Understanding Why the Web‑Based Setup Is Superior
To understand why this new web‑based Setup is superior, consider how you used to install Windows (and how, optionally, you still can with the retail‑type Setup application in Windows 8) and why you would be performing this task in the first place.
The most common reason you’d find yourself wasting an afternoon–or more commonly, an entire day–futzing around with Windows Setup and the attendant activities you must undergo is that you’ve got an existing PC running the previous Windows version and you’d like to upgrade. This Setup type was fraught with the possibility of disaster, and since you may want to bring your settings and data along with you–called a migration –or even your currently‑installed applications–called an in‑place upgrade –the times and places in which something could go wrong–resulting, perhaps, in data loss–could multiply as well.
The second most common reason to run the traditional Windows Setup routine is that you’ve been using Windows for a while and your PC is starting to slow down. And what you’d like to do is back up all your settings and data, run Setup, wipe out Windows, and just reinstall it from scratch. This is called a clean install of Windows, though Microsoft for some reason refers to it as a custom install.
Clean installs are a tricky business. Assuming you get through Setup without any issues–which, to be fair, doesn’t require a lot of skill–that doesn’t mean you’re done. The trouble is that Setup might not have found all the drivers for your PC. Even though Windows Update can often find more drivers, that won’t help if your network adapter driver is among the missing and you can’t get online. Regardless, it’s very common to visit Device Manager and discover that some hardware devices were not properly configured with drivers. And the name of a device in Device Manager sometimes doesn’t even provide a hint about what the device really is, making the process of finding the correct driver next to impossible.
A related issue is that even the most fastidious advocate of backing up may miss something. As you recover your data and start reinstalling applications after a clean install, you may discover that you forgot to de‑authorize an application like Apple iTunes or Adobe Photoshop, didn’t back up a critical but hidden data file (like Outlook’s notorious PST file), or missed some other palm‑slap‑to‑the‑forehead, obvious‑after‑the‑fact thing that you really wish you had remembered. But once you’ve blown away your previous Windows install, it’s too late.
Microsoft tried to alleviate these issues in the past with solutions that were separate from and ran outside of Setup. One, called Upgrade Advisor, evaluated the hardware, devices, and installed software on your PC and then presented you with a report containing, potentially, a list of issues you may need to address before installing Windows. A second utility, called Windows Easy Transfer, took the guesswork out of files (documents, pictures, movies, and so on), e‑mail, and settings from the previous version of Windows to the new version. You would run Windows Easy Transfer twice: once against the previous version of Windows to acquire this data and then again under the new version to apply it all back.
Windows Easy Transfer had other onerous requirements. You needed an external hard drive, network location, or even a crazy, specially designed USB cable to use this utility.
Upgrade Advisor and Windows Easy Transfer are both excellent tools, but they suffer from the same basic problems: You need to know they exist, and obtain them, and do so before you install Windows. And there’s nothing in Windows Setup to even suggest that such tools are available. As a result, many users simply don’t know about them and run into problems these tools could have easily fixed.
In Windows 8, the traditional Windows Setup routine doesn’t solve these issues, and it works much like that of its predecessor. But the new web‑based installer does solve these issues, and it does so in the most obvious way possible: It integrates both the Upgrade Advisor and Windows Easy Transfer directly into Setup, making these processes not just discoverable but obvious and unavoidable.
The web‑based installer has other advantages as well.
For example, with traditional, media‑based installs of Windows, you need to know whether you have a 32‑bit (x86) or 64‑bit (x64) version of Windows and then buy and use the appropriate Upgrade media when performing an in‑place upgrade. With the Windows 8 web‑based installer, this is handled for you behind the scenes.
Each Windows Setup disc or download also comes with an associated product key, a complex, 25‑digit sequence of letters and numbers that you must manually enter accurately before Setup will continue and, later, activate Windows. With the web‑based installer, this product key is tied to your Microsoft account and automatically applied to the install during setup. It’s yet another thing you don’t need to be worried about.
Also, the Windows 8 web‑based installer uses a new form of compression that is specially tuned for the massive Windows Imaging (WIM) file that makes up the majority (size‑wise) of the files that form Windows Setup. So it’s far more efficient to stream this file from the web while running Setup than the old method of downloading a disc image file (in ISO format), burning that to disc (or installing to USB), rebooting the computer, and running Setup that way.
Put simply, the new web‑based installer is faster and far more full‑featured than the traditional, media‑based Setup variant. Like we said earlier, we can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to use it.
Well, there are always reasons, of course. Enthusiasts who purchase or build their own computer without a copy of Windows preinstalled may need to install Windows 8 the old‑fashioned way. For such cases, Microsoft does allow you to download an ISO version of Windows Setup as before, and then create your own Setup disc or USB device. Remember, Windows is all about choice.
Okay, there’s one other reason. If you’ve been running Windows 8 for a while and would like to reinstall the OS from scratch, there’s a new, quicker way than with previous methods. It’s called Push Button Reset, and it can work in one of two ways: A factory‑fresh, literally new install of Windows or a new install of Windows in which your settings and Metro‑style apps are retained as well. This new feature is so amazing and so useful that we devote a lot of time to it in Chapter 11.
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