In this article you will learn how to install the Microsoft Windows 8 Developer Preview in a virtualized environment using VirtualBox.
Latest posts by Timothy Warner (see all)

Although Microsoft is targeting their Developer Preview release of Windows 8 for application developers, we Windows systems administrators would do well do download the bits in order to “kick the tires” with the new Metro style user interface (UI) and observe what other plumbing changes Microsoft made to the next generation of Windows.

What’s most interesting about Windows 8 to me is that Microsoft appears to be seeking a “grand unified theory” with respect to a desktop operating system. In other words, the Windows 8 experience on a desktop and a tablet device will be exactly the same.

In this post I will walk you through the step-by-step procedure for getting the Windows 8 Developer Preview up and running in a virtual machine. I selected the free Oracle VirtualBox desktop virtualization software (a) because it works; and (b) it is free.

Let’s get to work!

Determining Prerequisites

Your two guiding principles if you are considering installing Windows 8 Developer Preview (hereafter referred to as “DP”) in a virtual environment are:

You can download and run the Microsoft Hardware-Assisted Virtualization Detection Tool as a quick way to determine whether your proposed host system supports HAV.

Install Windows 8 - Microsoft Hardware-Assisted Virtualization Detection Tool

Microsoft Hardware-Assisted Virtualization Detection Tool

The reason why your host (hardware) computer must exceed the system requirements for the Windows 8 DP is, of course, because you need to allocate at least the minimum specs to the virtual machine itself. Here are the latest minimum system requirements, directly from Microsoft:

  • 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 1 gigabyte (GB) RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit)
  • 16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
  • DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver
  • Taking advantage of touch input requires a screen that supports multi-touch
  • To run Metro style Apps, you need a screen resolution of 1024 X 768 or greater

Obtaining the Bits

To get this party started, we need to download the Windows 8 DP and VirtualBox. You can download Windows 8 DP free of charge from the Windows Dev Center. Note that the download comes in three versions:

  • Windows 8 + Developer Tools -64 bit (4.8 GB)
  • Windows 8 Only – 64 bit (3.6 GB)
  • Windows 8 Only – 32 bit (2.8 GB)

Install Windows 8 - Downloading the Windows 8 Developer Preview

Downloading the Windows 8 Developer Preview

Next, you should hit up the Oracle VirtualBox site to download the latest version of VirtualBox. In order to support Windows 8 DP, you will need at least version 4 of this software.

Downloading VirtualBox - Downloading VirtualBox

Downloading VirtualBox

Setting Up VirtualBox

Once you install VirtualBox, fire up the application and click New from the main toolbar.

Install Windows 8 - Creating a new virtual machine

Creating a new virtual machine

In the VM Name and OS Type dialog box, select Windows 2008 (64 bit) as the operating system type. You could probably get away with selecting Windows 7 (64 bit), but I’ve had great luck specifying Windows Server 2008 (as always, your mileage may vary, etc.)

Install Windows 8 - Selecting a guest OS

Selecting a guest OS

In the Memory dialog box, provide a value between 1024 MB and 2048 MB. Because Windows 8 is optimized for installation on tablet devices, I don’t see your needing to allocate more than 2 GB of RAM to the virtual machine.

Install Windows 8 - Allocating RAM

Allocating RAM

Next, step through the virtual disk creation wizard, accepting all defaults. Again, Windows 8 running on a tablet device isn’t going to need triple-digit gigabytes worth of persistent storage.

Install Windows 8 - Creating the virtual hard disk

Creating the virtual hard disk

Once the virtual machine has been created, click Settings on the main toolbar.

Install Windows 8 - Configuring the VM settings

Configuring the VM settings

In System > Motherboard, ensure that IO APIC is enabled.

TROUBLESHOOTING TIP: If you have difficulty booting Windows 8, try changing the Chipset value from PIIX3 to ICH9.

Install Windows 8 - Setting motherboard options

Setting motherboard options

In System > Processor, ensure that Enable PAE/NX is is turned on.

Install Windows 8 - Setting processor options

Setting processor options

In System > Acceleration, ensure that both hardware virtualization options are enabled. You may also need to enable HAV in the virtual machine BIOS.

Install Windows 8 - Enabling hardware-assisted virtualization

Enabling hardware-assisted virtualization

In Display > Video, select Enable 3D Acceleration.

Install Windows 8 - Enabling 3D acceleration

Enabling 3D acceleration

In Storage, select the virtual optical drive and browse to the Windows 8 DP ISO image that you downloaded from the Microsoft Web site.

Install Windows 8 - Mounting the Windows 8 DVD image

Mounting the Windows 8 DVD image

If you want your Windows 8 virtual machine to access the Internet (and I cannot for the life of me see why you would not want to do this), make sure you have networking enabled in Network > Adapter 1. The default option, NAT, is fine.

Install Windows 8 - Enabling Internet access

Enabling Internet access

Alrighty then! We are now ready to install Windows 8 DP!

Installing Windows 8

Configure the virtual machine to boot from the virtual optical drive. If the boot is successful, you will see the traditional Install Windows dialog box.

Install Windows 8 - Windows 8 Installer

Windows 8 Installer

You know the drill—click Install Now.

Install Windows 8 - Windows 8 Install 2

Windows 8 installer

Accept those license terms and then click Next.

Install Windows 8 - Accepting the Windows 8 licensing terms

Accepting the Windows 8 licensing terms

We are performing a clean installation, so double-click Custom (advanced).

Install Windows 8 - Choosing an installation type

Choosing an installation type

Specify our virtual hard disk as the installation location and then click Next to continue.

Install Windows 8 - Choosing an installation location

Choosing an installation location

Now we can sit back, wait, and cross our fingers! (Just kidding.)

Install Windows 8 - Windows 8 installation process

Windows 8 installation process

The Windows 8 DP splash screen is about as minimalistic as it gets…

Install Windows 8 - Windows 8 splash screenWindows 8 splash screen

Note the almost tongue-in-cheek tone adopted by Microsoft in their license terms.

Install Windows 8 - The user-friendly license term text

The user-friendly license term text

Upon first launch, you are asked to personalize your installation. Provide a hostname for your virtual machine and then click Next.

Install Windows 8 - Providing a hostname

Providing a hostname

Windows Update works the same way in Windows 8 DP as it does, say, in Windows 7.

Install Windows 8 - Choosing update preferences

Choosing update preferences

Your logon account, at least for the Developer Preview, is actually tied to your Windows Live ID. Who wouldda thunk it? 🙂

INFO: There are other nifty logon options in Windows 8, but we are limiting ourselves to the Windows Live ID type in this article.

Windows 8 - Creating a logon account

Creating a logon account

And voila! Here is the much-anticipated Metro style user interface (UI). Getting around this interface without the benefit of a touch screen interface is (to say the least) a challenge. Therefore, please hit up the following site and master the keyboard-and-mouse navigation techniques:

Windows 8 Developer Preview Keyboard/Mouse Shortcuts

Before we go any further, let’s adjust the screen resolution and install the VirtualBox Guest Additions. From the user tile screen, click Desktop to switch the UI to classic mode.

Install Windows 8 - Windows 8 Metro style UI

Windows 8 Metro style UI

The classic mode UI looks a lot like Windows 7, doesn’t it?

Install Windows 8 - Classic mode UI

Windows 8 classic mode UI

In order to launch the Metro style apps, your virtual machine display resolution must be at least 1024x768. Right-click the classic mode desktop and select Screen resolution from the shortcut menu.

The Screen Resolution Control Panel item in Windows 8 looks just like its Windows 7 counterpart.

Install Wikndows 8 - Changing display resolution

Changing display resolution

From the VirtualBox menu, click Devices > Install Guest Additions to mount the Guest Additions disk image.

From the Autorun selector, shown in Figure 29, select Open folder to view files. The reason? We need to adjust the compatibility mode for the Guest Additions installer.

Install Windows 8 - VirtualBox Guest Additions autorun prompt

VirtualBox Guest Additions autorun prompt

Right-click your appropriate Guest Additions installer (they come in 32- and 64-bit versions), and select Properties from the shortcut menu.

As a side note, take a moment to play around with the brand-new Ribbon interface in Windows Explorer! What do you think of them apples?

Install Windows 8 - Windows Explorer with ribbon interface

Windows Explorer with ribbon interface

From the Guest Additions installer Properties sheet, navigate to the Compatibility tab and set the installer to run in Windows 7 compatibility mode.

Install Windows 8 - Configuring Windows 7 compatibility mode

Configuring Windows 7 compatibility mode

Next, install the Guest Additions and reboot. You’re ready to play with Windows 8 now!

Getting Around in Windows 8

You will know that your installation was completely successful if you see the Windows 8 DP lock screen:

Install Windows 8 - Windows 8 lock screen

Windows 8 lock screen

Drag up from the bottom of the screen with your mouse to see the logon screen.

Install Windows 8 - Logging on to Windows 8

Logging on to Windows 8

Armed with the previously given mouse and keyboard shortcuts, Windows 8 is now your proverbial oyster. Have fun!

Install Windows 8 - Setting tile options

Setting tile options


Assuming that your host computer meets the minimum system requirements, you should have no trouble installing and running Windows 8 DP in a virtual environment using Oracle VirtualBox. I hope that you found this tutorial helpful.

In future installments I will teach you more about how to use Windows 8 to maximum effect, as well as implications for Windows 8 deployment in the enterprise. Thanks for reading and take good care.


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