Getting to Win8 Pro

Worrying update: although (Spoiler Alert!) I successfully and smoothly upgraded my BlackBeast PC from Windows 7 64-bit Ultimate edition up to an activated Win8 Pro with Media Center, Build 9200 in early November 2012, I've today (25 January 2013) just been reminded to activate the Media Center before it's too late in one week's time... Watch this space.

Calming update: between 25 January 2013 and the middle of the year (when I finally sat down and sorted out VirtualBox) I ran two separate Win8 Pro systems. I've now replaced the system that was on my Laptop PC with a native Linux Mint 15 system, decrementing my Win8 Pro licence count by one, to one. And I expect to be upgrading that to Win8.1 Pro later this month (October 2013).

Now back to the original story:

I don't have any great need for a Tablet PC, cute though my Asus Android Transformer is. But I did have a bit of an itch to explore Windows 8. And to see whether, by eliminating all the "Tablet" aspects of its interface, it couldn't simply be used as a newer, faster, smoother desktop OS.

So, feeling...

... a little adventurous, and having spotted a good value for money limited time offer from Microsoft themselves, I decided to take myself (and my rarely-used 64-bit Internet Explorer) over to Seattle to let the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant snoop around BlackBeast and assess any 'upgrade' compatibility gotchas and what it might cost in time and effort to move over from Win7 to Win8 Pro. It took less than five minutes to discover that there was very little to hold me back (as it were):


So, on the face of it, I just needed to examine my current anti-virus product, think (not very hard) about a set of audio tools I never use that came with my sound card, and get an upgrade for my rarely-used (but incredibly useful on occasion) OCR software. Not too onerous.

My Canon 5600F scanner and HP LaserJet 1320 printer are fine. As is the USB hub, my two screens, the MS mouse and Logik keyboard. Before I knew it, I was being offered a 2GB download for £24-99 and a snail-mailed DVD for an additional £12-99 and (frankly) at that price I'm left wondering what the catch is. Apart from the fact that it's Win8, of course. And that I'd have to re-install Win7 if I decided to back out afterwards.

After downloading...

... the installation material, and having made reasonably sure I'd got backups of a few files, and having been emailed my product key, and (vitally) made a fresh cuppa, my only remaining question became "Do you feel lucky enough to click this shortcut, punk?"

Here we go again

What's the worst that could happen? I fully expected it to blow away the Apache web server and XAMPP stack I run as a local service, for starters. And I knew I'd be kissing the lovely Aero Glass theme goodbye, too. I would also be very cross if my Sudoku stopped working.

Several hours later :-)

It took longer (just over an hour) to install the 2GB lump than it did to download it. Then there was another 220MB or so of patches and updates (already!) and a free download of the Media Centre Pack with which to re-instate some facilities that had been removed for no very obvious reason from the basic OS. (Therein was to hang a tale of considerable future angst, but I had no inkling at the time.) As I expected, the whole XAMPP stack went AWOL — but since I also have wired access to my local network Raspberry Pi webserver (which is faster, and puts no unnecessary load on BlackBeast) that's no great loss.

I was particularly pleased to see my installed applications (with one nasty exception1 that I didn't immediately notice) and settings make the 'leap' without intervention on my part. I was left with almost no tinkering to get Win8 things back to looking and feeling like the Win7 system of a few hours earlier. The new desktop (all those godawful Fisher Price style ugly tiles that trigger horrible fullscreen Tablet Apps with sizing behaviours that do not play nice with the full desktop real estate) can be dismissed from the "Start" screen and replaced by smaller, neater, buttons linking to my chosen set of desktop applications. Here's the current top line of that screen:


And I can toggle between this "Start" screen and my familiar desktop in an instant by clicking on 'Desktop' or just by toggling the 'Windows' key. So, in truth, what we have is a fully refreshed Windows desktop system not buried very deeply under a thin veneer of easily-banished Tablet 'modernity'.

Naturally, there are (free) ways and means to make Win8 even more closely resemble its various ancestors by putting back the "Classic Shell". (Link.) Though, why bother? Surely not just for a "Start" button? Really? Come on, get with the programme!

A teensy-weensy...

... almost infinitesimal quibble: surely it shouldn't be necessary to ask Mrs Google to tell you how to restart or shutdown the system? I've created a pair of shortcuts for these two functions that I now leave pinned to my desktop to save two or three clicks each... (What? I'm lazy. I admit this. Bite me.)


Tinkering and tuning

I first asked Mrs Google when she thought it would be safe for me to delete the contents of the "Windows.old" subdirectory that was now reducing the free space on my system drive by nearly 25%. It turned out that simply running "Disk clean" in administrator mode did the trick. I also suffered the loss of a DLL that removed my ability to update the Radeon graphics card drivers (which, fortunately, are bang up to date at the moment) by means of the Catalyst Control Centre. I eventually fixed that by doing a Custom (rather than Express) update of that, doubtless wonderful, software — it had decided to start hanging when updating an hdmi audio driver.

I regained audio output by reminding applications of the preferred system device to use. Oddly, VLC already knew this, but both Foobar2000 and Boom needed a tiny adjustment. The Media Centre 'facility' that was a freebie addition to Win8 — and which brought with it its own Product Key that supplanted the one for the Win8 base system — duly activated and worked without complaint.

All seemed well, so...

... I decided, two weeks later, to perform a similar upgrade to the Win7 Pro living in my laptop system. Ouch! In a triumph of experience over hope, I'm now nudging my laptop PC a rung up the ladder from Win7 Pro to Win8 Pro. The download took about 35 minutes and I was then confidently informed:

We're getting a few things ready

Nice to see an informal style of computer documentation that I helped pioneer has finally (nearly 40 years later!) actually caught on :-)

After an unconscionably long wait, an impatient pressing of the power button long enough to trigger an error window, the gist of which was "Some of your data was not migrated" and then some casual dialogue with Mrs Google on another machine, I powered off the obviously-frozen laptop, powered it back on, saw the Win8 splash screen for a little while, and then faced:

Windows installation was not successful. Your previous version of Windows is being restored.
Do not restart your computer during this time.

I wouldn't dream of it. Honest. Now I know why my previous successful upgrade on BlackBeast kept a huge folder called "Windows.old" knocking around!

And, within five minutes or so, the following "Blue Window of Failure" popped up, which I captured for posterity (trimmed a bit) and transferred by sneakernet — my network route to BlackBeast not then being alive and well, it seems:


After which I successfully rebooted the laptop back into Win7. It's not actually telling quite the whole truth as, during my Win8 installation attempt I had to uninstall my Microsoft Win7 anti-virus product, and I've now successfully 'updated' the follow-on Windows Defender Win8 product with which the partial Win8 managed to equip me before plunging itself voluntarily into the great blue Yonder. I decided to uninstall the most likely trouble-makers (Flash, the XAMPP stack, and the vital VLC media player) and repeat the attempt. My calculated gamble paid off, it seems.

When I next thought...

... to look at the laptop — having first taken a minute or so to dismiss (by unpinning from the 'Start' screen) each of the silliest2 of the various default App tiles — it was already time to offer it the chance to go off and feed itself on the first 545MB or so of "important updates". Finally, I intended to add in the freebie Media Centre 'pack' (largely because it's still free for a while) and re-install a couple of bits'n'pieces.

Oops! (2)

Having waited 20 minutes or so, with no sign of a Product Key for the freebie Media Centre 'pack' (which arrived within a minute or so the last time I did this), I studied the small print of the offer a bit more carefully. Turns out it's limited to one Key per valid email address. I assumed, therefore, that Microsoft would say "Nothing doing chum" with no harm done. Little did I know.

They sent me a second Product Key... and how I wish I'd looked at it a lot more carefully!

If you read...

... my ¬blog, you may already know I got into a bit of a tangle, licence-wise, which I am happy to warn you about. There is now no longer any grace period after installation and before Activation, which now occurs as part of the installation and if the process detects a glitch (as it did with my laptop — read on) you are simply "offered the opportunity" to buy a new Key, there and then ... no thanks!

When you run the Upgrade Advisor (to inspect your system and deliver its verdict on the likely result) if you are happy to deal with whatever items it flags as needing attention, you then go on to supply the advisor with your name, Phone number, Postal address, Email address. And £24-99 (or another £12-99 if you also want a backup DVD). They thus know at this point who you are and where you live. They process your payment and email you a receipt that contains the Win8Pro Product Licence Key. ("Key 1") Now you download the 2GB of gorp, and it's off to the races.

Having upgraded BlackBeast I added the (currently free) Media Center pack, simply by requesting another Key for it, and supplying Key 1 as requested by them. MS sent me Key 2 — telling me I would need it when adding the new feature. However, the addition of this feature replaces Key 1 with Key 2 when you "Add Feature to Win 8" in the new Win 8 Control Panel. So I now had a valid, activated, Win8Pro with Media Center Build 9200. For £24-99. And I also had two separate email order receipts for Key 1 and Key 2, with Key 2 being the one now reported when I inspect the OS settings with Speccy. So far, so good. Though why they overwrite Key 1 baffles me.

When I decided to upgrade my Win7 Pro on my laptop to Win8 Pro, I sprang for another £24-99's worth of Key. They emailed another Key to me, (call this Key 3) and I repeated the installation process. But, because it hung at several points for an hour or more and I had to stab the power button and de-hibernate the machine more than once, I was more than a bit dubious. And very surprised when it eventually sprang back into full life as a very fast-booting, activated Win8Pro without my ever having been asked to enter Key 3 at any point. Furthermore, the OS now reported itself as activated with Key 3 as its licence. Spooky, I thought, but who cares? Again, on the surface, so far, so good. Then I decided to add the Media Center freebie to the now-Win8Pro laptop just because I could (and not because I had the slightest need for it). Be warned, young Grasshopper.

Because I hadn't read the small print, and thus not spotted that the offer of adding Media Center to a Win8Pro upgrade was subject to a limit of one Pack per email address, I gave MS the same email as initially, and didn't spot in time that the 2nd Media Center Key (let's call this Key 4) that arrived 24 hours later was actually identical to Key 2.

Fast forward to the end of the second "Feature Add" process, this time on my laptop. Surprise, surprise, it broke, complaining (whichever Key I used) that I was now attempting to activate my Win8Pro with Media Center build with a Key that was already in use, and would I therefore like to buy a new key right now, please? No, I bloody well wouldn't. I declined the offer to fork out for yet another Key, so was left with working through the fallback telephone activation process. This charmless procedure entails you keying in, on your phone, nine groups of 7-digit numbers, as displayed on the Activation wizard that's telling you things are not going well, remembering to answer "one" when asked how many PCs this OS will be installed on, then listening carefully to a robot voice telling you eight groups of 6-digit numbers that you have to feed flawlessly into the still-waiting Activation wizard. At which point, Win8Pro simply says it's now activated. With the same damned Key as my main desktop PC. ie both desktop and laptop now purport to be activated with Key 2 though that hadn't worked 15 minutes earlier before I made the phonecall. So, despite having nominally four legit Keys — two identical — only one (Key 2) is actually now in use here in Technology Towers.

Meanwhile, Keys 1 and 3 are still sitting on an MS database presumably ready to pounce if any attempt is made to use them by someone other than me. At that point, I gave in and called an MS human to discuss the situation. I was worried in case BlackBeast and the laptop compared notes and decided they couldn't both run because they had the same Product Key.

Because I was asked for, and could quote, two separate order numbers, and correctly tell them my name, address, and phone number (they didn't ask for my inside leg measurement, for some reason), and after some considerable faffing about, my new best friend in India agreed that, not only was I good to go with just the one Key (not that I'm convinced he ever quite fully grasped that point), but that I was entitled to another three upgrade licences at this offer price. I politely declined...


1  As soon as I fired my Copernic desktop search up it said "Your trial period has expired" and offered a "Purchase" option plus a serial key entry field. But although I still have the key salted away, it refused to accept it so — being far too impatient to try contacting the (Canadian) software house — I basically said "Sod it!" and bought another copy.
2  Trust me: when I want a live Sports feed in an interactive tile on my desktop I shall officially declare myself brain dead.