Four months ago, I resolved to run Windows 8 as my primary desktop. My reasons for doing so were sound enough--I am after all writing the definitive book about this operating system, to be called Windows 8 Secrets--and need to be as fully immersed in it as possible. But as I recounted over subsequent articles in this series, using the Developer Preview was a fairly lackluster experience because of its incomplete user experience and lack of quality Metro-style apps. So I've been waiting, and waiting and waiting, for the next milestone, the Consumer Preview. And with its release last week, I've now fully moved over to this new version of Windows 8, on all of my machines.
Migrating the various laptops I use, both for actual work and for testing, was fairly straightforward. I employed a number of techniques to do so, since some were on Windows 7 and some were on the Developer Preview, and I wanted to test and document the various ways in which this could happen. But the tricky one, the one I sweated over the most, of course, was my primary desktop, the PC I use day in and day out for real work. That one. Well, that one took some time.
You'd think with all the writing I've done about the Windows 8 Consumer Preview over the past 10 days or so that I might have upgraded my primary desktop to this milestone release some time ago, perhaps even early on. But that's not the case at all. In fact, my desktop PC was the very last machine I updated, and I continued to get work done on this machine throughout last week using the Developer Preview that had been on there since early November.
With all of the heavy writing done, I finally turned my attention to this machine. Upgrading a PC is fraught with potential disasters, from data loss to forgotten application de-authorizations, and I've tried to fine-tune this process over the years so that I don't forget anything. I've done things like blow away a Windows partition complete with an Outlook PST full of emails I'll never get back, forgotten to deauthorize applications like iTunes, Audible, Acrobat, and Photoshop. If there's a mistake to be had, I've done it.
Given the popularity of my "What I Use" series, then, I figured it might make sense to lightly document the process I used to blow away my most heavily used system and bring it back up with the Consumer Preview.
First, a bit about the machine. My daily use desktop is a years-old Dell Optiplex tower with a curious Core 2 Quad processor, 8 GB of RAM, a 27-inch Planar display running at 1920 x 1080, and two storage devices, a 128 GB SSD and a 2 TB hard drive for data. With the Developer Preview, I had installed the OS and all the apps to the SSD (C: drive). And all the data was on the hard drive (D:). But I didn't move the user profile around at all. Instead, I simply used the Libraries feature in Windows to point the four main libraries to locations on D:. For example, my Pictures library pointed only to D:\Pictures.
Now, some apps don't respect this scheme of course. So I had to make a full manual changes, such as telling iTunes to point its library to D:\Music\iTunes instead of the default location. And I had to configure Windows Live Photo Gallery to import photos to D:\Pictures, not the default location on C:\. Likewise, the folders I sync through Live Mesh are all within the D: drive.
Preparing for the reinstall, I created a new folder on the D:\ drive called _From DP and moved each of the available folders--Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos--into that folder. I uninstalled a few apps--Mesh/Live Essentials, Office, and a few others--and ensured that all the relevant applications--iTunes, Photoshop--were deauthorized. Then I manually navigated through the various user folders on the C:\ drive, just in case I had inadvertently saved something important in there. (Downloads is a good place to check, too, for whatever that's worth.) Remember that some applications--Outlook, Chrome--put things in odd places.
With that done, I shut down the Developer Preview for the last time, inserted the USB Setup media I had created, and rebooted, using the PC's F12-based boot menu to boot from USB. Setup took about 10 minutes door to door, according to my notes, and logging into my Microsoft ID for the first time, I was confronted by a six tile high Start screen in which all of the tiles were squished up against the left side of the screen.
(By the way, this should really be more configurable, with tile size choices--Small, Medium, and Large--the ability to change any tile to the color of your choice, and the ability to determine how many rows of tiles to display.)
A little Start screen grouping later, and I arrived at the beginnings of the type of organization I've been using across my Consumer Preview computers.
Note that you can use semantic zoom to name these groups, and move them around as needed. This is very easy with a touch screen--you just pinch the Start screen to enter this mode--but with a mouse- and keyboard-based PC, you can make this happen by clicking the weird little button you'll see in the lower right corner of the Start screen:
After that, there's a configuration and installation phase that works much as it did on Windows 7, with some Windows 8-based exceptions. First, I walk through the new PC Settings (formerly the Metro version of Control Panel), ensuring that everything is configured the way I want it. I run Windows Update, installing and rebooting as necessary, and then check Device Manager to ensure that it's clean. In the case of my desktop PC, there are two Intel chipset management software-related updates I need to install, and I have these ready to go on my home server, so that was taken care of pretty quickly.
Because this is Windows 8 and I'll be working from the desktop a lot, I have to make a handful of changes I wouldn't normally make in Windows 7. These include adding the Computer, Network, and Control Panel icons to the desktop and pinning a few applications--Paint, Notepad--to the taskbar that I previously just accessed through the Start menu's Most Recently Used list.
Once this was all done, it was time to start installing. I usually start with Microsoft Security Essentials, but that's part of Windows Defender in Windows 8, so I began with Windows Live Essentials, which is, yes, still a very essential part of Windows 8, given the lack of capabilities in the Consumer Preview App Previews. I install Messenger, Mesh, and Photo Gallery/Movie Maker.
Once that's done, I get Mesh going, syncing the folders that I replicate between PCs. You may recall that I had moved the original synced folders as part of my reinstall (to D:\From DP). But rather than copy the files back, I let them sync over the network from my other PCs, since I had set them up previously with Live Mesh and I wanted to make sure this was working properly. (It was.)
With Mesh syncing my Docs, Work, Favorites, and Windows 8 Secrets folders, I turned to my core applications. I have a folder in my Software share on the home server called Always Install Apps that contains many of these frequently used applications. These include Microsoft Office 2010 with SP1, Adobe Photoshop Elements 10, and several others. As is always the case with a new Windows install, I tend to install only the most-needed applications first and then install others as needed. Some--iTunes, Adobe Reader, and the like--I install from the web to ensure I'm getting the latest version.
Man, is there anything better than a brand new, clean, and perfectly working Windows PC? I don't think so. It's like getting a new car.
Rebooting as necessary, it probably took me about two hours to go from a dead hunk of plastic and metal to a fully-functioning PC. But the work wasn't quite done yet.
I installed and configured the various applications, as required. Apple iTunes, again, needed to be pointed at the right location on D:\, for example. Once this was all done, I started moving content out of that D:\From DP folder and into the correct locations, making sure that the apps that use the content (music, TV shows and movies in iTunes, for example) were properly configured to "see" it when necessary. With iTunes, things are a lot easier now since you can use iTunes Match to re-populate playlists and other things, so I set that loose to do its thing and got to work.
I use Microsoft OneNote fairly exhaustively, so I navigated to Microsoft SkyDrive from IE and opened each of my several web-based notebooks in OneNote, letting everything sync to the PC. I pinned various applications--Word, OneNote, Chrome, Photoshop, and so on--to the taskbar, and also some web apps like Hotmail and my Penton email account.
There is also the matter of file associations. Many basic file types--images, videos, PDF files--open in new Metro-style apps, and generally speaking I want to override that. This has to happen on a case by case basis, so I address these changes as they come up.
And that's most of it.
One thing I've been experimenting with is pinning web sites to the Start screen. You do this from IE 10 Metro, not IE 10 desktop, and when you do so, you get an interesting new menu (in IE 10 Metro) for those web apps that support this. Some I know of included the New York Times, Hotmail, and SkyDrive.
Likewise, you're going to want to clean up the Start screen after all your application installs are doing: Microsoft pins every single application that's usually placed in the Start menu on this screen and in some cases--Visual Studio, Office, etc.--you'll see a bunch of crud you'll want to delete. This is easy enough in the Consumer Preview: You can right-click a tile to select it and then click the Unpin button in the App Bar. But you can also multi-select tiles and delete them all at once: Just right-click each tile and then click Unpin once.
When you're done, the Start screen--and the desktop--should be configured exactly as you want it. And then you can get to work. Which is exactly what I intend to do. But I'll have a lot more to say about actually using the Windows 8 Consumer Preview in the days ahead. That, after all, is the point of this series of articles.