Your top 10 Windows 8 questions of 2012, answered [Year in Review]

Summary:My most popular posts this year were about Windows 8. In fact, I continue to get emails every day asking questions I've covered in posts throughout the year. This post tackles my top 10 questions, including "Is Windows 8 worth the upgrade?" and "Where can I find Windows 7 PCs?"

Can I use Windows 8 in a virtual machine?

Yes, you can, using an OEM System Builder copy of Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro. You can also install an OEM package of Windows 8 on a PC you build yourself, without paying for an overpriced full retail copy.

This is a significant change in licensing terms compared to previous Windows versions. With Windows 7, for example, the System Builder license agreement prohibits installing the software except on a PC you plan to resell to a third party. Windows 8 adds a Personal Use License to the OEM license, which specifically gives you the right to install the software on a PC you own. You can even transfer the software to a different PC if you completely remove it from the machine where you originally installed it.

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What happened to Media Center?

Windows Media Center was a showcase feature of every "premium" version of Windows for the past decade. In Windows 8, Microsoft removed it, citing low usage (only 6% of Windows 7 users even launch it once, and of that 6%, only a quarter do more than just look around). And then there's the cost of licensing codecs for media playback, which is only a few dollars per PC but adds up to billions of dollars when you ship hundreds of millions of copies.

A side effect of removing Media Center is that Windows 8 loses the ability to natively play back DVDs in Windows Media Player. OEMs who include DVD or Blu-ray drives include third-party software that supplies the necessary codecs. Installing the Media Center Pack does the same.

Running Media Center requires Windows 8 Pro. Because many new PCs are sold with the basic (Core) edition of Windows 8, Microsoft is delivering the Media Center features as an add-on, in two different packages. 

Upgrading from the basic edition of Windows 8 requires the Windows 8 Pro Pack, which upgrades your PC to Windows 8 Pro and enables the Media Center features.

If you're already running Windows 8 Pro (as an upgrade or installed with a new PC), you can use the Media Center Pack.

Both add-ons are currently available at discounted prices: The Media Center pack is free and the Pro Pack is $69.99. These special offers are good until January 31, 2013. Details and a sign-up form are here.

A word of caution: If you are a Media Center enthusiast and you have a working Media Center setup, I do not recommend upgrading to Windows 8. The Media Center add-on is basically identical to the Windows 7 version, and I've found enough incompatibilities in my testing to convince me to keep my two Media Center machines running on Windows 7 for now

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What's the point of Windows RT?

Windows RT runs on ARM processors, which means it can get much better battery life than Intel Core processors (the jury is still out on battery life for Intel's new Clover Trail family of processors that can run the full x86 Windows 8).

It can run most programs written for Windows 8 and delivered through the Windows Store. Microsoft has included a recompiled version of four programs from the Office 2013 suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote) that run in an environment that is essentially identical to the Windows desktop.

With those exceptions, Windows RT can't run traditional Windows desktop programs. That is both a limitation and a tremendous feature. Devices running Windows RT are, for all intents and purposes, immune from Windows viruses, spyware, and other forms of malware.

The most popular Windows RT device is Microsoft's Surface. Here's my initial review:

Where can I find PCs with Windows 7?

Most PC manufacturers have introduced new PCs running Windows 8. Many of them include touchscreens or enhanced trackpads (or both) that showcase the signature feature of Windows 8. These devices are aimed primarily at consumers.

If you're considering a touchscreen PC, I strongly recommend buying one with Windows 8. If you've decided to skip Windows 8 and stick with Windows 7, there are still plenty of choices available for you. The trick to finding them is to avoid looking in places that appeal to consumers and instead shop in the online and brick-and-mortar stores that cater to conservative business buyers. That's true even if you're planning to use your new PC in your home. Dell, for example, allows you to filter its full list of products to show only those with Windows 7 available (here are laptops and desktops). At Lenovo's web site, you can search for Windows 7.

The good news is that Microsoft isn't forcing anyone to give up Windows 7. Under its well-documented, longstanding sales lifecycle, PC makers can build and sell PCs with Windows 7 preinstalled for two full years after the release of Windows 8. That's October, 2014. Microsoft will continue to sell Windows 7 boxed software until October 26, 2013, and of course smart resellers can stock up on software and PCs before either of those deadlines to take advantage of eager customers. That means you can safely skip Windows 8 and continue using Windows 7 for a long, long time.

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How do I downgrade to Windows 7?

That question really demands two answers, one legal and one technical.

Legally, you are entitled to downgrade a Windows 8 Pro license to Windows 7 Professional if and only if you purchased your new PC with Windows 8 Pro preinstalled. The base edition of Windows 8 does not include downgrade rights. Neither does an upgrade to Windows 8 Pro. If you buy a new PC with Windows 8 preinstalled and you want to install Windows 7 on it, you need to buy a full retail copy of Windows 7, at least if you want to comply with the terms of the license agreement.

From a technical point of view, downgrading from Windows 8 to Windows 7 means doing a clean install. There's no way to uninstall Windows 8 to revert to Windows 7, and you can't perform an installation that keeps your data files or programs.

And no, you can't legally downgrade a Windows 8 Pro PC to Windows XP.

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Got more questions? Send me an email using the contact form at the end of this post. (Don't leave them in the Talkback section, please, because there's no guarantee I'll see them there.)


Topics: Windows


Ed Bott is an award-winning technology writer with more than two decades' experience writing for mainstream media outlets and online publications. He has served as editor of the U.S. edition of PC Computing and managing editor of PC World; both publications had monthly paid circulation in excess of 1 million during his tenure. He is the a... Full Bio

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