Everyone and their brother seem to have a blog post right now about the upcoming Windows 8.1 update. As expected, about half of them say it’s a major improvement and the other half are calling it the next Vista.
I’m not going to do either. I’m actually going to do something useful for you.
If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably already heard all about the return of the Start button and the offline Skydrive (Yay!!) feature or, you’ve heard about how it falls short and is useless.
What I’m going to do is help you figure out if you like it for yourself in a manner that is at no risk to you or your existing OS installation.
Check out Windows 8.1 Preview – Walkthrough
I can already hear you asking: OK, Tim, so how do I check this out for myself? Excellent question, my friend. I have a one word answer for you…. Virtualization.
If you don’t know about virtualization, it’s a technology that lets you run on a computer that acts like a whole separate computer inside of the first computer.
So, in the process below, we’re going to go through a simple install of VirtualBox (a free and very good Virtual Machine program) then install the Windows 8.1 User Preview on a VM. To do this, you will need a PC with at least 200GB of hard drive space free and no less than 4GB of RAM.
I’ll be doing this from a Windows 7 box but, with a few changes you could do this from a Mac or Linux machine as well. Also, I’ll be installing the 32-bit version on my VM as it’s a bit smaller and will go faster.
Before we start
- Download VirtualBox: https://www.virtualbox.org/
- Download Windows 8.1 Preview: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/preview-iso?ref=technet
- Set aside about 60 minutes of time to do the install after the downloads are complete.
- Run the VirtualBox Installer you downloaded. You’ll probably get a security warning. Go ahead and click Run if you do.
- At the Welcome screen, click Next
- Accept the defaults at the Custom Setup screen. Click Next
- Make a decision about the shortcuts you want. Click Next
- Network disconnect warning. This is really just an FYI that it will cause your network to drop for a few seconds. Make sure you’ve finished any downloads before proceeding. When you’re ready, click Yes
- At the next screen, click Install
- Watch the progress bar and handle the security prompts as they appear
- And click Finish when it’s done
Create a new Virtual Machine
- Go to Start/All Programs/ Oracle VM Virtualbox and click the Oracle VM Virtualbox icon
- At the welcome screen, click New
- Give your new VM a name and select Windows 8 under Version. Click Next
- At the Memory Size screen, take the default and click Next
- At the Hard Drive screen, take the default and click Create
- At the Hard Drive File Type screen, take the default and click Next
- At the Storage of Physical Hard Drive screen, take the default and click Next
- At the File Location and Size screen, take the default for the location but bump the size up to 100GB then click Create
- When the following screen appears, you’re ready to start the install of Windows
Install Windows 8.1 on your VM
- With VirtualBox open right-click on your new VM and select Settings
- Under the Storage section, click the icon circled below
- A list will appear select Add CD/DVD Device
- A popup will appear. Select Choose Disk
- Browse to the location where you saved the Windows 8.1 ISO. Select it and click Open then click OK
- Click the Start icon for the VM. After a few seconds, you should see the following screen. We’re going to go with the defaults so, click Next then Install Now
- When it prompts you for a product key, use the following: NTTX3-RV7VB-T7X7F-WQYYY-9Y92F (unfortunately, you’ll have to type it out. Sorry 😉
- Click Next
- At the licensing terms screen, check the box and click Next
- At the installation type screen, click Custom
- At the Where do you want to Install Windows screen, click Next (you only have the one choice, anyway)
- Windows will finally begin the install. After it finishes, it will be ready for you to configure.
I’m assuming you can handle the configuration as you did it when you first un-boxed your Surface.
So now you can play with Windows 8.1 in a risk free environment so go ahead and beat it up. See if you’re going to like it and leave the “experts” to argue among themselves, while you form your own opinions.
After all, whose opinion can you trust more than your own?
Tim Rolston is a professional geek with over 23 years of experience working in Information Technology and dealing with everything from large-scale storage to remote systems management and automation for organizations such as Texas Instruments, Mobil Oil, and the University of Michigan (where he was an Academic IT Director).
He co-founded JTRTech along with Joanna to realize his long-time dream of working for himself.