Posey's Tips & Tricks

Getting Ready To Test-Drive Windows 8

Brien walks you through how to get the developer's version of Windows 8 to run on a traditional desktop, touch-enabled desktop and tablet.

Lately I have been bombarded with requests to talk about Windows Server 8, but I haven't really gotten the chance yet to talk about the Windows 8 client (the desktop version). In case you haven't been keeping up with all of the Windows 8 news, Microsoft has designed Windows 8 so that the operating system will be able to run on a desktop/laptop computer, a tablet or even a smartphone. In fact, parts of the new Metro interface remind me a lot of the interface used by Windows Phone 7.

Even though most of my efforts lately have revolved around exploring the server version, I did take the time to install the desktop version and take it for a test drive. Initially, I installed Windows 8 to a virtual machine. Even though the installation went off without a hitch, there were two things that immediately became apparent:

For starters, Microsoft still has a lot of work to do. Depending on what you are doing, the operating system occasionally reverts to the look and feel of Windows 7. Of course I would expect to see some gaping holes in the operating system because at this stage in the game Microsoft has only released a developer preview. The first beta hasn't even been released yet. Alpha code always contains incomplete features.

The other thing that I noticed was that you really need a touch screen to get the full effect.  Don't get me wrong, you can get by with a keyboard and mouse. It's just that the new interface feels like something that you would find on a smartphone. I kept catching myself wanting to touch my monitor even though it isn't touch-enabled.

Since the new interface begs for a touch screen, I decided to see how well it worked with a touch screen. I have an HP all-in-one touch screen computer that I use for recording video presentations. Although I use that computer too frequently for me to be able to wipe the hard drive and load Windows 8 I decided to remove the existing hard drive, install a new hard drive and load Windows 8 onto the machine.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect with loading a developer preview release onto physical hardware, but the installation process worked fine. When Windows had finished installing though, the touch screen interface didn't work. After quite a bit of digging I was eventually able to find the Device Manager and load the touch screen drivers. Incidentally, I didn't have to supply Windows with the required drivers. The operating system was able to locate the driver on its own.

Once I had Windows 8 up and running with the touch screen driver I found that the operating system worked really well on my all-in-one PC. It worked so well that I wanted to keep using it. Sadly, I needed the PC for something else and had to put the old hard drive with the old OS back into the system. Swapping hard drives on an all in one PC is a bit of a chore, so I don't really think I will be putting Windows 8 back onto that system any time soon. However, the story doesn't end there.

As I mentioned earlier, Windows 8 is also designed to run on tablets. A friend at Microsoft told me that Windows 8 works especially well on the Acer Iconia W500. Even though I have ordered one of these tablets, it did not show up before this blog post was due. Even so, I can tell you what is involved in putting Windows 8 onto the tablet in case you want to try it for yourself.

For right now if you want to install Windows 8 to the W500 tablet you will have to use the 32-bit version. The 64-bit version works, but there are some 64-bit drivers that aren't currently available. The tablet does not have a DVD drive, so you will have to download the Windows 8 ISO file from MSDN, use it to burn a DVD, and then copy the DVD's contents to a USB flash drive.

The next step is to turn off the tablet, plug in the flash drive, attach a USB keyboard and then turn the tablet back on. You must immediately press F2 to enter the tablet's BIOS setup. One in the BIOS, you must change the boot order so that the tablet's first boot device is USB HDD. Now just save your changes and boot the tablet. The tablet should boot into Windows 8's setup  program.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a seven time Microsoft MVP with over two decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written many thousands of articles and written or contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. When He isn't busy writing, Brien Posey enjoys exotic travel, scuba diving, and racing his Cigarette boat. You can visit his personal Web site at: www.brienposey.com.

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