How to upgrade to Windows 8 Consumer Preview: an upgrade diary

Thinking of installing the Windows 8 Consumer Preview? Here's a look at the installation process

Whenever a new version of Windows comes out, I'm always ambivalent. The idea of a new OS with cool, new features sounds great. Going through the long, sometimes mystifying upgrade process doesn't. But the Windows 8 Consumer Preview seemed so compelling that I threw caution to the wind and put it on an older Dell desktop I use at work.

The good news is that the process was a little shorter than I remember from previous versions of Windows and much clearer. I was able to get the Windows 8 preview up and running on my system in less than two hours.

The bad news? There were still a few unfortunate surprises. Here's a diary of my upgrade experience.

10:08 a.m.I go to the Consumer Preview download page. There's a standard disclaimer that the preview is prerelease software and isn't guaranteed, may be updated and could lead to premature hair loss.

The initial download is small, about 5MB, since it's just an installer, not the OS itself.

10:10 a.m.The installer scans my system, then spits out a four-page compatibility report. It tells me that 12 programs "need your attention." The messages vary depending on the program. In some cases, I'm told that I should get updates. In other cases, Microsoft reports that some program features might not work. In still other cases, the report says, I'll need to reinstall the app once Windows 8 is on my machine.

Microsoft reports that 27 other programs or devices "will work." Foolishly, I interpret this to mean that they will still exist on my PC when the installation is finished, especially since the report specified that some other programs would have to be reinstalled. In fact, all those programs listed as "will work" disappeared once the installation was done. (I assume that they "will work" once I reinstall them, but I haven't gotten a chance to do that yet.)

I would have known my programs would get blown away if I'd gone to Microsoft's FAQ page. The company says that programs will survive if you're upgrading from Windows 7, but not if, like me, you're upgrading from Vista, or from XP.

10:15 a.m.The installer provides me with a product key. I dutifully copy it into Evernote, but never need it again.

10:20 a.m.The installer starts downloading the OS itself. The program gives you an ever-changing estimate of how long the download will take. For me, the estimate, for most of the download, hovered right around 10 minutes. Once I was seven minutes in and only 35 percent of the file had downloaded, I concluded the estimate wasn't worth much. In the end, the download takes about 20 minutes.

10:40 a.m.Hooray! The download's finished; time to start installing, right?!

Wrong! Now the installer is "checking the download." Back to drumming fingers on table.

10:45 a.m.Hooray! The installer is finished checking the download; time to start installing, right?!

Nope. Now it's "getting files ready."

10:52 a.m.Hooray! Now it's done "getting files ready" and asks if I want to install now, install on a different partition or install later. I choose install now, ready for the magic to begin.

"Just getting a few things ready," the installer breezily informs me. What the .... that's what you said a minute ago!

10:54 a.m.All the things that have to be gotten ready are ready. I'm shown a screen with the license agreement, then a screen that asks what I want to keep in the Consumer Preview:-- Windows Settings and personal files.-- Just personal files-- Nothing.

A linked explainer says that Windows settings include Ease of Access configuration, your desktop background and internet favorites, but it says not all settings will be kept. If I'd been upgrading from Win7, I'd have had the opportunity to keep my apps as well.

10:58 a.m.The installer checks for anything I need to do before the installation. "A few changes need to be made before Windows can continue installing," it reports. That sounds a little ominous, since it doesn't specify what changes need to be made, but I take a leap of faith and click the Restart PC button on the screen.

11:05 a.m.My PC has restarted and the installer asks: "Ready to install Windows 8 Consumer Preview?"My options are "Continue from where I left off" or "Start over from the beginning". I find myself wondering what kind of masochist would choose option 2.

11:07 a.m.Now we're starting the installation in earnest, and Microsoft is finally straight with me: "This might take a while. Your PC will restart several times before we're done."

11:27 a.m.In this case, Microsoft has practiced the art of underpromising and overdelivering. The installation actually takes just 20 minutes, pretty brief as Windows installs go, and my PC restarts only at the end of the install.

11:29 a.m.Now the PC has restarted and there's picture of a Siamese Fighting Fish (or Betta fish -- get it?) and the PC says it's preparing.

11:35 a.m.My PC restarts again.

11:38 a.m.The PC's back on, but it's still preparing.

11:40 a.m.It's applying user settings.

11:46 a.m.Now it asks me to pick a background color for my Metro UI Start Screen. There's a spectrum of colors to choose from. I move a bar along the spectrum and the background automatically changes. I choose an earthy brown.

11:48 a.m.Now I have to choose Windows settings -- mostly privacy issues. If you're in a hurry, you can choose Express Settings, but that will give Windows access to pretty much any information it wants from your system. If you choose to customize your settings, you can stop applications from sending information about your location or stop sharing of your personal data with apps, among other things.

11:54 a.m.I've made all my choices and I'm ready to dive in and start trying Windows 8.

All in all, there are more pleasant ways to spend just shy of two hours, but Microsoft seems to have made great strides in making installing their OS understandable and relatively painless.