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Windows 8 Consumer Preview: Set Up Windows 8 with the Web Installer

Windows old-timers know that Microsoft has traditionally supported two general types of Windows installations, a clean install and in-place upgrade. Over the years, the processes for doing each have been evolved, and of course the types of install media we could use have evolved too, from CD to DVD, and then to USB. Microsoft still supports these types of installs with Windows 8, of course. But now it's added an interesting new option as well, a web-based installer that should dramatically decrease the amount of time and effort it takes to install Windows 8 on a PC.


I am of course separately documenting the clean install and in-place upgrade experiences, and other installation scenarios, as well. The currently available articles in this series include:


Create Bootable Install Media

Clean Install Windows 8

Push Button Reset


Note: I've never liked or agreed with Microsoft's terms for the different types of installation it supports, but the company now calls this web-based installer its Streamlined Setup, while the traditional disk- and USB-based Setup formats are now called Advanced Setup. So I'll just keep calling this what it is: The Windows 8 web-based installer.


According to Microsoft, the web-based installer is a new experience, optimized for ease-of-use, upgrades, and web delivery via download. It's designed for general end users, not businesses that needed advanced Setup functionality such as unattended installation, and it addresses changes in the ways in which users acquire software. No longer is a trip to Best Buy required, or the purchase of a boxed, retail copy of Windows. With the web-based installer, you can acquire Windows 8 the way you acquire other software: Online.


(Yes, Luddites can still buy Windows 8 the old fashioned way.)


In the Windows 8 Consumer Preview we can experience the web-based installer for the first time. And it's quite interesting, combining the previously separate Upgrade Advisor, Setup, and Windows Easy Transfer features into a single Setup experience, for a more seamless and complete experience.


Here's how it works.


On the PC on which you wish to install the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, navigate to Microsoft's Windows 8 Consumer Preview site and click Get It Now.


On the Download Windows 8 Consumer Preview page, enter your email address and choose your country. Then, click Download Windows 8 Consumer Preview. This will trigger the download of a small, 5 MB executable that initiates Windows 8 Setup. Run this, or save and then run.


After a surprisingly lengthy splash graphic, the installer appears, running the updated version of what used to be a separate tool, the Upgrade Advisor. This part of the Setup process polls your software applications and hardware devices to see whether everything is compatible with Windows 8.




When it's done, it will provide you with a quick summary of what will work and what won't. What you'll see here will vary from PC to PC, of course. On this machine, a very heavily used Windows install presents a few issues.




Click "See the compatibility report" to find out more about the problems. In this case, it's a very valuable suggestion--I need to deauthorize iTunes--and two compatibility issues, neither serious. (The Windows Phone emulator for Visual Studio can be fixed with a hot-fix, and I need an updated driver for a printer.)


Note that this process isn't perfect: I also happen to need to deauthorize Adobe Photoshop, which isn't mentioned here. As always, you should make sure you've backed up as needed and thoroughly gone through a system before wiping it out and/or upgrading.




Close the Compatibility report and click Next.


Next, Setup says it's ready to download Windows and notes that a Product key has been pre-applied. Believe it or not, this will also be a feature of web installer in the final version of Windows 8: According to Microsoft, the web installer actually "pre-keys" the Setup image that is downloaded to each user, meaning you won't have to type in a 25-digit product key anymore.




Click Next again.


Now, Setup downloads Windows. This could take a few hours, depending on your connection, but will probably take quite a bit less, at least after the Consumer Preview hysteria dies down. As the window notes, you can continue using Windows while this happens.




Once the Windows 8 install files are downloaded, Setup will "get files ready" and then prompt you to continue the install, install on another partition, or install later. That middle option is a cleverly disguised way to trigger a process whereby you can install the Setup files to a DVD or USB memory device, similar to the process utilized by the  Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool  and documented in my article, Windows 8 Consumer Preview: Create Bootable Install Media. The point here is that this more advanced type of Setup will require you to run Setup interactively, using what I call a clean install or in-place upgrade.




As mentioned previously, those traditional install types are documented elsewhere. What we're focused on in this article is the unique functionality of the web-based installer. So choose Install now and then click Next.


After a check for updates prompt (that I recommend skipping), and an End User License Agreement (EULA) screen, you'll be asked what you'd like to keep. If you're running Setup from Windows 7, the available choices include "Windows settings, personal files, and more," "just personal files," and "Nothing." This part of Setup is comprised of technologies that were previously available in the separate Windows Easy Transfer utility. Choose the first if you want to retain (compatible) applications, your personal documents and other data files, and most customizations, and perform what I call an in-place upgrade. Choose the last option if you want to wipe the whole thing out and perform what is essentially a clean install.


(Note that your available choices will vary depending on which version of Windows you're currently using. Windows 7 users get the full list, of course, but Windows Vista users can only choose to carry along Windows settings and user account information and files. Windows XP users can only upgrade user account information and files. Windows 8 Developer Preview users? Personal files or nothing.)




Choose carefully, and accordingly, and click Next.


Next, Setup will examine the issues it just pointed out to you and determine whether you need to do anything before proceeding. A typical example is Microsoft Security Essentials, which will need to be uninstalled before Setup can continue. (MSE functionality is included in the new Windows Defender, part of Windows 8.)




After this process is complete, Setup may need to restart the PC, depending on which types of tasks it's asked you to complete. If so, Setup will resume immediately and automatically after the reboot, and it will prompt you to continue the process or start over from the beginning. (Choose the former.)


Next, Setup should communicate that it's ready to install. It will verify the settings you previously chose.




Click Install to continue. Windows 8 will install onto the PC and, if necessary, your Windows settings, personal files, and other files will be copied back into the install.




The rest of the process is the same as with the clean install I documented in

Clean Install Windows 8, but with one exception: Because Windows 7 only provide a local account type, you'll be asked to sign in and then set up your Microsoft account as your default logon instead. As with the clean install, you can opt out of this, of course. But I don't recommend doing so: So much of Windows 8 works better if you can sync with the SkyDrive cloud, a major advantage of this type of logon.


When you're done, you'll logon to your new Windows 8 Start screen.



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