The operating system still has a few holes, so it is best left to those in the know until they're rectified.

The operating system still has a few holes, so it is best left to those in the know until they're rectified. Photo: Craig Abraham

A drive failure leads to installation of Microsoft's new baby.

THERE are times at Bleeding Edge when we are shocked by the depth of our spinelessness. You may recall our stand against Windows 8 two weeks ago. We said we wouldn't dream of moving to Windows 8 until it had been tried and tested in the wild. Several readers expressed solidarity. They complained bitterly that Microsoft had stolen their Start button - which, paradoxically, is the preferred route to the Stop button - and were consequently employing the Ctrl/Alt/Delete ''three-finger salute'' to turn their PCs off.

Even an IT manager for a relatively large company complained that the missing Start button had diminished his productivity. Like several other bewildered and aggrieved users, he had tweaked his desktop with a free utility called ViStart, which has apparently been soothing the shattered nerves of Start-menu lovers everywhere.

Meanwhile, the Crucial solid-state drive that housed the operating system and applications to speed up our desktop operations failed. That meant we were going to have to remove the old drive and pop in a new 240-gigabyte Intel 520 Series drive - which we have been recommending for several generations of our quarterly workhorse PC specifications - and (sigh!) reinstall Windows and all those applications.

Had we real backbone, we would have stuck to our principles and reinstalled Windows 7, rather than becoming one of the early adopters doing Microsoft's stress testing.

However, while gathering strength for the impending trial - a process that included a restorative visit to Costco, where we transferred the contents of our bank account to the US - we happened to notice the update version of Windows 8 Pro on the shelves for $48.69. That was marginally cheaper than the $57.95 at eStore, and precisely 3¢ cheaper than Officeworks.

Because another reader had assured us our suggestion that the retail versions of Windows 8 were only update versions was incorrect, and that it was possible to use them for a fresh installation, we decided to test the hypothesis.

We should warn readers here that much of the advice being dispensed about Windows 8 at most retail establishments, including Costco, is being delivered from a deep, corporate resource of complete ignorance.

They assured us that, yes indeed, we could do a fresh installation with the little black Windows 8 Pro package.

Having spent quite a respectable amount of time trying to do just that, we can assure you that you cannot. While it will install very sweetly, it will not allow you to activate the installation. If you want Windows 8 to work beyond increasingly frequent activation warnings, you will have to install it on a machine that already has a pre-existing copy of Windows.

We were therefore forced to install two operating systems (actually three, counting the clean installation trial): first going through the set-up procedure with our copy of Windows 7 Ultimate, then installing Windows 8 Pro. It was a useful experiment because it allowed us to report that the Windows 8 installation was much easier and much more thorough than its predecessor.

As a special treat, because the Windows 8 installation saves files from the previous operating system in a folder called Windows.old - in our case taking up 32GB of disk space - we also had one operating system to delete. That meant we had to activate a Windows accessory called Cleanmgr to get rid of the Windows.old folder.

We know a lot of users are going to use the mouse to swipe to the corner of the screen to activate the Windows 8 Charm Bar then click on the magnifying glass to find what they are looking for, but we've decided to use the keyboard shortcuts as much as possible. There is a handy list of them here.

To search for applications, you hold down the Windows key and press Q. To search for files, hit Windows key/F. Windows key/I activates the Settings menu. You can find the Power button at the bottom of it.

One we will use a lot is Windows key/D, which brings the system out of the Metro mode to the Desktop interface. We regularly have to use a Java-based security system to do a Remote Desktop log-in, and Java does not work in Metro mode.

We confess that so far, we've actually enjoyed using Windows 8. We still think it's too soon for the average user to rush in, but if, like us, you lack backbone and are prepared to play, it could be interesting. We'd recommend that if possible, however, think carefully before you install it on your primary PC.

A warning about buying a Windows 8 package from Costco: ours seems to have come from Britain. By default it installed the English time zone, keyboard and dictionary, which we had to change.

cwright@theage.com.au