A Linux Person’s Windows 8 Upgrade and Inadvertent Install Experience

The first night Microsoft released Windows 8 I bought a copy. What the hell, I thought – they’re only charging $30-some dollars for the upgrade. I don’t use Windows very much, mostly just for gaming. I’m a long-time Linux person and an advocate of free software.

My main workstation computer has several operating systems installed on it, one of which was Windows 7. It has 3 monitors, 3 hard drives, and 2 solid state drives. The 2 SSD drives were the first two drives in hardware order – that is, a C: drive and a D: drive in Windows terms. Both of them have Linux distributions installed on them, using an encrypted filesystem, so Windows can’t see the partitions. The 3 hard drives are next in the hardware line, each being partitioned with a Windows partition, and other partitions for Linux in various states of RAID and LVM and encryption.

I was actually surprised that Windows 7 would boot, not being on the first drive in the system. But it did. And this new Windows 8 was supposed to be the easiest thing to install ever, so I was fairly confident it could handle upgrading Windows 7 to Windows 8 using the same drive layout it already was.

I booted into Windows 7 and then went to the Microsoft website, where I ran the utility that looks at your system to verify it can be upgraded to Windows 8. The utility ran without a hitch and was happy with my system. It then asked if I wanted to purchase, download and install Windows 8 right now, on the spot. Sure, I said! What a new and amazing thing for Microsoft customers to finally be able to do. Recently it was a new and amazing thing for Apple customers, upgrading OSX. But we Linux users are completely used to this – in fact, online upgrades have been standard practice for Linux users for many years.

Before the download I had to enter into several lengthy legal agreements, but here it was! A single executable file. When I launched it, it did all kinds of thinking and verifying on the system before deciding my system was fine for the install, and then it took off. The first thing it wanted to do was uninstall my virus software and then reboot. After then, it chugged away for a good half hour or so, getting all the way through the percentage install bar, and then thinking for a few minutes with its whirly balls telling me my system will be rebooted in just a few minutes – then suddenly, that loud horn chorus denoting failure detonated from the speakers as a red X dialogue came up saying my install had failed. All I could do was click “OK”.

Thankfully, it left my Windows 7 installation in tact, only without virus protection, so I was still able to use it. I decided to reboot and try the install again. Wait, wait, wait…. then after it was completely installed once again, and telling me we were about to reboot into it, the install failed again.

Well, that was a waste of $30-some dollars, I thought! I imagined myself trying to explain to some robotic, generic, procedure-minded Microsoft tech on the phone the layout of my system. I can already here them saying, we don’t support Linux. Well, you don’t support the bloody chop saw and hammer drill in the garage either, do you, but what does that have to do with your damned product upgrade failing? And getting nowhere, until I removed all Linux….  …

Fat chance. Then I remembered Microsoft gave me the option to create an install media using a USB thumb drive, to perform the Windows 8 upgrade. Worth a shot. So I chose when running the install again to create an install media on the thumb drive, which took a strangely large amount of time. After it was finished, I rebooted and forced the system to boot from the thumb drive. Happily I saw a menu that gave me two options – I could upgrade my system or I could install a pristine Windows 8, but loose all my programs and settings.

Of course, I chose the upgrade. For two reasons. First, I don’t want to re-install the programs I use, and re-do all the settings. And second, I purchased a Windows 8 upgrade, and I know what hellish torment Microsoft will happily put any customer through when dealing with licensing and install particulars. Sure, it says it will do a fresh install, but if I do one, it will pretend to do things for a long while and then tell me it can’t because it’s only an upgrade license. Or, if I’m luckier, it might install, but will instead torture me until I pay out more money or spend hours on the phone with them trying to get license keys worked out.

So yes, I chose upgrade instead of install. And instead of trying to upgrade, it told me to reboot the computer back into Windows 7 again and run the installer from there, like I already had twice. So I did. Because I needed to feel pain at this point. And it failed again.

One last stab in the dark, I thought, because it really would be nice to bludgeon myself until I die in a bloody pulp. I booted into one of the Linux installs on an SSD and saved away elsewhere any files I needed. Then I rebooted to the Windows 8 thumb drive installer again, and told it to perform a fresh install on the first drive of the system, which was an SSD. Now this Microsoft could handle! What a clever Microsoft. What a good Windows.

Anyway. The installer finished successfully this time and I rebooted into a fresh, clean, completely pristine Windows 8 environment. Well, first I had to tell Microsoft my email address. And home address. And phone number. And my first dog’s name. You think I’m joking, don’t you? I’m not. They want it all now. They want you to use their “cloud” services. And giving them all your information is for your own protection. At least that’s what Mitt Romney wants us to think…

But you know what? After all the trouble I have a nice little Windows 8 workstation that I can, and have, re-installed many games into. And they work great. It’s not so difficult if you’re using Steam and Origin. Both Steam and Origin work well in Windows 8, as do each of the games I’ve tried.

The funny thing is, Windows 8 reminds me a great deal of Gnome 3 in Linux, and to a slightly lesser degree, Unity. Gnome 3 is far more sensible and intuitive, though. I honestly believe that any Windows user would have a much easier time moving to Gnome 3 than they would to Windows 8. And you know what? Linux is way easier to install and get going – if you go with something like Ubuntu. And it’s free!

I’ll be spending a good deal of time for a few weeks in Windows 8, getting used to it and giving it a chance. I do like it. But there is a great gravitational force built into it, to move everyone deeply into Microsoft – never to return to the light of day. I think they might be past their monopoly fears – and they’re using every trick in the book to lock people in. I mean, for the love of all that’s holy, how can you still have problems implementing simple IMAP correctly Microsoft? We don’t all want to use Exchange Server and your sync methodologies. Oh, I see, it’s not that you’re stupid and can’t figure out how to do IMAP correctly after a decade or more, it’s that you want it rickety so that people will get frustrated enough to pay to be chained to you.

Poor Apple people. They’re so dazzled by plastic trinkets that they don’t even realize they’ve gone so far down a dark one-way rabbit hole of their own. But I digress.

Yes! I like Windows 8. It will play my video games nicely I’m sure. And I like that horrific Adobe Flash works well in it, too. In Linux, maximizing Flash videos is always a pain, because it shoots off to some other monitor, and doesn’t stay full screen often when you click on other windows. Yes, full-screen Flash and games. That’s what Windows is to me. Everything else about using and computer, the tools, and the software, I like far better in Linux.

So there you have it – my Windows 8 upgrade and inadvertent install experience. Oh yeah, it is pretty, too. I think Ubuntu is prettier. Both I think are prettier than OSX now.