Microsoft reveals its online upgrade experience for Windows 8

By Tom Warren, on 21st Nov 11 8:24 pm with 25 Comments

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.

Windows 8 upgrade report

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.”

Windows 8 online download

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.”

  • George Sabourin

    Dear Microsoft, just take my money and give me Windows 8!

    • lambomann007

      *starts throwing money at screen*

    • Anonymous

       I’m ready to set up a direct transfer to MSFT if I would get all the extra goodies!

    • Anonymous

      You may want your money back when you have to use the Ribbon UI in Windows Explorer. At least this is how I felt using the Developer Preview.

      They really made some bad decisions with Windows 8, they try to fix things, that aren’t broken (Start menu), and they don’t fix things that should be improved after 10 years (old Control Panel dialog windows).

    • Emi Cyberschreiber

      Metro UI works nice, Search works better, ribbon works normal… BUT i can/do minimize it and then use quick access toolbar to create folders since im lazy to use my keyboard for that. and then of course use my mouse and keyboard like i do in win7 explorer.

      do you think George havent used Dev Preview? or he doesn’t know about ribbon on explorer like if it was a top secret?
      there will be alot of improvements since its a PREVIEW release. but he likes it, he wants it, and he will buy it… if you dont like it, too bad for you. none will force you to. but dont feel like everyone else wont like it just because YOU dont.

    • Anonymous

      What? I never said all this. I said he “may” not like it after heavy using. It is good that u are happy about how the Preview works. But for me I really don’t like that the search is now separating apps, files and settings and that you have to move the mouse all over the screen for basic things and that the recently used apps aren’t showing up in the new Start screen like they did on the Start menu. Good luck to find that app u recently installed. And apps u don’t use regularly u have to search for them every time, until you pin them to Start, and most likely you may pin every app to the Start screen which will make it become a mess. And what about Jump Lists for apps on Start screen? You don’t miss them? Ok. But I do. And I also miss a search and shut down button right on the Start screen.

      As for the Ribbon: You have a button “New Folder” now in Windows 7. In Win8 you can put small buttons inside the Quick access area. But the cool thing now is that the interface adopts automatically and displays only the things that make sense with large buttons. And the Ribbon has a lot of unused space and unnecessary more clicks, smaller hit targets, displays major and very minor features on the same tabs and much more.

      And let me explain why the Metro UI didn’t worked for me with a simple example: You are using an RSS reader in Metro land, click on an article, Google Chrome is my default browser so the desktop starts up, Chrome starts up. After closing Chrome you are “lost” on an empty desktop and you have to go back to Metro land.

      Yeah, that’s only my personal opinion (that should be clear). But at least I try to argument.

    • wanorris


      > And let me explain why the Metro UI didn’t worked for me with a simple example: You are using an RSS reader in Metro land, click on an article, Google Chrome is my default browser so the desktop starts up, Chrome starts up. After closing Chrome you are “lost” on an empty desktop and you have to go back to Metro land.

      This is broken, but that’s why it’s a preview. They still have time to iron this out, and hopefully they will. It may simply be a matter of getting more apps with dual desktop/metro mode support that will stay native in whichever mode you’re using.

    • wanorris

      Are you somehow unaware of just how broken the Start Menu is? It’s a jumbled mess of things, and anyone who’s not a power user or tech guru is afraid to go in there and get lost in all the crufty little bits that have accumulated there over the years.

      Personally, I didn’t really realize how bad it was until a few years back when I used Ubuntu as my primary system for a while. The OS menu system was so much radically easier to use that it made me wish the current Windows start menu with all its ridiculous groups full of garbage could just get sploded and rebooted from scratch. I don’t mean that in an overall Ubuntu > Windows way — there are many things I really like about Windows. But the Start Menu is just plain b0rked.

      The first cut at the start screen probably rocked usability tests for casual users who didn’t understand the previous start menu, but it didn’t have the ability to provide the rapid accessibility and information density that the rest of us want to see. If they listen to all the complaints and build in some proper power user features, I think most people will find that it’s a net win.

      Not everyone will be happy, of course. Some people still hate the Office Ribbon. Some people just oppose change in general. But overall, the Win 8 start screen has the potential to be a real step forward in desktop usability, and not just a new user/tablet screen jammed in the middle of a desktop OS.

    • Anonymous

      I wasn’t talking about the Office Ribbon but the Ribbon in Windows Explorer. Two very different programs. While I really love the Ribbon in Office, I hate it in Explorer. The more I use it, the more it feels just wrong. It was designed for complex software where you spent some time at editing documents in different scenarios (write > insert > layout …)

  • doctorwhofan98

    I can’t wait to get Windows 8… My friends and family say it’s going to be rubbish, but I know it’s just going to be the best Windows yet. :-D

    • Anonymous

       Don’t listen to your “friends and alleged family”. Just tell them to pound sand and buy 4-5 copies of Windows 8. Steve Ballmer will thank you.

    • Anonymous

      I have a co worker that keeps saying that too and that it will seel as poorly as windows phone. I took him on a bet that 1 year after win8 tablets hit the market, they would have matched android’s tablet martketshare. the price: dinner for the winner. Oh I’m so going to enjoy this.

  • Guest

    Overall good improvements. But on the video, why doesn’t it just give you an option to automatically create the auto-answer file? I mean seriously. Which is better, automating it or having buyers manually edit a file where they make a mistake and then have an aborted install?

    • GP007

      I don’t think the auto file is for normal common user use. This is generally used by IT on lots of work PCs. I really doubt MS expects normal home users to edit a file like that.

    • Anonymous

      I have never seen that file before.  Is that new with Windows 8?  Would be cool if you could automate 3rd party installations and Windows Update to take place right after.  Completely automated installation would change my life!

  • Anonymous

    Funny that VirtualCloneDrive is marked as incompatible since Windows 8 won’t need it anyways with built in ISO mounting.  Love VirtualClone but am glad I won’t need to download it anymore.

    • Guest

      Yeah, one less thing to add.

  • Michel Laliberte

    While at it, what about offering the option to setup user AND it’s DATA on a drive OTHER than the  “C” ? Thus making it so easy to restore or the system or the DATA or BOTH.

    Am I the only one to be in need of such an “much needed” option ?

    • Anonymous

      I certainly need it. I use an ssd for the c drive and I don’t want it loaded user data and libraries. I was able to manually change it to another drive, but the process wasn’t simple.

  • Emi Cyberschreiber

    really nice! windows 8 is looking better and better.

    i cant wait for beta :)

  • Anonymous

    Well but the copying of the Product key to the .xml document ?
    Thats too geeky for so many people out there
    It defeats the purpose of this

    • Anonymous

      You can just write it down and key in the product key during the intallation. Besides, installing a new Windows is also too geeky for many people. :)

  • Zeigen

    I think they are going the correct way. Almost every member of my family had asked me to update/upgrade their pc’s. If they do the update process easier much more people will be enough confident to do it by themselves = more money. The only thing remaining is the price. The las OS of apple was… 29 bucks? 

    • iamwhoiam

      “The only thing remaining is the price. The last OS of apple was… 29 bucks?”
      Sure, but you aren’t forced to buy a computer from MS to use their OS.

    • Anonymous

      i think thats because the apple 29 bucks upgrade wasnt really a new OS. it was just a few tweaks and a few additions, the kind of thing microsoft sends as free updates and patches.
      Windows 8 is more or less a brand new OS and not just a tweak. so i doubt you’ll be seeing a 29 bucks windows OS anytime soon.