I’m a Mac user and a (mostly) happy one at that. Nevertheless, when Microsoft released the preview of Windows 8, I installed it on a ThinkPad I have sitting around and played around with it a bit. I liked it.
So much that I decided to buy the full version when it became available. That was today. And that’s when things went wrong.
I booted the preview version of Windows 8, visited Microsoft’s online store and purchased the upgrade for 30 Euros. The upgrade requires you have either Windows 7, Vista or XP. I still have a full version of XP on a DVD lying around, so I was all set. During the setup process I burned the installation files to a DVD. I then installed Windows 8 Pro over the preview version which took roughly half an hour. So far so good.
After playing around and customizing things a bit, I noticed that I was running the 32-bit version of Windows 8. This was despite the fact that the ThinkPad has an x64 CPU so the 64-bit version of Windows should run just fine. The main advantage of 64 bit is that you can address more than 4 GB of RAM. The system info dialog informed me that Windows was only using 3 of the 4 GB installed in the ThinkPad, so I decided I wanted to install the 64 bit version.
When you upgrade from an existing Windows installation, you get the Windows 8 version according to what you’re currently running. So if you’re running, say, 32-bit Windows 7 you get upgraded to 32-bit Windows 8. There’s no upgrade path from 32-bit Windows Anything to 64-bit Windows 8. For that you have to buy the full (or OEM) version.
Since I had no way of installing an older 64-bit Windows version, I thought I’d just try installing the Windows 8 upgrade on an empty hard drive. So I burned a CD with a bootable partition manager, deleted the two Windows partitions and then booted from the Windows 8 installation DVD I had burned earlier.
To my surprise, the installation finished without complaining that I wasn’t upgrading an existing Windows installation. My guess is that this was maybe checked when I first installed the retail version of Windows 8 over the preview version, but then again, the preview version shouldn’t really count as upgradable. Effectively I had installed an upgrade version without in any way proving that I had a previous Windows version that was eligible for the upgrade.
Anyway, while the installation finished without a problem, I still ended up with the 32-bit version of Windows 8. Additionally, now Windows was apparently only able to address 2 GB of RAM instead of the previously used 3 GB. Awesome.
Out of options, I decided to see if could contact support. I had browsed Microsoft’s forums and found several threads with reports from users with similar problems and some had had luck with contacting Microsoft. So I went to Microsoft’s support site which then funneled me through a series of pages where I was asked about where I live (twice), if I use Windows 8 for personal or business use and finally I was asked to enter the infamous product key. That’s that series of 25 CAPS and numbers interspersed with hyphens that you find on those yellow stickers on Microsoft’s retail packaging. I had gotten my product key via email. So I copied it into the appropriate form field on the web page and clicked to proceed. The page didn’t like the product key. It told me that it was unable to automatically detect my product key (which isn’t surprising as I was accessing the site from my Mac) and asked me to enter it. But I had entered it, only it was still giving me this error. And without accepting the key the site wouldn’t give me any options for contacting support. Awesome again.
Needless to say, this wasn’t the experience I was hoping for. I still like Windows 8, very much even. It’s a very elegant and clean OS and Microsoft has – finally! – shown some guts and left old baggage behind and started afresh. But apparently they still have a long way to go.
For example, what’s this 32- and 64-bit crap? Why do I even need to care? Just install the best version my machine will run and don’t try to sell me each version separately. Leave sleazy cross-upgrade schemes to Adobe.
Then the support website. If I have a problem, give me a friggin email address, phone number or ticket system and ask me any relevant questions later. I don’t want to go through questionaires before I get help, much less ones that don’t work and leave me stranded.
What Microsoft apparently still hasn’t understood is that if you want people to buy and use your products, you should make it EASY for them to do so. Buying was easy enough, I give them that. But the rest of the experience wasn’t quite on par.
So what am I going to do now? Despite all the hassle, I’m probably going to buy the full (OEM) version of 64-bit Windows 8. That’s how much I’m intrigued and want to use it. Maybe I can use the upgrade license for my gaming PC which runs 64-bit Windows 7.
Update: I re-downloaded the Windows 8 update from a 64-bit Windows 7 PC and, instead of updating that PC, burned the install .iso to a DVD and installed it on the ThinkPad. Lo and behold, it installed 64-bit Windows 8. So which version of Windows 8 you get apparently depends on the OS version you’re running on the PC you use to download the upgrade. This probably makes sense to someone at Microsoft.
Update: After finally managing to install Windows 8, I proceeded to run Windows Update to get any security updates and bugfixes. There were six updates available. I tried to install them three times, each time I got this error during reboot: “Failure to configure Windows update. Reverting changes. Do not turn off your computer.” After the third time I turned off my computer. Things like this remind me why I switched to the Mac in 2003.
Update: Now Windows wants to be activated. Previous installations were already activated after installation, but not this one. My guess is I’ve exceeded the number of allowed activations, because it won’t accept my product key. Now I probably have to call the activation hotline. This is getting more fun by the hour.
Update: Turns out it’s not accepting the product key because I didn’t do an upgrade installation. So I tried to install XP and then upgrade to Windows 8, alas XP won’t install on my ThinkPad. It stops installation with a STOP 0x0000007B error message. So that more or less “concludes” this odyssee. If you’re wondering why people use a Mac, it’s experiences like this one.