December 11, 2012, 4:00 PM — Ahh, Windows 8. If youve decided you're ready to plunk down your hard-earned cash to give this modern UI a shot, you'll want to spend a few minutes considering just how you take your first steps into the Windows 8 experience.
You have three ways to install Windows 8 after youve purchased it: (a) Run it as a virtual machine on your current operating system; (b) dual-boot it alongside your current operating system; or (c) perform a full install and overwrite the OS you're currently rolling with. While the installation methods vary in complexity, all three are within the grasp of even Windows novices, and each brings its own pros and cons to the table.
Let's take a deeper look at each option.
Running Windows 8 in a virtual machine
One of the easiest ways to play with Windows 8 without having it affect your current operating-system setup is to install it in a virtual machine. While you can get fancy and purchase premium VM software like Parallels Workstation for this purpose, a completely free program called VirtualBox accomplishes the same thing, minus a few bells, whistles, and advanced options.
A virtual machine is exactly what its name suggests. VM software allows you to install and run a virtualized operating system within your existing operating system, and everything you do in that Inception-like second operating system is contained within its own individual environment. Once you're done playing around with your virtualized OS, you can eradicate it with just a few clicks of the mousethe virtualized OS is really nothing more than a series of files on your normal systems physical hard drive.
We cant stress this enough: What you do within your virtualized OS has absolutely no bearing on your actual operating system. Delete files. Change settings. Do whatever you want! Once youre done tinkering around for the day, all you have to do is shut down your virtualized version of Windows 8 to return to your normal operating system's desktop.
The downsides? First, running a virtualized OS requires more configuration steps than installing Windows 8 directly. For example, most VM software requires you to have a processor that supports hardware virtualization to run Windows 8, and you'll have to make sure that virtualization is enabled within your systems BIOS. A quick and easy way to check all of this is to download Microsofts official Hardware-Assisted Virtualization Tool and run it as an administrator on your PC. If youre ready to virtualize, the tool will let you know.