The Windows 8 Developer Preview is just that: a preview of what the OS is expected to look and feel like once development is complete. While we may be months, or even a year away from seeing the release version of Windows 8, you can take advantage of this program for a quick glimpse of what’s ahead.
For users who switched away (and stayed away) through Windows Vista and Windows 7, Windows 8 marks one of the most significant user interface (UI) changes since Windows 3.11 gave way to Windows 95. The Start menu is entirely different, and the UI is geared towards a blend between traditional and touch-based applications.
To start: Windows 8 Developer Preview is not intended to be used as a primary operating system. It’s a pre-beta look at the interface as it is being worked on at the present moment. The intention of the release is to give developers a preview of the OS so that they may begin working on programs that fit the platform. As long as you don’t expect a smooth and flawless experience, the Windows 8 Developer Preview is a great platform for catching a glimpse of the next big thing from Microsoft.
Still, I decided to give Windows 8 a try.
Here are a few methods you can use to get Windows 8 Developer Preview running on an Intel-based Mac.
How to Get the Windows 8 Developer Preview
Microsoft has made the developer preview available for download in .ISO format. This download is available on Windows Dev Center in 32-bit and 64-bit with or without developer tools.
Once the .ISO is downloaded, you can use it to install Windows 8 directly to Parallels (full details below) or burn the image directly to a DVD or flash drive to install using Bootcamp or cleanly to a non-Apple PC.
To burn the .ISO to a DVD on OS X, here’s what you need to do:
- Insert a blank (writable) DVD into the drive.
- Open Disk Utility in the Utilities Folder within Applications.
- Click and drag the Windows 8 Developer Preview to the sidebar within Disk Utility.
- Right-click the ISO in Disk Utility.
- Choose the option to burn the ISO to DVD.
- Follow the prompts and let it roll until it spits the DVD out.
Boot Camp is Apple’s built-in method for running Windows on the Mac. It operates much like a dual-boot, creating and managing a virtual partition that you can use to run Windows 7 or even Windows 8 Developer Preview without losing your ability to enjoy OS X. If you decide you want to stick with using OS X and only OS X, you can easily remove the partition and regain the hard drive space later on.
Personally, I recommend Boot Camp over any other option listed in this article. This is due, in part, to the fact that virtual machine programs made for the Mac are optimized for Windows XP, Vista, and 7 and aren’t yet ready to integrate some of the new features of Windows 8. If you want to experience Windows 8 the way its meant to be experienced, Boot Camp is your best bet for the Mac.
Lamarr Wilson, the host of the WilsonTech1 channel on YouTube, echoed this sentiment during a video he did while trying out the developer preview on his iMac. We decided to catch up with him to see how his experience with Windows 8 Developer Preview went, “The install was completely seamless. I didn’t have to install any extra drivers, hunt for anything, etc. It just installed. The experience was really fast, and I really liked what I saw.”
He continued to state that others did not have as pleasant an experience installing the developer preview on their Macs. “Others that messaged me said they didn’t have a seamless experience; they had to find drivers, etc.”
Here are the steps I took to get this done:
- Launch Boot Camp Assistant by hitting command+space and typing Boot Camp.
- Make sure Install Windows 7 and Download the latest Support Software from Apple is checked before selecting Continue.
- The support software may or may not work properly as the preview evolves. It isn’t absolutely necessary, though.
- Determine whether or not you prefer the support software on a FAT 32 external disk or a blank CD/DVD.
- Select Continue.
- Determine how much of your primary hard drive should be dedicated to Windows 8 and select Continue.
- Insert your Windows 8 DVD created using the process previously described.
- Begin installation.
The reason I recommend doing it this way over a virtual disc drive is because during installation you’ll be logged out of OS X, making any virtual drive you have set up rather useless. Having a physical disc also gives you the freedom to share the love with friends, and give them the opportunity to try Windows 8 Developer Preview out. This disc should work with any PC that meets the minimum system requirements.
Parallels is one of the most popular virtual machine applications for OS X. With Windows 7, you can enjoy a cohesion mode that allows you to run Windows programs side-by-side with OS X apps in a seamless and consistent form. Windows 8 Developer Preview isn’t directly supported by Parallels, but it does work rather well if you just want a basic preview of the features.
Lamarr Wilson’s first attempt to get Windows 8 Developer Preview running on his iMac took place via Parallels 6, a slightly outdated version of Parallels released prior to OS X Lion. His experience was less than optimal, citing several issues switching between applications. When asked about these issues, he said, “The initial VM issue was with Parallels, and I found out later why, I was using Parallels 6, and Parallels 7 (which I didn’t know was out) supposedly didn’t have these issues.” He continued, “By the time I heard about that, I already used Boot Camp, which was a seamless experience.”
So, if you’re using Parallels 6, there may still be some recurring issues. I decided to try installing an instance of Windows 8 using Parallels 6 to see if the problem would still present itself.
Here are the steps I took to get Windows 8 Developer Preview working on Parallels.
- Open Parallels.
- Navigate to File and New.
- Choose the .ISO file downloaded from previous steps.
- Follow the installation instructions and accept terms.
- When automatic detection fails, select Windows 7 or Other Windows.
- Choose Custom (Advanced) rather than Upgrade.
- Select Disk 0 Unallocated Space as your installation drive.
- Select Next.
- Let it do its thing. Grab a snack.
- Once Windows 8 is open, navigate to Virtual Machine and Install Parallels Tools.
- This will install drivers and other tools that improve how Windows works with Parallels.
For me, it worked out rather well to indicate the version of Windows as being an “other” Windows rather than calling it Windows 7. Installation went just as smoothly as any Windows install on Parallels had in the past.
One thing I noticed right off the bat is that Windows 8 is a little choppy in Parallels, even on modern processors with an abundance of RAM. Switching between Windows apps in Metro can also be a bit lagged at times, though if you go full-screen, things seem to get much smoother. I was disappointed at the 3D performance of Windows 8 in Parallels 6 on the 2010 Core i3 iMac, but this isn’t an issue I’d blame on the developer preview.
Another issue I noticed was an occasional gumming of the login screen. The panel you need to slide up to unlock the computer isn’t as fluid as it should be, which can cause you to be locked out until you toggle fullscreen mode. This may not be an issue in Parallels 7.
Keep in mind that we are installing something Parallels wasn’t designed to support, so expectations should be set on a curve.
VMWare Fusion 4
VMWare Fusion is a strong competitor to Parallels, allowing users to create a robust and reliable virtual machine within OS X that lives within a sandbox. For many users, this is the best way to experience Windows 8 as it doesn’t require a reboot to switch between operating systems. VMWare has a lot in common with Parallels, and the two companies have traded benchmarks across many operating systems and everyday tasks over the years. To date, it’s still really a toss-up between the two, but VMWare has declared Fusion 4 as the “best way to experience Windows 8 developer preview.”
Here are the steps you can take to install the developer preview on your Mac using VMWare Fusion.
- Start VMWare Fusion 4 (it needs to be version 4 or later) and select Create New from the library.
- In the wizard, select Continue Without Disc.
- Select Use Operating System Installation Disc or Image.
- Choose the .ISO file downloaded from previous steps.
- Under Operating System, select Microsoft Windows.
- Select Windows 7 as the version.
- You may opt to either go with default or customized settings for more control over the virtual hardware environment.
- Select Finish.
- Name the machine and select a folder to install it in.
- Install Windows as you would on any other system. Grab a snack.
- Once Windows 8 launches, navigate to Virtual Machine and Install VMWare Tools.
- This will install drivers and other tools that improve how Windows works with VMWare Fusion 4.
VMWare Fusion may have an advantage over Parallels in that VMWare has publicly declared its platform to be set and ready to handle the developer preview. This is a bold statement, especially on a pre-beta product, though the developer preview has proven to be incredibly stable with the performance difficulties appearing as annoying, but survivable setbacks. If you don’t already own Parallels and you want to try out the competition for this preview, VMWare might be worth checking out.
Let’s say you don’t want to install Windows 8 Developer Preview on Boot Camp or pay for a virtual machine platform. Don’t worry, VirtualBox has you covered. While you get what you pay for in many cases, you can take a look at the latest product out of Redmond, WA without dropping a dime to do so.
VirtualBox is a solid cross-platform solution to virtual machines. While it may not have all the snap and pizazz of commercial products, it does a fairly good job at handling simple tasks and creating a secure sandbox that keeps your important data safe from the dangers of… well being connected to the Internet.
Here are the steps you need to take to install Windows 8 Developer Preview using VirtualBox.
- Launch VirtualBox and select New.
- Name the virtual machine.
- Select Microsoft Windows and Windows 7 as the operating system and version.
- Assign the amount of RAM you’d like to have allotted to the virtual machine.
- Windows 8 requires at least 1 GB of RAM. I recommend 2-4 if you can spare it.
- Determine the size of the virtual drive and location where it will be stored.
- Select the .ISO downloaded using previous instructions as the source media.
- Let it do its thing. Grab a snack.
My first impressions of Windows 8 are positive, though I don’t believe the Metro interface is optimized for standard keyboard and mouse interaction. Either the entire Windows world will need to adapt to using a touch-based mouse (as had OS X previously), or the Metro interface will need to become an optional addition.
That said, I personally love Metro for many reasons. The idea of having your computer set up with a powerful RSS reader built-in and everything you really need to get things done instantly available at your fingertips is appealing, especially when you want to check in and get something done quickly as you head out the door. This will undoubtedly be a hit on tablets, though I still believe it has a long way to go before it will draw OS X users back into the Windows fold.
As Lamarr mentioned during our interview, “I liked what I saw on the dev preview, although it has a long way to go to impress me to switch.”