Windows 8 Release Preview: How to download and install it

Microsoft offers a choice of a straight ISO file or a setup assistant that can tell you if your current environment is compatible with the new OS.

Microsoft offers two options for downloading and installing the Windows 8 Release Preview.
Microsoft offers two options for downloading and installing the Windows 8 Release Preview. Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Those of you who want to try out the new Windows 8 Release Preview can install it from an ISO file or run a full setup that guides you through the upgrade process.

If you want to skip to the chase and just download the ISO file, you can find it at Microsoft's own site or through CNET's Download.com.

Microsoft provides both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 8 RP across a variety of languages. After you download the ISO file, you can burn it onto a DVD using the Windows Disc Image Burner in Windows 7 or the Windows 7 USB/DVD download tool if you're using Windows Vista or XP. The Windows 7 USB/DVD tool also lets you install the ISO file to a USB stick.

Alternatively, if you want to install Windows 8 as a virtual machine in a VM utility such as Oracle VirtualBox or VMWare Player, you can set it up directly from the ISO file. I described the process for installing Windows 8 virtually in a previous post.

But if you want to make sure your current environment can handle Windows 8, you may want to download a setup file that includes Microsoft's Upgrade Assistant. This tool can scan your current OS and applications to make sure they're Windows 8-ready and choose the correct version of the Release Preview.

Download and run the Windows8-ReleasePreview-UpgradeAssistant.exe from Microsoft's Web site. The tool will first check to see which applications and hardware devices are compatible with Windows 8 and display a report on its findings.

The process than shows you the product key needed to install the Windows 8 Release Preview before downloading the OS itself.

After Windows 8 has been downloaded via the Upgrade Assistant, Microsoft displays a screen offering you three choices: 1) Install now, which will upgrade your current OS to the Windows 8 RP; 2) Install by creating media, which will create an ISO file; or 3) Install later from your desktop, which will create a shortcut on your desktop to install the OS.

If you want to upgrade your current OS to the Release Preview, choose options 1 or 3. Otherwise, to create media that you can install anywhere, choose option 2.

The ability to install Windows 8 directly from the Web and receive helpful assistance is new with the Release Preview.

It's also something slated to pop up in the final version of Windows 8. In the past, Microsoft provided the Upgrade Assistant as a separate tool that you'd have to run manually before installing a new OS.

Bundling the assistance into the installation process itself is a smart move and one that should make it easier for users who wish to upgrade to or install Windows 8.

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