Microsoft detailed a number of changes in its Windows 8 setup experience on Monday.
Microsoft’s planning of Windows 8 involved looking closely at the setup experience on its next-generation operating system. “We wanted to hear from customers who chose not to upgrade to Windows 7 even though their PCs would run it,” explained Microsoft’s Christa St. Pierre in a blog post on Monday. The software giant commissioned a study of how people purchase their PCs to better understand why users chose not to upgrade their operating system and opted for new hardware instead. Microsoft found that many users wanted to upgrade but that the current experience was difficult.
“Hearing that some customers think it is too difficult really highlights the fact that we have many different customer needs we need to fulfill with setup,” explained St. Pierre. Microsoft is addressing the setup process with Windows 8 in several ways. The biggest change is the user experience of upgrading Windows, however Microsoft is also shifting towards web delivery methods. Microsoft plans to make Windows 8 installable from a web page. “With our web setup experience, we actually “pre-key” the setup image that is downloaded to a unique user, which means that you don’t have to type in the 25-digit product key when you install,” says St. Pierre. Microsoft has also combined its Upgrade Advisor, Setup and Windows Easy Transfer applications into one experience for Windows 8.
The first step in the upgrade experience involves Microsoft scanning a machine to determine what it can and cannot run. “It provides information on the apps and devices that will work in Windows 8, those that won’t work, and any other system information that is useful to know when determining whether or not to purchase and install Windows 8,” says St. Pierre. The compatibility data then compiles a report to check whether certain applications will work automatically or require an upgrade. The next step involves an integrated download manager that checks which version of Windows 8 is compatible with a system and the required language version.
“Once the download is complete, you are presented a choice to continue the installation, or install on another partition,” explains St. Pierre. Microsoft will allow users to simply save the install as an ISO or create a bootable USB drive for installing the operating system later. The next step will then ask a user whether they want to keep their personal data, Windows settings and apps or just personal files. Windows 8 upgrades can also opt to wipe everything and upgrade. The new “just personal files” option allows users to clean install Windows 8 but keep their personal data without a separate tool such as the Windows Easy Transfer application.
Overall the upgrade experience is vastly improved from Windows 7 upgrades. Users will only need to navigate through one end-to-end experience in 11 clicks. Microsoft claims this is an improvement of 82% fewer clicks in Windows 8 and a lot less screens and wizards to work out. “We accomplished all of this with no loss of functionality or customization,” explained St. Pierre. “We simply streamlined the existing experience.”
Microsoft has also done a lot of work on improving the speed of a Windows 8 upgrade. The underlying Windows 8 upgrade engine has been upgraded to reduce the impact on upgrade times. Microsoft has achieved this by moving entire folders instead of moving things file-by-file. In Windows 7 upgrades, Microsoft preserved files by using the upgrade process to move each file during install and then moving them back. The upgrade process uses a transport folder during the transition and Microsoft has reduced this to one folder instead of two and used hard link operations to link the actual data on disk in the transport location without having to physically move it. The result is a “significant performance gain” according to Microsoft.
“With Windows 8 setup we have greatly improved both speed and ease of use, while still retaining all of the advanced setup functionality that many customers will demand.” explained St. Pierre. “We hope that you will find these improvements to be a great way to start your experience using Windows 8.”