to the desktop unless you come all the way out, so if you have notes or anything else on the desktop to make changes or to copy into the remote desktop you are pretty much scuppered unless you run mstc from the run prompt on the desktop, which then negates the need for the app.
    Device manager: I gave up looking for this and ran devmgmt.msc instead.
    Applications install onto the Metro but some things run in their own app, others on the desktop.
    Another unhelpful one I have found is pictures, I got a screen shot through, downloaded it and it opened in the picture viewer app. Great, but I had to close that down completely and get back to the desktop to reread the email to try and make sense of the image. It isn’t helpful; I am sure there is a way around it and will look but for the moment it is inconvenience.
    I also find it is too much built towards touch enabled devices but for a desktop operating system I think that is very limiting, trying to get the swipe right to login, then in Metro you have to use the scroll bar..that alone is a bit jarring. I imagine it would work better on a touch enabled device but reaching out for a desktop screen after a while would hurt. Maybe using a graphics tablet is a possible solution.

  36. lewis Says:
    April 30th, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    I have been using windows 8 on my main touchscreen PC for a couple of months. Overall it works well enough, although today it flagged up errors with Security Essentials which has been running fine. I removed MSE as Windows 8 has built in Defender and it seems to be happy now. I still find the switch between desktop and Metro a bit clunky and I rarely use the touchscreen as the angles are all wrong on a desktop. The Microsoft Search Indexer is much more intrusive than it was on Windows 7?

  37. Mark A Clarkson Says:
    June 5th, 2012 at 12:19 am

    Has anyone roadtesting Windows 8, ascertained whether Microsoft fixed the nasty SNAFU in Windows 7 that turns off USB devices and internet access? Does Windows 8 work so that many hours of resetting defaults and rebooting computers can now be avoided? No such problems with Windows XP!

  38. George Says:
    June 29th, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Ever noticed how your computer/browser starts going wrong just before Microsoft stops supporting their old OS? It happened to me with Win95, Win98 and now WinXp. Each time problems suddenly began to multiply as the pressure to switch to the new OS began to build. Take XP for example. I am happy with it. It is relatively stable. It does all I need. I have no desire for windows 7 which has annoying “features” I hate and neither do I want the new, all bright lights, bells and whistles IE9. Strangley though, as the time for supporting Win Xp ebbs away, so the sudden browser and computer problems have started to manifest. Now IE 8 has begun to act strangely in all kinds of ways. My computer has begun to have sudden fits of instability that were not there before and which defy any attempts to track down why this should be so.

    Now, I don’y want to sound paranoid here. I will, but I don’t want too. However, I have a sneaky suspicion that Microsofts automatic upgrades has something to do with all of this. Like I said, I have seen this behaviour before and the timing stinks. I cannot help wondering if that massive and stupendously greedy organisation is a little too ruthless in its desire to make us buy their next batch of overpriced software that will only run on newer computers.

    This ain’t Denmark but something is very rotten nevertheless.

  39. alex Says:
    July 23rd, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    I find that windows 8 is great. But I tried to reset my system to factory settings and it asked for the installation disk when I inserted it.

  40. Samo Says:
    July 26th, 2012 at 5:24 am

    hi all, sory, im a noob, after the first reset at installing it goes into boot from usb again :( . Thx

  41. tmfafmf Says:
    September 23rd, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    so no classic start menu? sweet, that was the part of all previous versions that i absolutely hated.


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