Getting started with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Getting started with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Summary: You've got questions about the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. I've got answers. Here's what you need to know before you begin testing.


Microsoft officially unveiled the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 this week. Judging by the response to my poll earlier this year, a lot of the readers of this blog are planning to put this beta release through its paces.

Before you do that, it pays to do some homework. In this post, I’ve assembled answers to some questions you’re likely to have.

As with any beta software release, this OS isn’t for civilians. Microsoft’s own FAQ includes this warning:

Windows 8 Consumer Preview is stable and has been thoroughly tested, but it’s not the finished product. Your PC could crash and you could lose important files. You should back up your data and you shouldn't test Windows 8 Consumer Preview on your primary home or business PC.

That’s important advice. By all means, the first thing you should do before even thinking about tinkering with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview is a full backup of your test machine. If it’s running Windows 7, you can do that easily by going to the Backup and Restore option in Control Panel and creating a system image on an external hard drive.

Let me say that again: Back up first.

Seriously. It takes minutes to snap a system image, and having that image and a system repair disc makes it quick and easy to get back to your previous working configuration if you find that Windows 8 doesn't work well on your hardware (or if you just don't like it).

See also

With that crucial business out of the way, it’s on to the FAQ…

Will my hardware run the Windows 8 Consumer Preview?

If it runs Windows 7, the answer is yes. The official requirements are in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview: Frequently Asked Questions.

The biggest gotcha to watch out for is system resolution. If you’re installing Windows 8 Consumer Preview on an older portable PC, especially a netbook, or in a virtual machine, make sure your screen resolution is up to the challenge. These are the key numbers to watch out for:

  • Minimum resolution: 1024 x 768 Although you can install the Consumer Preview on a system with a lower resolution, it will not run Metro style apps.
  • Minimum resolution for full Metro support: 1366 x 768 If either dimension is lower than this minimum, you will be able to run one Metro app at a time, but the Snap feature, which allows you to pin a Metro style app to the side of the screen, won’t work.

For additional information about setup, these two official sources are useful:

Can I upgrade my current installation of Windows 7 or Windows XP?

XP, no. Windows 7, yes.

The first step in setup is a compatibility test, which will alert you to any issues.

Make sure all hardware drivers are up to date before you begin the installation. If you are running Microsoft Security Essentials, you will need to uninstall it before proceeding with setup. If any of the compatibility steps require a restart, the setup program will resume after you reboot.

To upgrade, you must start setup from your current version of Windows. You'll be offered the option to migrate programs and files, files only, or do a clean install (with your existing Windows installation going to the Windows.old folder).

You also have the option to dual boot, either from a separate partition or from a virtual hard drive (VHD). I'll have more on those options in follow-up posts.

Which languages are supported?

Windows 8 Consumer Preview is available in English, Chinese (Simplified), French, German, and Japanese. Setup program will automatically detect your current language selection and install the matching version if you are using one of the five supported languages. If your current installation uses an unsupported language, you’ll need to choose the language you want to download. Note: If you do an upgrade install using a language that's different from the one currently on your PC, you won't be able to keep programs or settings.

Where do I download the software?

The simplest way to set up Windows 8 Consumer Preview on a single machine is to use the Web installer, which you’ll find here:

Download Windows 8 Consumer Preview

It’s a small stub that downloads the correct version (32-bit or 64-bit) and language for your system.

If you plan to test the Consumer Preview on multiple systems, grab the ISO file here:

Windows 8 Consumer Preview ISO images

ISO images are available in English, Chinese (Simplified), French, German, and Japanese, with 32-bit and 64-bit editions available.

How do I turn the downloaded ISO file into bootable media?

You can burn the ISO disk image to DVD using any burning software, including the Disk Image utility in Windows 7.

To copy the ISO file to a USB flash drive and make it bootable, use Microsoft’s Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool. You'll find full instructions, with download links and screenshots, here.

You can run setup directly from that drive or DVD, either from within Windows or by restarting your PC and booting from the external media.

You will need a product key to complete installation. On the next page, I explain how to get that key. I also answer the most common question of all: is it possible to replace the new Start screen with the Windows 7-style Start menu?

Page 2: Can I change the Start screen? -->


Topics: Operating Systems, Microsoft, Software, Windows

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  • Windows 8 "Chicago"

    So after playing around with the beta bits, I have to say, I hate the Start Menu. It's unintuitive, ugly to look at, and it takes extra clicks just to find any of my programs! What is Microsoft thinking!?

    Hopefully, Microsoft will give us the option to switch off the Start Menu and go back to the Program Manager. Microsoft, I want my Program Manager back!

    All kidding aside, after a day of use at school, I can say that the CP has been quite fun to use and explore. It's still a little rough around the edges - I really think Microsoft needs a better, more forward place for the shut down options, and it seems we're still in search of that elusive unified Control Panel (Now we have two!), but all in all, it's a pretty solid release. The Metro Start Screen isn't as big of an issue as people make it out to be. If consumers can easily adapt to the many Android UIs and iOS UI, then they can easily adapt to the new screen.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • The Start Screen

      is much more tolerable after the user adjusts it to his liking, which he'll have to spend a bit of time doing (and figuring out how to do, though it's not all that bad). But at least the user has more control over tweaking this screen to his liking than on Android or iPad.
      Michael Kelly
    • Wow. 5 downvotes?

      I thought my joke was rather funny. :/
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • So did I!

        And, that's saying something, Cylon Centurion. If my recollection of your comments is correct, you tend to be, shall we say, patient and accommodating of things-Microsoft (not that you're Loverock Davidson).

        I, to be honest, tend not to be a big MS fan, but I absolutely agree that "change" is the issue, regardless whether the new UI is better or worse or whatever.

        But I did LOL when I think back to the trauma of "no more program manager? One start "button"...?!" way back in the day. Now we have to find a way to carry on and cope with life without a start button.

        The horror...the horror.
        Non-techie Talk
      • @Non-techie Talk

        Thank you! :D

        Personally, the way I look at things is this: Microsoft has had Windows since home computing began. They were there from the start. Fundamentally, Windows hasn't changed all that much since then.
        What's happening now is Microsoft is going back and now preparing Windows and it's many services for a new and upcoming generation of computing. And when you think about that, Metro makes sense.
        Would you wanna use the old start menu with a Kinect based PC? How about an all in one tablet?

        There's a new generation of computing, and this is only Microsoft adapting to it. While I agree that the desktop will be with us for many more years yet, Windows 8 plays nice with a wide range of hardware without the need to maintain two operating systems.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • It took me a few minutes...

      But I figured out what MS was going for. You aren't supposed to be digging through your start menu (much like you aren't supposed to be digging through your start menu in 7). The point is to find by typing. Type a letter, at the Metro home, of an app you are looking for, as you continue to type, your list dwindles down.

      So far Windows 8 has been a big hit with myself and those I have shown it to on my Aspire laptop. There are a few bugs yet (like switch user killed my external screen and locked the computer), but this new interface is definitely starting to grow on me. They still need to make the classic desktop look a little less Windows seveny though...
      • Cool. Because we were all so much more productive

        back in the days of DOS when you had to type in your application names
      • @baggins

        Well, I apologize if typing "ph" on your desktop for PhotoShop confuses you more than digging through a tree by clicking "start" -> "All Programs" -> "Adobe CS5.5" -> "Photoshop CS5.5", but I think generations past you will not share your sentiment.
    • Metro Dashboard with keyboard and mouse

      I have been using the Developer Preview since September of last year, and I find that the improvements for keyboard and mouse in the Consumer Preview is very nice.

      I hear lots of complaints about how Metro is unusable from a keyboard and mouse and find that the complaints are without merit. If you have ever watched a person who lacks dexterity try to navigate multiple levels of flyout menus from the start button, it is painful to watch.

      The metro start screen will be much more accessible for most people. Why people want to keep the start menu crammed into lower 1/8th of screen real estate is mysterious. For years in business we have been searching for a "Dashboard" that can present relevant information, organized the way the user wants to see it...The metro "dashboard" is a pretty good start in that direction.

      People need to recognize that Windows 8 is a bridge OS. If you have watched any of the Microsoft Research videos that show what computing will look like in the future, you realize that we can't get there in one hop. Windows 8 will help us migrate that the same time, Microsoft is aware of its user base and does an excellent job with backwards compatibility.

      I think the criticisms of the vocal minority are getting old. I am utterly shocked at how difficult it is for supposedly techno-savvy people to learn new features and how they love to hang on to the old way of doing things.....if we left the world to these people, we would still be using punch cards and dumb terminals if not riding in horse drawn carriages and drawing water from a well. Sheesh, don't call yourselves technical enthusiasts.
      • Tech Savvy

        Tech-savvy people cling to techno-savvy interfaces, no matter how unintuitive they may seem. That's what you're witnessing here.

        This is why you don't leave a UI design in the hands of a typical developer. He'll be the only one that can understand it in the end.

        I'm tech savvy, but I enjoy and appreciate the beauty in simplicity. This is what I feel Windows 8 has brought to the table.
      • Metro

        I have to agree with gomigomijunk on this. When I tried the Developer Preview I didn't like it at all. The improvements in the Consumer Preview have completely changed my opinion of the O/S. The new way of working with the new Start Menu (metro) is a huge improvement over previous versions of Windows. The machine I have it running on is a home built desktop that is several years old and it is having no problems running the O/S. I'm using a trackball and keyboard to navigate and have had absolutely no problems finding what I need on my computer or accomplishing my daily tasks.
    • A few keyboard shortcuts

      and everything is right where you need it. Pin anything you really need to the taskbar, does't slow me down at all.
    • It's Very Intuitive!

      Unintuitive? You don't know what you're talking about! I'm 63 years old but found it very easy and pleasant to use! Except maybe for shutting down the machine for the first time but which Bing solved for me in seconds! But I also discovered later on that there's no need to shut down because it puts the machine into hibernation after some time of unuse!

      The funny thing though is that the initial download scan told me my 10-year old Canon printer won't run anymore in Windows 8 but guess what - it runs very well even without installing the driver for it!
    • Program Manager

      Well if you move your mouse to the far up/down right corner and move your mouse up/down, "charms" will come up. Just click on search, search your programs, administrative tools, etc under settings, and there you go! I know back in Windows 7 all you had to do was click on the start button and search what you wanted, but you can also do that with Windows 8 too.
  • Mouse-Only

    Please talk even more about testing with mouse and keyboard only, no touch screen, especially for customizing the Start screen.

    Also, even though you say, for some reason, not to use a VM for testing, I imagine that is what 75%+ of us are doing. And for Server 8, that's probably what 95% of us are doing, and yet we still have to deal with the Start screen on that platform too.


    [Update: I meant 75% of us who are beta testing, not final end users or even hobbyists. And for servers, installing as a VM is the default these days, so 95% both now and after RTM I still think is realistic.]
    • 75% is a little steep

      I highly doubt 75% of the people using Windows 8 are running it in a VM. I am but I'm also running it on hardware.

      And 95% for Server 8? That's insane. I thought about it but considering Hyper-V 3 is probably the feature I'm most interested in from Server 8 it would be silly to install it into an existing virtual environment. Make it pretty hard to test those features for sure.
      • Final tests

        of the final software will be more likely to be on hardware, however an early beta test like this does not warrant those kind of resources when all we are really interested in doing is getting a feel of how the OS works. Later on I will try the software out on real hardware, but for the time being my hard drive is too full and I don't want to scrap my Windows 7 partition for a test, so until I get a new hard drive I'll just noodle around on a VM.
        Michael Kelly
      • @MK

        I agree that some, maybe even half of the installs, will be on a VM. But I find it hard to believe 3/4 of all users will. And I probably wouldn't have commented but the 95% VM server installation really caught my eye. Hypver V 3 is one of the biggest features with the new OS.
  • The resolution issue is one worth noting

    There are a lot of not-all-that-old laptops out there that max out at 1280 x 800. And very few current tablets are even at 1024 x 768, and though of course you can't install Windows on those that will mean OEMs will have to churn out tablets at a much higher resolution than they have been doing if they want full support.
    Michael Kelly
    • I doubt this will be a problem

      Today, most new notebooks are 1366x768 or better and, by the time Windows 8 ships, I expect that most Android tablets will be at 1366x768 (16:9) just to try to keep up with the iPad 3, which is rumored to have a resolution of 2048x1534 (4:3). 16:9 is best suited for video and 4:3 is best suited for reading.
      M Wagner