Interested in testing the Windows Technical Preview? No problem: Microsoft is making this important milestone build of the next version of Windows available to anyone who wants it. Here are the first steps for getting started with the Windows Technical Preview.
Before you start
You need to fully update your PC if you intend to upgrade to the Windows Technical Preview. (If you're doing a clean install or dual-booting, or whatever, you don't need to worry about this.) So head into Windows Update and get updating. Reboot as necessary. Check Windows Update again, and do so until it tells you there is nothing left to install.
From a driver perspective, you should be all set. The Windows Technical Preview should be compatible with virtually any driver that works in Windows 8.1. This makes sense, since the Windows Technical Preview is really Windows 8.2.
But the most obvious bit of advice here, of course, is: Back up first, and create a recovery disk. In Windows 7, you will use Windows Backup for both. In Windows 8.x, you may need a third party utility, though that Windows 7 backup is there too. (Search for File History and then click "System Image Backup" in the lower-left corner of the File History control panel.) Search for "recovery drive" to create a recovery drive.
How to get started
To install the Windows Technical Preview, you need to join the Windows Insider Program. So head on over to the Windows Insider Program web site and click the Get Started button.
In the next page, you'll be prompted to "Join now." You will need to do so to get the download, and Microsoft expects testers to provide feedback when possible. (Contrary to reports, no, there is no keylogger in the Windows Technical Preview which watches your every move.) So you will need to sign in with your Microsoft account. When you do, you're added to the Windows Insider Program and prompted to download the build. (Click here to get the Windows Technical Preview.)
What that means is that you'll be installing one or more ISO files. You can choose between 64-bit and 32-bit versions in your choice of languages. If you're not sure which one to get, you can see which version you're currently using in the System control panel: It will say "64-bit Operating System, x64-based processor" for 64-bit and "32-bit Operating System" otherwise. You will need the same type of OS version, especially if you're upgrading.
The file you're downloading—which is 3-4 GB in size, so be ready for that—is an ISO file. You can use the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool to convert this file into a USB- or DVD-based Setup disk. But if you're installing to a VM or in Boot Camp on a Mac (see below), you'll need that ISO file instead. (Boot Camp will convert the file into a compatible USB-based Setup disk for you.)
Should you install the Windows Technical Preview?
I've installed this build on a wide number of diverse PC types already and have experienced no major issues whatsoever. Indeed, I have found the transition from Windows 8.1—which I'd been using exclusively before the preview to be seamless. That said, I always operate under a very simple principle when it comes to folks asking me if any prerelease software is stable enough for them to use. And it goes like this:
If you have to ask, no, you should not install the Windows Technical Preview.
Choosing which Windows Technical Preview version
Microsoft is offering two versions of the Windows Technical Preview: the "normal" version, for PC experts and IT pros, and the enterprise version. The former maps to Windows 8.1 Pro, while the latter is obviously a new version of Windows 8.1 Enterprise. So how do you choose?
Most people will want the normal ("Pro") version of the Windows Technical Preview, since it provides a feature set that maps very closely to mainstream versions of Windows 7 and 8.x. And most people who need the Enterprise version already know that. But to see a list of the differences, check out Microsoft's Compare Windows 8.1 Editions page. There, you will see that the Enterprise version of Windows includes features such as AppLocker, BranchCache, DirectAccess, Start screen control, Windows To Go Creator. These are not available in Pro, but they also require a very current Windows Server infrastructure.
Choosing an install type
You can install the Windows Technical Preview in a variety of ways. Some of the more common install types include:
Upgrade. You can perform an in-place upgrade from Windows 7 or Windows 8.x. Check out Windows Technical Preview Install Guide: Upgrade from Windows 7 or Windows 8 for more information.
Clean install. You can clean install Windows Technical Preview, wiping out whatever OS is currently on that PC.
Dual-boot. You can dual-boot (really, multi-boot) the Windows Technical Preview with any previous version of Windows on the same PC.
Mac Boot Camp. Yes, the Windows Technical Preview works just as well as Windows 8.1 in Apple's Boot Camp on modern Macs. (This is of course a form of dual boot.)
Virtual machine. Using a virtualization solution like Hyper-V, VirtualBox, Parallels or whatever, you can install the Windows Technical Preview in a virtual machine and run it "under" the host OS on Windows or Mac.
I'll be writing about each of these install types in the near future.
How long will it last?
The Windows Technical Preview will work through April 15, 2015, a date that is fully 6 months away at the time of this writing. This means that you get a fully-working, stable version of Windows for free for six months if you want it. But it also means that it will expire.
My guess is that future consumer- and developer-oriented milestones of Windows 10 will extend this stay-fresh date out even further and that Windows Technical Preview users will be able to upgrade to those builds and thus extend their usage of this free Windows. But whatever. Six months is six months.
No longer interested?
If this isn't for you, you can always leave the Windows Insider Program. Microsoft won't think any less of you, though I might. But I kid.