On Saturday, I decided to upgrade to Windows 8. I’ve been running a virtual machine with Windows Vista Business for some time, firstly in Parallels Desktop but later converted to VirtualBox. I never bothered upgrading to Windows 7 due to the lack of differences between the two; obviously 7 is a big upgrade from XP but not from Vista.
Another major factor is that, at the moment, existing Windows XP, Vista and 7 users can upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for a mere £24.99 as a digital download, or more if you need it on DVD. It’s a very good deal, but it’s only valid until early next year. And since I’d also heard that Windows 8 should run faster on the same hardware, upgrading seemed like a really good idea.
To upgrade, you should download the Upgrade Assistant which checks your current installation for compatibility and then downloads the files. You can then either proceed with the upgrade, or save an ISO file to a USB drive or DVD-ROM. I decided to proceed, but told the installer not to keep any of my documents or settings; after all, it was a virtual machine and anything important had been saved to Dropbox and was therefore available elsewhere.
This turned out to be a mistake, frankly. It installed the files, restarted a couple of times, and then froze. No animation, no CPU activity, no disk activity. So, I hard reset the virtual machine. At which point, setup decided that the installation had failed, and set about restoring Windows Vista. So, after a few hours, I was back at square one.
This time, I told the installer to save the ISO file, which I placed in a shared folder so it was accessible by my Mac as well. I then shut down the virtual machine, and created a fresh, new VM in VirtualBox with the optimal Windows 8 settings. Bear in mind that my previous VM was originally a Parallels VM, was then converted to the VMWare format, and then used with VirtualBox 2; now I’m on VirtualBox 42. I mounted the ISO file mounted as the CD drive, booted up, followed the instructions, and within the hour I was up and running with Windows 8. Success!
…or so I thought. Opening the ‘classic’ desktop environment saw the little icon for the Windows Action Centre pop up, telling me I needed to activate Windows – which was odd because I had entered the product key during installation. So I re-entered it, only for Windows to pop up a 0xC004F601 error, telling me that the product key was only valid for upgrades and not a clean installation like this one.
Some expletives were issued by me at this point, but thankfully Google saved my sanity as I found this blog post which explained a workaround. I had to edit the registry to change a value, re-run the activation manager and then reboot, but after this Windows activated with no problems. Phew.
Obviously I still have the old Windows Vista VM lying around but as that license is now invalid due to the upgrade I’ll be deleting it. That, and I shouldn’t need it anyway.
I’ll write more about my actual experiences of using Windows 8 when I’ve had a longer opportunity to use it. So far, it seems okay, and the ‘classic’ desktop is almost exactly the same as Windows 7. I’ll have to play with the new desktop (formally known as ‘Metro’) a little more before passing judgement.