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How to Upgrade Online to Windows 8

With Windows 8, Microsoft lets you upgrade to a new operating system online: After you purchase the program online, Microsoft sends it to your computer through the Internet. After you run through a few steps, Windows installs itself over your existing Windows version.

Upgrading online requires a fast broadband Internet connection, which rules out some customers. And even with a fast connection, the process takes much longer than upgrading with a DVD. However, upgrading online costs less than buying a DVD, and it's an easy way to upgrade tablets and laptops that lack DVD drives.

Through January 31, 2013, Microsoft offers a $39 online upgrade to Windows 8 Pro, a substantial savings over the regular price. As part of the online upgrade special, Microsoft also lets you upgrade to a free copy of Windows Media Center, which lets you play DVDs and record TV shows through an attached tuner.

Follow these steps to upgrade online to Windows 8 from a computer running Windows 7, Windows Vista, or Windows XP:

  1. Visit the Windows 8 upgrade website, click the Download Windows 8 button, and purchase the upgrade.

    Microsoft collects your credit card information and begins sending the program's installation file to send your computer. (The upgrade price increases after January 31, 2013.)

  2. When Internet Explorer asks whether you'd like to Save or Run the incoming download, click the Run button.

    Clicking Run tells the installation program to begin the installation immediately. When the program first runs, it checks your computer for compatibility and lists any issues it finds.

  3. Read the compatibility issues.

    The program sums up the problems your computer may have with the install, including how many of your programs and devices won't work.

    To see exactly which programs and devices aren't compatible, click the See Compatibility Details link. The Compatibility Details page appears, listing every problem. To see more information about the problem listed on that page, click the problem's adjacent More Details link.

  4. After reviewing the information, click the Next button.

    Windows lists a 25-character string of numbers and characters. Write it down and store it in a safe place. This is your product key, and without it, you can't install Windows. You may need the product key later if something goes wrong.

  5. Write down the product key and click the Next button.

    Your computer begins downloading a copy of Windows 8 and then unpacking the downloaded files. (You can continue to use your computer for 15 to 45 minutes while this process takes place.)

  6. Choose how to install Windows 8.

    After downloading itself to your computer, the online installation program lets you choose one of three ways to upgrade to Windows 8:

    • Install now: Designed for the impatient, this option begins installing Windows 8 as soon as you click the Next button. If you choose it, move to Step 6.

    • Install by creating media: Designed for the cautious who prefer backups, this more technically challenging option lets you save the installation file on a flash drive, or onto your computer for burning to a DVD on your own.

    • Install later from your desktop: Designed for the tired, this lets you save the installation file to your computer. The program places a convenient installation link on your desktop. If you choose this option, click Close to close the installation program. Later, when you're ready to upgrade, click the desktop link called Install Windows, and that brings you back to this very step.

  7. Depending on your choice in the preceding step, click Next or Close.

  8. Read the 12,000-word License Terms, select the I Accept the License Terms check box, and click the Accept button.

  9. Select the information you want to keep from your old Windows version.

    Depending on your particular Windows version, you see several options describing what information Windows 8 will keep from your old computer.

    No matter which Windows version you own, choosing the first listed option always preserves as much information as possible from your old computer.

  10. Click Next.

    When you click Next, the program checks to see whether you need to perform any additional tasks, perhaps restarting your PC, before moving to the next step.

  11. Click the Install button.

    Windows 8 lists your choices made in the previous step. (Click the Change Selection link to revisit those choices if you want to do some double-checking.)

    When you click Install, Windows 8 begins installing itself, restarting your PC several times during the process.

    As your computer restarts, you may see a message onscreen saying, Press any key to boot from CD or DVD. Don't press any key. Instead, just let Windows 8 run unattended.

  12. Click the preferred background color for your Start screen and then click the Next button.

    On the Background Color bar, click the color you want for the background of your Start screen. (You can always change this later from the Start screen's PC Settings screen.)

  13. Click the Use Express Settings button.

    Clicking Express Settings tells Windows 8 to turn on its security options, automatically installs drivers for newly plugged-in gadgets, lets your home or office computers share files, lets apps know your name and account photo, and lets Windows know your location, helpful when accessing maps and other location-aware apps.

    Or, if you prefer to approve these choices one-by-one, click Customize instead.

  14. Enter your current password and click the Next button.

    Required when upgrading from password-protected accounts, this lets Windows know that you're not trying to break in.

  15. Sign in with a Microsoft account, if desired, or click Skip to use your existing account as a local account on Windows 8.

    To create a Microsoft account now, click Next. To stick with your current account — which you can convert to a Microsoft account later, if you want — click the Skip button.

    Windows finalizes your settings and then leaves you at the Start screen.

To add a free copy of Windows Media Center before January 31, 2013, right-click any Windows 8 screen's bottom-left corner and choose System from the pop-up menu. When the Control Panel's System page appears, click the View Details in Windows Activation link near the page's bottom. Then click the Add Features to Your Edition button.

For more information about Windows 8, explore Windows 8 For Dummies, available online.

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