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How to test-drive Windows 8 for free in VirtualBox

Want to dip your toes in Microsoft's modern UI before plunging head-first into Windows 8?

By Alex Castle, PC World
December 03, 2012 02:00 PM ET

PC World - Upgrading to a new operating system can beA an intimidating undertaking that massively disrupts your daily workflow. And considering the dramatic interface changes introduced in Windows 8, you may not want to invest in Microsoft's latest OS without first giving it a thorough shakedown.

Can you navigate Windows 8?

Fortunately, there's an easy,A hassle-freeA way to test-drive Windows 8. Using a program called VirtualBox and the evaluation version of Windows 8 Enterprise, you can try out the new OS for free, without disturbing your current operating system. Read onwell show you how.

Important considerations

For this project, you'llA needA to use the evaluation version of Windows 8 Enterprise, which you can download directly from Microsoft at the MSDN Evaluation Center website. There are a few things you should know about the evaluation edition, but you might want to start the download nowat 3.4GB, it will take a while.

Wording on the download page identifies it as Windows 8 evaluation for developers, but anyone who has a Microsoft account (such as a free Hotmail or Live account) can download the software and try it out. The download link is at the very bottom of the page. Simply select the 32- or 64-bit version of the operating system, log in, and fill out a brief questionnaire. Just like that, youre downloading Windows 8!

Of course, Microsoft doesnt give away Windows for free,A and thisA evaluation version has a couple of major limitations. First, the trial period expires in 90 daysat which point the OS will automatically shut down after every 60 minutes of use.

Second, you can't upgrade from the evaluation version of Windows 8 Enterprise to a full version of Windows 8. Instead, you have to uninstall it completely and start over with a non-evaluation version of the OS. Every app you've installed, and every file you've tinkered with, will be obliterated when the trial ends and you install another operating system. So back up your data! The bottom line is that you shouldn't use the evaluation version of Windows 8 Enterprise as your main operating system, which is why we recommend installing it in a virtual machine.

On the plus side, Windows 8 Enterprise packs some nifty features that you won't find in the vanilla version of Windows 8, including BitLocker encryption, Hyper-V virtualization, and the intriguing Windows to Go, which allows the OS to boot from removable storage. You also get IT-friendly tools such as BranchCache and AppLocker support. Though some of those tools are come with with Windows 8 Pro, Windows 8 Enterprise users can't download the Pro version's $10 Windows Media Center pack (sorry, CableCard lovers). Wikipedia has a handy chart comparing the features available for the different editions of Windows 8, including Windows RT.

While the Windows 8 ISO downloads, you should also download the latest version of VirtualBox for Windows. Run the installer, and choose the default settings for all of the install options. If you already have VirtualBox installed on your system, you can make sure that its current by clicking the Help menu at the top of the screen and selecting Check for Updates. Older versions don't offer native support for Windows 8, and VirtualBox's latest releases have greatly improved system usability while running Windows 8 on a virtual machine.

Originally published on www.pcworld.com. Click here to read the original story.

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