You can’t have failed to have noticed that Microsoft is not too far away from releasing the next version of Windows. In the past, it was only hardware and software developer that got to see how unreleased versions of the operating system were going to look, but in recent years Microsoft has release public previews.
This is true of Windows 8, and the Consumer Preview is available for anyone to install. There are a number of ways you can go about this. You could install the operating system on a spare computer, or you could opt to install it alongside your current copy of Windows in a dual boot scenario. But a far easier option, particularly if you do not have a ‘spare’ computer lying around, is to install the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 in a virtual machine.
There are a number of virtualization programs to choose from, but we’re going to take a look at how to install Windows 8 in VirtualBox. If you have never used virtualization software before, it is a means by which you can run a second operating system in a virtual computer within your main copy of Windows.
Running two operating systems at the same time is obviously demanding of your computer, so if you do not have a recent machine, or your computer is low specced, you may find that you struggle, but if you have a reasonably powerful system, you should not experience any problems.
1. Download Windows 8
You’ll need to grab yourself a copy of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview which can be downloaded in ISO format from the Microsoft web site. ISO images are usual burned to CD or DVD but when working with VirtualBox this is not necessary.
There are 32- and 64-bit versions of Windows 8 available, so make sure you download the correct version for your computer. You should also make a note of the Product Key that is listed here as you will need it when it comes to installation.
2. Install VirtualBox
The download of Windows 8 may take a little while due to the size of the files involved (2.5 GB for the 32-bit version and 3.3 GB for the 64-bit version) and this is a good time to download and install VirtualBox.
Head over to the VirtualBox web site, go to the Downloads section and click the link to the Windows installer. At 89.7MB you should find that the download of this program completes well before Windows 8.
With the download complete, run through the installation in the usual way – it’s safe to just leave all of the default settings in place. VirtualBox includes its own virtual network interface and this will temporarily disconnect you from the internet while this is installed – so you may want to wait until your Windows 8 download is complete.
3. Creating a Virtual Machine
Once the installation of VirtualBox is complete, launch the program and you’re ready to start creating your virtual machine for Windows 8. Start by clicking the New toolbar button followed by Next.
Enter a name for your virtual machine and select Windows 8 from the second drop down menu before clicking Next. Use the slider that is displayed to choose how much memory to assign to the virtual copy of Windows – you should assign as much as possible, but 1 GB is the recommended minimum.
Click Next and ensure that the Start-up Disk box is tick and that the Create new hard disk option is selected before clicking Next.
Select the VDI (VirtualBox Disk Image) option, click Next, select Dynamically allocated and click Next again.
To choose where the virtual machine should be stored, click the folder icon to the right of the dialog and select a suitable folder. You can leave the size of the virtual disk at its default setting before clicking Next followed by Create.
4. Installing Windows 8
Now that the basic virtual machine has been created, it will listed in the VirtualBox Manager. You can create other virtual machine running other operating systems and they can all be accessed from here.
Double click the virtual machine that you have just created and click OK to hide the message about keyboard capture. The First Run Wizard will load, so click Next and then click the folder icon to the right of the Select Installation Media dialog.
Select the ISO file you have downloaded from Microsoft and click Open followed by Next.
Click Start and the installation of Windows 8 will begin. You may see an error message warning you that mouse pointer integration is not supported, and you can just click OK to bypass this. You can then follow the on-screen instructions to complete the installation, entering the product key from earlier when prompted to do so.
As you’re installing to an empty virtual hard drive, you can select the Custom rather than Upgrade install option.
5. Working with Windows 8
The installation of Windows 8 will take a while to complete, but it won’t be long before you’re able to get started with the new operating system – you’ll have to spend a few minutes working through the initial setup wizard.
The first time the desktop loads, you should install the extra features of VirtualBox that will enable options such as folder sharing. To do this, click the Devices menu of the program and select the Install Guest Additions option.
Click the pop up that appear to the upper right of the screen and then select the option to Run VBoxWindowsAdditions.exe. You can then run through the installation in the usual way but there will be a point at which you are asked to install device software – just click Install when prompted and then reboot the virtual machine.
Once you’ve rebooted, you can start using your virtual copy of Windows 8 just as you would your normal copy. Your internet connection is shared so you can get online to download software, but if you want to move files from your virtual to your actual computer, you may find it easier to use shared folders.
Click the Devices menu and select Shared Folders before click the + button to the right and selecting a folder, ticking the Auto-mount and Make Permanent boxes and clicking OK followed by OK. If you then open an Explorer window you can access the shared folder through Network area.
Finally, to make working with a virtual copy of Windows 8 feel a bit more natural, you can switch to full screen mode. Just hit the right hand Ctrl key and F simultaneously and you can start using your virtual operating system as though it was your main copy of Windows – hit the same keyboard shortcut to return to windowed mode.
That’s it — you’re done!