Keen to check out Windows 8's new features and don't want to wait? Why not have a play with the Windows 8 Developer Preview with our hands-on guide?
The Windows 8 Developer Preview is a public build weighing in at around 3.5GB, which you can grab from here
. Microsoft recommends installing it on “bare metal” for the best experience, but if you're not willing or can't dedicate a machine to it, it's very easy to set it up in a virtual machine. Ironically, Microsoft's Virtual PC product is unable to run the preview, but current versions of both the freely downloadable VirtualBox
work just fine, with one caveat: Microsoft's concern about getting the best experience stems from the use of accelerated 3D for the interface, which virtual machines don't handle especially speedily, at least not until the various products update their drivers with Windows 8 support as a guest operating system.
But since the preview is exactly that and not meant for everyday use, a VM will suffice for playing with and exploring the all-new Windows with minimal effort. Note that whether bare metal or a VM, you'll need 2GB of memory and 20GB of hard-drive space. If you're using a VM it helps to be using a recent CPU for the host machine -- one that supports Intel's VT-x or AMD's AMD-V hardware virtualisation. Any computer purchased in the last year or so should support this, but you may need to make sure support is enabled in your motherboard's BIOS if not already.
Installing Windows 8 Developer Preview
We'll show you how to set up VirtualBox to run the Windows 8 Developer Preview (you can also use VMware, but the free version is a 30-day trial and requires registration).
1. Download and install VirtualBox for Windows or Linux from here
2. After launching VirtualBox, click on New to setup a new profile.
3. Enter a name for the profile and, for Operating System and Version, select 'Windows 7'.
4. For ‘Base Memory Size’, allocate 2,048MB. If you have less than 4GB of RAM, allocate half your system's memory.
5. When prompted to create a virtual disk, select 'Create new hard disk' and VDI or VHD for the image type. VDI is VirtualBox's native format, but if you want the image to be portable later VHD may be the better choice.
6. On the next dialog select 'Dynamically allocated', unless you want the full hard drive size created now, and set the size to 20GB.
7. Hit Create!
This will set up your new virtual machine, but there are a few more settings to tweak. Click the name of your new entry and hit Settings.
1. Under System set Chipset to 'ICH9' under Motherboard, and if you can allocate more than one processor core do this under the Processor tab.
2. For Display, set Video Memory to at least 128MB and tick 2D and 3D acceleration (the latter won't work for now, but it will be ready when updated VirtualBox guest addition drivers are released).
3. Under Storage, click the 'Empty' CD-ROM entry and, on the right pane, click the CD-ROM icon and from the dropdown list select 'Choose a virtual CD/DVD disk file...'. Point to the Windows 8 developer preview .ISO file you downloaded.
4. While you're there, click on SATA Controller and, on the right pane, tick 'Use host I/O cache'.
5. Almost done. Click USB next and, from the icons on the right-hand side, click the top one twice. This adds two USB 'ports' that will be available to the machine.
6. Click OK and you're done! Now hit Start, and install Windows 8.
Note that by default Windows 8 will be able to access the internet through your machine but not local network resources, like shared directories. If you want to do so, open up the Settings dialog again and, under Network, change 'NAT' to 'Bridged Adapter'.
Once installed, there's one more step: installing the Guest Additions. In future, this will install an updated Windows 8 driver for accelerated video, but for the moment other drivers that can help performance can still be installed. As Guest Additions doesn't support Windows 8 yet, you need to trick it:
1. First click Desktop from the Start Screen.
2. In the VirtualBox menu click ‘Devices > Install Guest Additions’ to mount the Guest Additions image.
3. Click the Rubbish Bin on the desktop to open an Explorer window.
4. Click on the CD drive in the left pane.
5. Right-click on VBoxWindowsAdditions-x86 (or -amd64 for 64-bit Windows 8) and select Properties.
6. Under the Compatibility tab set the compatibility mode to 'Windows 7'.
7. Double-click the file to install, and don't select the 3D driver or the install will fail.