Thursday, August 15, 2013

Alright Windows 8, let’s do this

As an IT instructor and someone who looks after peoples’ computer issues on the side, I need to learn the latest and greatest software and hardware. Now that Windows 8 has been around for a while, it was time to immerse myself in its eight-ness. I have a virtual machine at work in my classroom,  running Windows 8 (8.1 Preview actually). Connected to a SmartBoard no less (fun). But now I need to get up close and personal with the new operating system, since most of my clients and potential new ones will be getting Windows 8 if they buy a new computer this coming fall and winter holiday season.

So, with a few hours to spare last night, I threw in the new Windows 8 Pro 64 bit DVD and sat back. Luckily I had done my research and determined that since I was running Windows 7 Ultimate edition, I needed Windows 8 Pro, not the base version. Not one minute into the installation, I get a message that reads “Windows 8 cannot install on this computer. There is not enough space on the system partition.” Perfect.

I had to think about that for a minute, because my 500GB hard drive is barely half full, so disk space shouldn’t be an issue. After a little internet research and opening the disk management utility, I discovered the problem. At the front end of my hard drive is a 300MB system partition, followed by the large partition the computer recognizes as C:. This small system partition is in reality what Windows 8 was complaining about. I had read that other users were simply expanding the size of this partition to solve the problem. So that was my next goal.

Although Windows 7 comes with a disk management utility, it is not capable of moving partition data to make room for an expansion of the first partition. So I took a recommendation and downloaded the free AOMEI Partition Assistant Standard. It worked like a charm. The partition resize / move took about an hour and then I had enough unallocated space right after the system partition to grow it by 30GB. Now back to trying the Windows 8 installation again.

The second attempt went better. Then about 2 minutes into the installation, I was informed that Microsoft Security Essentials had to go. I knew in advance that this was coming after having read some articles, but I could see this taking a consumer by surprise. I chose to uninstall MSE and at the conclusion it told me it would have to reboot to finish. Fine, reboot. I was greeted by a Windows 7 login screen. WTF!? I tried not to panic, and thankfully, as soon as I logged in and saw my old familiar desktop, Windows 8 popped back up offering me the chance to continue with the install. I could sure imagine a typical user being freaked out though when they see the Windows 7 login screen.

It was very late by this point, so I left my computer in the capable hands of the installation routine and went to bed. That’s right; I let the installation continue unattended. I woke up around 1am and went to see how things were proceeding and just as I had expected, I was greeted with the scheme colour choice screen. After that it was just a few minutes of configuration option selections and I was staring at the oft maligned Windows 8 Start Screen. I went to the desktop and all of my program icons were there along with my beautiful desktop background wallpaper.

I decided that before going back to sleep, I would at least make sure that Windows Defender (the now default anti-virus and anti-malware software built-in to Windows) was up-to-date and functioning. I opened the program and noticed that the virus definitions were dated June 2013, two months out of date. I ran the update (2 times unsuccessfully because of background indexing and updating tasks using up all of my disk, network and CPU power) and then charged Defender with doing a full scan of my files. Then I went to bed.

Microsoft still has a lot to learn in the development of new operating systems for the masses. First of all, a typical user is not going to know why they’re seeing “Windows 8 cannot install on this computer. There is not enough space on the system partition.” Nor are they going to know what to do about it. Windows 8 should have been designed to detect that a too-small system partition exists and offer the user to grow it to sufficient size (a potentially long and risky process) or just forego the system partition and put everything on the C: drive. Even Linux distributions are savvier than Windows 8 when it comes to partition management during installation.

Second, if it’s necessary to uninstall MSE during the Windows 8 installation, just do it. Inform the user, let them acknowledge the process, and do the rest silently in the background instead of giving them a heart attack by teasing them with a Windows 7 login screen after the uninstall reboot.

Third, as soon as the installation is finished and the user is staring at the new start screen, Windows Defender should be updating itself. Automatically. Before anything else. Then it should run a full scan. Automatically. Because all while the Windows 8 install was happening, there was technically nothing protecting the PC. Especially after MSE was uninstalled.

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