Microsoft is promising that the process of upgrading PCs to Windows 8 will be more streamlined and will require a fraction of the time to install than earlier releases of the PC operating system.
Microsoft also plans to offer Windows 8 as an online purchase and download, according to a company blog – a change from the vendor's previous practice of selling Windows mostly in boxed DVDs.
"For Windows 8, our goal was to continue to improve reliability while also improving the installation experience and raw performance. Not only did we want it to be rock solid, but also faster and easier to use," wrote Christa St. Pierre, a member of the Windows 8 setup and deployment team, in the Building Windows 8 blog.
Microsoft has not disclosed a target date for delivering Windows 8, but it's generally expected to be released sometime in 2012. In September Microsoft offered a developer preview version of the operating system at its Microsoft Build conference.
Through customer surveys Microsoft has "received notable feedback that upgrading the PC was perceived as difficult," St. Pierre wrote in the blog. That held back some customers from upgrading to Windows 7 even though their PCs were capable of running the software.
There are 450 million PCs worldwide currently running Windows 7 – not to mention others running Windows XP and Vista – that can be upgraded to Windows 8 once it's available. So Microsoft is determined to make that process as easy as possible.
"With Windows 8 setup we have greatly improved both speed and ease of use, while still retaining all of the advanced setup functionality that many customers will demand," St. Pierre wrote. "We have integrated what was once many separate steps for people to perform when preparing and starting their setup into a streamlined user experience, with a fast and reliable setup engine under the hood."
Microsoft also has tried to accommodate the needs of two distinct types of users, according to St. Pierre's blog: People who want an easy way to upgrade to the new release with an absolute bare minimum of hassle; and people who want to do a clean install and want more control of setup options, disk layout, and partition configuration.
NEXT: Comparing Windows 7 and 8 Installation Times
In the lengthy blog post, St. Pierre details the numerous steps Microsoft has taken to simplify Windows 8 installation. In Windows 8, for example, customers "do not have to install a separate download manager, mount the ISO to begin the installation, check the hash of the file for verification post-download, manually clean up unneeded files, or restart a download from the beginning should connectivity be interrupted. Setup takes care of all of these steps automatically, providing a fast, resilient, and easy setup experience," according to St. Pierre.
In addition to the Windows Automated Installation Kit Microsoft provided for installing Windows 7, for Windows 8 the vendor is offering additional tools with the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit that can be downloaded by subscribers to the Microsoft Developer's Network (MSDN).
Installing Windows 7 required using four different Web and client wizards and clicking through as many as 60 different screens to complete, according to St. Pierre's blog. With Windows 8 that "can now be accomplished in one end-to-end experience and as few as 11 clicks, an improvement of 82% fewer clicks in Windows 8."
The blog included a chart comparing installation times for Windows 7 and 8. A simple "clean install" of Windows 8 takes only 21minutes compared to 32 for Windows 7, according to the graphic. A "medium upgrade" with 213,000 files and 77 apps take 42 minutes for Windows 8 versus 131 minutes for Windows 7. And a "heavy upgrade" (430,000 files and 90 apps) requires 46 minutes for Windows 8 versus 188 minutes for Windows 7, the blog said.
While Microsoft will continue to offer boxed sets of DVDs when Windows 8 is shipped, "buying boxed software is quickly becoming the exception rather than the rule, with more and more software being purchased online as broadband penetration increases and large-size media downloads become more common," St. Pierre wrote. So with Windows 8 there will be a greater emphasis on purchasing and installing the software online.
"Customers who choose to install Windows from an online source will have a greatly improved experience over what we’ve delivered in the past, with smaller and faster downloads, as well as increased resiliency and control," St. Pierre wrote.