by Bill Snyder

Windows 8 Installs: The Fastest and Easiest Ever?

Nov 23, 20114 mins
Small and Medium BusinessWindows

Installing or upgrading Windows is worse than a root canal, admits Microsoft. Will the software giant really make Windows 8 a no-brainer?rnrn

Microsoft isn’t known as a company that likes to admit its mistakes. So it was refreshing to read a blog post that finally acknowledged what millions of PC users and IT hands already know: Installing or upgrading to a new version of Windows is so painful that many of us would prefer to undergo a root canal, or at the very least stick with a 10-year-old copy of Windows XP rather than take the plunge.

OK. I’m exaggerating. Microsoft didn’t actually say that Windows installs are worse than a root canal. But Christa St. Pierre of the Windows 8 setup and deployment team did write this on an official Microsoft blog on Monday: “So even though many customers wanted to upgrade, the current setup experience might be something that just wasn’t easy enough to make them feel confident in doing so.”

Not easy? Now there’s an understatement. Some unfortunate users who migrated from Vista to Windows 7 found that it took a mind-numbing 20 hours to complete.

The good news here is that Microsoft has revamped the install process we’ll have to cope with when Windows 8 hits the market sometime in the second half of 2012. Users with a moderately heavy load of 77 applications and 213,000 files will be able to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8 in just 42 minutes, versus the move from Vista to Windows 7’s which took an average of two hours and 11 minutes. I don’t mean to be cynical, but do remember that I’m merely reporting what Microsoft says, with no way to verify the accuracy of that statement.

A clean install, that is to a hard drive that has been wiped clean of all files and data, will take about 21 minutes, St. Pierre wrote. That’s about two-thirds of the time it takes to install Windows 7.

Looked at another way, upgrading from Vista to Windows 7 entailed using four different wizards and up to 60 screens, while moving to Windows 8 “can now be accomplished in one end-to-end experience and as few as 11 clicks,” she wrote. Again note the qualifier “as few as,” which means it could take quite a few more clicks, depending on the specifics of the system being upgraded.

St. Pierre also said that the pain of the upgrade will vary depending on which version of Windows the user starts with. Moving from Windows 7 to Windows 8 will be relatively easy, since you’ll be able to transfer applications, Windows settings and data files. But those who move from the older Vista or XP will have to reinstall their applications from install DVDs or the Internet.

Another bit of good news is this: Microsoft hasn’t raised the hardware bar very much. St. Pierre says that PCs capable of running Windows 7 will be able to handle Windows 8, as will many Vista- and even some XP-era machines.

Obviously, if you buy a new PC with Windows 8 installed, you won’t have to upgrade, but you’ll probably want to move stuff from the old PC to the new. The blog post doesn’t offer much information on that process.

St. Pierre says that Windows 8 is designed to be downloaded. Even so, you’ll still be able to buy it on a DVD.  A downloadable Windows is a mixed blessing since it’s a lot of bits to move down the pipe, although Microsoft has optimized the download process to make it easier.  However if your hard drive croaks at some point, you’ll probably have to start all over again  — and you’d better hope that you’ve saved the registration key somewhere else (on a USB drive, for instance) or made a restore disk. If you haven’t, you could have a real problem.

Overall, it looks like Microsoft has done the right thing and listened to long-standing user complaints — assuming the process works as advertised, of course.  Now if only we get to see some price cuts.