Test Driving Windows 8

While the procedure here is for a Mac, it is virtually the same for a PC. Do Mac users really want to play with Windows 8? This one does. If you are curious, I think you’ll find the process of getting Windows 8 up and running in a virtual environment very simple even if you have no experience with virtualization. 

Getting Set Up

Follow these simple steps:

1. Download VirtualBox from https://www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Downloads 

2. Download the Windows 8 Preview ISO file from http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-8/iso/ 

3. Install Virtual Box by running its installation package (simple wizard)

4. Create a new Virtual Machine in VirtulaBox by clicking the “New” button at the top left of the screen

5. When prompted for the VM name and OS Type, you can actually just type “Windows 8” as a name and VirtualBox is smart enough to automatically select Windows 8 as an OS. You can certainly tweak the settings as you go through the “Create New Virtual Machine” wizard, but accepting all defaults works just fine.

6. With the Virtual Machine created, click “Start” from the top menu and you’ll see a friendly “Frist Run Wizard” that lets you specify your start up media. Instead of selecting the host drive (as we have no DVD to provide here), click the folder icon to browse for the ISO file you downloaded from Microsoft. 

7. At this point you’ll be taken through the simple Windows 8 interactive installation process where you will enter the product key (found on the same page you downloaded your Windows ISO file). When you are prompted for what type of installation, choose “Custom: Install Windows only” and accept all default selections. 

8. You do need a Windows Live account to log into Windows 8. If you don’t have one already (which you might use for things like Xbox Live, Messenger or Hotmail) you can easily do so at https://signup.live.com  

For a video of the above steps, please visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIztOJZKGNY 


Tips for Using Windows 8 in a VM

Clearly the experience would be better with a touch interface, but seeing as how that is not possible here, below are some navigation tips to help you get around this virtual instance of Windows 8. 

There is a scrollbar across the bottom of the screen that appears when you move your mouse around the metro desktop. Scroll to the right to see those items off the screen by default.

To exit an application you may want to press the Escape key, but that won’t do it. Instead, just press the Command button. Other combinations work too, like Command-Esc or Control-Esc.

In VirtualBox Control-Esc is easiest by default because it conflicts with the default VirtualBox “host key”. The “host key” is used to explicitly release control from the VM and back to the host machine and is by default the left Command key, which happens to be the key I’d prefer to use when I want to exit an application. To change the VirtualBox default to something else, click on the VirtualBox application (not the running VM, but the main VirtualBox application window) and choose “Settings” from the “VirtualBox” menu at the top right of your Mac display. Click “Input” and press another key  (or combination of keys) that you’d like to have as the host key and click “OK” to enforce the change. Once you’ve done this you can use the left Command key to exit applications in Windows 8.

Press Option-Tab to quickly move between active applications or use Command-Tab for a more visual way to do the same

The “Desktop” tile will take you to the familiar Windows Desktop view. Only the start menu is missing and the only icons in the task bar are Internet Explorer and Windows Explorer (for browsing files).

You can rearrange tiles by clicking and holding down while you drag the tile to its preferred location

If you right-click on a tile, you’ll see an edit menu appear at the bottom of the screen that will let you unpin (remove) it from the Start Menu, make a larger or smaller sized tile or uninstall the application from the computer. You’ll also notice a small “All Apps” button on the right that takes you to a view of smaller icons for every installed application (as opposed to just those pinned to the start menu).

When you are in an application, you can use the Mac two-finger scroll gesture to scroll vertically but not horizontally. I sure wish horizontal worked for scrolling the Metro Start menu but oh well. 

The default resolution is pretty tiny.  To change it you need to do so within Windows 8.  In the last Windows 8 release, there was a “settings” tile Click the “Settings” tile, scroll to the bottom and choose “More Settings” to access the traditional Windows control panel. Here you can choose “Adjust screen resolution” under “Appearance and Personalization”. As a virtual screen you can choose what you like and it will only affect the size of the virtual machine window on your Mac. 

In the previous release, if you are working in the Windows Desktop view a lot, it was frustrating that the “Start” menu you are so used to clicking on took you out of the desktop mode and back in to Metro instead of letting you choose applications. In this latest release that has been remedied by removing the start menu so that now you exit the desktop like any other application.   

The built in applications provide a good experience, but be sure to go to the Windows Store and download some free applications like Cut The Rope, Music Maker Jam and Tweetro. The download/install process is as easy as you’d expect.  The Music Maker Jam app was a fun one, but Cut the Rope is not much fun without a touch screen (though it does work fine). 

This release of Windows 8 shows considerable progress over the previous public release, but you do need to keep in mind that this is a Preview and is not final. That said, it was surprisingly stable and I saw very few problems. The Windows 8 Preview succeeds in doing what it was designed to, showing you a promising view of what is on the way. I think you’ll find it well worth the short amount of time it takes to get it up and running so you can get your own hands on it.


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