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Windows 8 Exposure Without Killing Older Windows Installs

Everybody’s curious about Windows 8. But unless you work in a test lab, or have extra PCs to burn, you may not have a spare machine lying around on which to run the latest controversial Windows OS (or the budget necessary to buy another PC for that purpose). What to do? What to do?

The parade of Windows Logos, 8 on Top!

The parade of Windows Logos, 8 on Top!

Glad you asked. There are two very good, and pretty easy options for loading Windows 8 up on a PC already running Windows 7 or Vista (XP machines may be a bit more dicey because of their probable age, and the CPU and graphics power — or lack thereof — that goes along with it):

1. Create a Virtual Machine and load Windows 8 into its own VM. You can then run this “guest OS” within your current desktop OS whatever it may happen to be (and I’ve even found lots of instructions on how to do this on a Macintosh running OS X Snow Leopard or Lion). Other popular choices include Oracle’s VirtualBox, VMware, and even Microsoft’s Virtual PC. Set up a search string that matches your chosen scenario, and you’ll find at least half-a-dozen videos or how-to’s stepping you through the install and use processes. There are some downsides to this approach: you need LOTS of memory to run Windows 8 in a VM with comfort (I wouldn’t do it on a machine with less than 8 GB of RAM, and wouldn’t allocate less than 2 GB to Win8), and you won’t get the same kind of touch experience from Windows 8 that you’d get running it natively and directly on PC hardware. But it still works nicely to give you a sense of how it looks, behaves, and runs. And you can turn it off when you don’t want to use it, or even get rid of it quickly and easily, by tossing the virtual drive on which it runs, and the virtual state and configuration files it uses. No muss, no fuss.

2. Create a dual-boot configuration and load Windows 8 into its own system/boot partition. At boot-time, you decide whether you’re running Windows 8 or something else, and everything else happens accordingly (Lifehacker has a nice “how-to” on this very subject, and you can find countless other stories on this topic as well). The upside here is a native Windows 8 experience, which can be important if you want to experience touch in all its features and manifestations, and very little stress or difficulty in performing the Windows 8 installation and post-install tweaking and clean-up (you’ll still need to do most or all of this for option 1 anyway after setting up a VM infrastructure). The downside is that you have to allocate a disk or disk partition to Windows 8, and deal with all that stuff if and when it’s time to move onto the commercial release or simply to get rid of the customer preview.

And don’t forget: if and when you decide to move to the final release of Windows 8, the Customer Preview and other beta versions must go. There’s never been an upgrade path from pre-release (beta) versions of Windows to the following commercial release so far, and I’ve seen or heard nothing from MS or its partners to suggest anything will be different this time around, either.

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