Install Windows 8 in a Virtual Machine

Set Up Windows 8 in a VM

Most technical professionals love to test out new software. However, they hate to mess up their production machines. After all, those computers have been tweaked, optimized and customized to provide exactly the right environment to get things done and get them done fast. On the other hand, those production machines are our favorite computers. Sure, we can test stuff on another computer, but that isn’t the same thing as being able to run the newest test software on your desk, with your monitor and your stuff.

Unfortunately, when it comes to trying out an operating system, there aren’t a lot of really good options that allow you to run the new OS on your favorite computer. However, it is possible to get Windows 8 running in a virtual machine so that you can try out all the latest and greatest updates from the Windows 8 Developer Preview without having to restore or rebuild your machine.

Virtual Machine Running Windows 8

Typically, I like to test software on VMware Player. Unfortunately, it seems that Windows 8 Developer Preview cannot run on the free VMware Player; it can only run on the full VMware Workstation virtualization software. The good news is that the developer preview of Windows 8 can run in an Oracle VirtualBox virtual machine.

Install Windows 8 in Virtual Machine Instructions

It is fairly straightforward to install Windows 8 in a VirtualBox machine. First, of course, you’ll need to install VirtualBox. Download the software from the VirtualBox website and proceed through the standard setup routine. You’ll also need a copy of the Windows 8 Developer Preview. Grab the ISO file from here. Don’t bother making a disk, you can just point VirtualBox to the ISO file when you install.

Once installed, run the VirtualBox Manager. You’ll see something like this:

Setup Windows 8 in a Virtual-Machine 1

Select Create New Virtual Machine and choose Microsoft Windows for the Operating System. For version, you can choose either Windows 8.

Next, create a virtual hard disk with the default settings and click Next. Use a VDI file type. You won’t be exporting this test VM anywhere else, so you may as well go native. Choose Dynamically Allocated for the type. This is much faster to create and a better use of resources.

When it comes time to choose the size of the disk there are two things to keep in mind. First, this is all the disk space your Windows 8 install will see. If you know anything about Microsoft software, you know that minimums are not the way to go. Second, don’t squeeze your real machine’s storage space too much. On the other hand, if you have 200 GB of free disk space, don’t be a Scrooge and make a 100 GB disk so your new OS has some room to run.

Set your memory usage as high as you dare. This is Windows, it needs all the RAM it can get. Once created, select your Windows 8 VM and click Start.

Now, browse to where you have the ISO install file and click next. VirtualBox will start installing Windows 8 inside the virtual machine. Choose your language and accept the license agreement and then click Install Now.

Setup Windows 8 in a Virtual-Machine 2

Running Windows 8 Setup in VirtualBox

Choose to install Windows 8 in the unallocated space inside of your VM. There is no reason to get fancy with multiple drives at this time, but in theory you could partition the space inside your VM. Windows 8 install will start copying files and installing itself just like it would on any other non-VM PC.

Setup Windows 8 in a Virtual-Machine 3

Keep in mind that this whole process is much slower than it should be. You are giving a fraction of your machine’s resources over to Windows 8 and the virtual machine denies a lot of hardware acceleration you might otherwise benefit from; in other words, go get a cup of coffee and work on another project, this will take a while.

Once Windows 8 is installed, it will ask you to name the machine and connect to a Windows Live account. You don’t have to do that, but if you have one, it will give you all the features that go with having the online link.

Welcome To Windows 8

By default, the VirtualBox won’t show the whole Windows 8 start screen. Since half the fun of Windows 8 is poking around the new Metro interface, you want to be able to see the whole thing. Find your new Windows 8 Control Panel and change your resolution so that more of the interface fits on the screen at one time.

Setup Windows 8 in a Virtual-Machine 4

You can now play around with your new Windows 8 installation.

There are some important things to keep in mind. First, do not judge the speed. No matter how many resources you turned over to your VM, it is still a subset of your computer, and while VirtualBox does support passing through some hardware acceleration, you are not getting the full effect. Also, keep in mind fancy features like that touchscreen are not going to work inside your VM. Finally, this version of Windows 8 is a developer preview. For those of you not versed in the lingo that means it isn’t even close to ready yet. This isn’t one of those fully functional, nearly ready, beta softwares Microsoft has handed out recently. There are going to be issues, and they are going to be made worse by using it inside a virtual machine.

Still, a fully functional Windows 8 system to play around with, without destroying your regular machine is a fun toy to try out.

Have fun!


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