Last week, I made the switch from Windows 8 Consumer Preview -- which I'd been running -- to Windows 8 Release Preview.
These are both beta test versions of Microsoft's next new operating system. They're free to try out -- but they won't last forever, and once the actual product is released you'll either have to buy it or else reinstall your old operating system.
My installation of Consumer Preview a while back went very smoothly, which made me overconfident. Like an idiot, I didn't take the proper precautions when upgrading from Consumer Preview to Release Preview. I made a wrong selection during the upgrade process and as a result lost all of the data -- programs, documents, photos and music -- on my computer. I can still track down many of these items elsewhere -- for example, photos which I uploaded to Picasa or some other photo-sharing web site -- but I lost some things I can't replace.
Please, please, please, back up your important documents regularly, and certainly before making any sort of major change to your system. There are various backup systems available -- your computer's manufacturer might offer one, or you can use a third-party online backup service like Carbonite ( http://www.carbonite.com ). You could also manually back up important files to a cloud storage service like DropBox ( http://dropbox.com ), SkyDrive ( http://skydrive.live.com ), Google Drive ( http://drive.google.com ) or, for Apple users, iCloud ( http://apple.com/icloud ).
Even though I didn't plan to start over from scratch, there are benefits to doing so occasionally (albeit in a more deliberate manner). You probably have a lot of software on your computer that you never use, a lot of orphaned files and registry entries, and so on. It's actually a good idea to reinstall your operating system and start from scratch every once in a while. But when you do it, it should be because you intend to, and you should have all of your truly important files backed up and ready to put back onto the computer once you're done
Anyway, even though the traditional Windows desktop is still available, Windows 8 Release Preview feels a little more aggressive in trying to steer you towards Microsoft's Metro interface, the one designed for touchscreen devices more than desktops.
For me, and I've found others online with the same problem, it also has a huge bug. My desktop computer comes with a built-in cardreader, and unless I manually go into device manager and disable each of the slots it contains, Windows 8 won't shut down correctly -- it will give you error messages for each drive letter that's reserved for the card reader, and it will eventually seem to boot down but won't go far enough to turn off the computer.
So, until this bug is fixed, I have to leave the card reader turned off most of the time. I can activate it when I need it as long as I remember to turn it off before shutting down the computer.
Microsoft feels Windows 8 is the operating system of the future -- for tablets, and for future laptops and desktops which will include touch-screen displays. I'm not sure how it will fly with the general public in the meantime. It may be too much of a change to encourage people to upgrade their existing desktop or laptop. To me, the Metro interface still doesn't feel right on a big desktop monitor with a mouse and keyboard. I find myself doing everything on the traditional Windows desktop. It may be that I just haven't given the Metro apps enough of a chance.
I doubt Microsoft is banking on too much upgrade business. They're hoping that future devices pre-installed with Windows 8 and Metro apps will catch on.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is http://lakeneuron.com .