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With the forthcoming Windows 8, Microsoft is aiming to make upgrading from older versions of its operating system as simple and streamlined as possible, and it is shifting gears to focus on delivering upgrades via the Web rather than physical discs.
And users that go the online route won't have to worry about entering a product key either.
"In the past, if you wanted to buy an upgrade for Windows, it involved purchasing a boxed product from a retail outlet, taking it home (sometimes being infuriated while trying to open the box) and inserting a DVD," Christa St. Pierre, of the Microsoft Windows 8 Setup and Deployment team, <a href="http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2011/11/21/improving-the-setup-experience.aspx">wrote in a blog post</a> earlier this week. "However, buying boxed software is quickly becoming the exception rather than the rule, with more and more software being purchased online as broadband penetration increases and large-size media downloads become more common. While we will continue to offer boxed DVDs, we are also making it easier than ever to purchase and install online. This includes starting the setup experience online as well, and having one continuous integrated experience from beginning to end. There is also one big advantage that is a favorite of mine. With our Web setup experience, we actually "pre-key" the setup image that is downloaded to a unique user, which means that you don't have to type in the 25-digit product key when you install!"
St. Pierre acknowledged that most Windows users don't bother with an upgrade. They get the latest version of Windows when they buy a new PC. Part of the reason for that is that past new versions of Windows involved hefty increases in baseline system requirements. That changed with Windows 7, as Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) made a commitment to keep system requirements low. And St. Pierre said the company has maintained that commitment with Windows 8; she said that many systems running Windows Vista and even Windows XP would meet the requirements for the new operating system.
But system requirements aren't the only reason that Windows users fail to upgrade. In a study Microsoft commissioned in 2010, it found that many customers wanted to upgrade, but felt the process was too difficult to tackle.
"Hearing that some customers think it is too difficult really highlights the fact that we have many different customers needs we need to fulfill with setup," St. Pierre said. "Most customers who buy a Windows upgrade from a retailer just want it to be fast and easy, but a few also want to be able to do some more complex things, such as setting up in a multi-boot configuration. And of course, we also have the IT pro customers, who need to take full control over configurations, install from networks as well as media, and add customizations to the setup image."
By default, setup will cater to customers who want simple setup, St. Pierre said. Users who want to do more complex things can use the additional tools provided in the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit, which is available for download to MSDN subscribers.
Whereas Windows 7 required four different installation wizards and 60 clicks to complete, St. Pierre said Microsoft has folded that all into a single, fluid experience in Windows 8. First it determines if your PC, apps and devices will work on the new OS. Then it notes the things you want to keep (apps, files and settings) and installs the new OS. The whole installation can be completed in as few as 11 clicks in Windows 8, she said.
She added that the team has also added the capability to resume setup automatically after certain actions (like resolving a blocking compatibility problem) that in the past would have required restarting setup from the beginning.
"With Windows 8 setup we have greatly improved both speed and ease of use, while still retaining all of the advanced setup functionality that many customers will demand," St. Pierre said. "We have integrated what was once many separate steps for people to perform when preparing and starting their setup into a streamlined user experience, with a fast and reliable setup engine under the hood."
Thor Olavsrud is a contributor to <a href="http://www.internetnews.com">InternetNews.com</a>, the news service of <a href="http://www.internet.com">Internet.com</a>, the network for technology professionals.