Are you among the 37.74% of all Windows and Mac OS installations worldwide still using Windows XP and wondering what you will do when Microsoft stops supporting it? If so, chances are that you've thought about experimenting with the Windows 8.1 Preview. Well, if your computer meets the system requirements to run Windows 8.1 and your hard disk has enough free space on it to support a second partition, then it might be easier than you think to dabble with the new operating system. With a little time and effort, you can install Windows 8.1 Preview in a dual-boot configuration right alongside your trusted Windows XP.
Creating a dual-boot configuration by installing Windows 8.1 Preview on a partition of your existing hard disk will be a big advantage as you begin your experimentation. To begin with, you can investigate Windows 8.1, but when you need to get some work done, you can boot back into Windows XP. Then, when you are done experimenting, you can easily undo the dual-boot configuration.
In the past, if you only had one partition on your hard disk, creating this type of dual-boot configuration in Windows XP was a tricky operation that required expensive third-party disk partitioning software. Today, you can find great disk partitioning software for free, such as EaseUS Partition Master Free Edition, which can safely adjust partitions while keeping all your data intact.
In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll show you how to use EaseUS Partition Master Free Edition to easily resize your hard disk without disturbing your Windows XP installation. Then, I'll show you how to install Windows 8.1 Preview in a dual-boot configuration on the same hard disk.
Note: Keep in mind that the Windows 8.1 Preview is essentially beta software. The actual release is scheduled to RTM in August 2013.
Get the DVD
Of course, you'll need to have a Windows 8.1 Preview DVD. For information on how to get a Windows 8.1 Preview DVD, see the Download the ISO section of my article Install Windows 8.1 Preview in a dual-boot configuration using a VHD.
Make a backup
Even though EaseUS Partition Master can safely adjust partitions while keeping your data intact, you'll want to start by backing up your data. You can use Windows XP's Backup Utility or a third-party disk imaging tool. That way if anything goes awry, you can restore your Windows XP system and get right back to work.
To create a disk image of my Windows XP test system, I used Macrium Reflect Free Edition, as shown in Figure A. (You can read a short review of Macrium Reflect in a recent edition TechRepublic's Five Apps column and you can download Macrium Reflect Free Edition on the CNET Download.com site.)
Macrium Reflect Free Edition will allow you to can quickly create a disk image backup.
Just to be on the safe side, you may also want to back up all your data on CD/DVD or on an external hard disk. While it may sound like overkill, having an extra backup of your data will give you peace of mind.
Creating a partition for Windows 8.1 Preview
Once you download and install EaseUS Partition Master Free Edition, repartitioning your Windows XP hard disk is easy. When you launch Partition Master, you'll see your hard disk in a nicely organized user interface, as shown in Figure B. As you can see, on my example system I have a 160GB hard disk that is configured as 149GB partition on which Windows XP is installed.
EaseUS Partition Master Free Edition provides you with an easy to use interface.
To begin, select your partition and then select Resize/Move partition from the Operations pane or the toolbar. When you see the Resize/Move partition dialog box, specify the size of the new partition in the Unallocated Space After box. As you can see in Figure C, I've set aside a 40GB partition by typing 40956.6 in the Unallocated Space After box.
For my example, I am creating a 40 GB partition for Windows 8.1 Preview.
To continue, click OK. When you do, you'll return to the main screen and will see how your Resize operation will change the partition once it's complete, as shown in Figure D.
Partition Master will show you what your new partition configuration will look like.
To initiate the operation, click the Apply button on the left side of the toolbar. You'll see a confirmation dialog box followed by a warning message, as shown in Figure E. Make sure that the Shut down the computer check box is selected and click Yes to work through both.
After you click the Apply button, you'll work through several confirmation dialog boxes.
When you click the last Yes, your system will restart and boot into a Partition Master environment which will carry out the resize operation. When it is finished, it will shut down your system and you will then need to manually turn it on. When you do, you'll see a Partition Master screen that tells you the operation was successful and Windows XP will boot normally.
If you want to be sure that everything worked correctly, launch Partition Master again and you'll see the new partition. Once you close Partition Master, you're ready to install Windows 8.1 Preview.
Installing Windows 8.1 Preview on the new partition
To begin, insert your Windows 8.1 Preview DVD into the optical drive and restart Windows XP. When your system boots from the DVD, you'll begin the installation procedure as you normally would by selecting your language preferences and clicking the Install now button, as illustrated in Figure F.
You'll begin the Windows 8.1 Preview installation by selecting your language preferences and clicking the Install now button.
When you click the Install now button, Setup will begin a series of operations in the background. In a moment, you'll be prompted to enter your product key and then to accept the license terms. When you do so, you'll be prompted to choose the installation type and will select the Custom option, as shown in Figure G.
When prompted to choose the installation type, select the Custom option.
You'll then be prompted to select where you want to install Windows 8.1 Preview, as shown in Figure H, and will select your new partition. While there are additional options on this screen, you need not select any of them. You'll just click the Next button and continue with the installation procedure as you normally would.
You'll simply select your new partition and click Next. Booting Windows 8.1 Preview
When the installation is complete, Windows Setup will restart your system one final time and you will then see the new Windows 8 style dual-boot screen shown in Figure I. As you can see, Windows 8.1 Preview will automatically launch in 30 seconds if you don't choose Windows XP, which is listed on this menu as Earlier Version of Windows.
When you see the Windows Boot Manager screen, you can choose to boot either Windows XP or Windows 8.1 Preview.
You can now easily boot between Windows XP and Windows 8.1 simply by selecting an option on the menu.
When dual booting Windows XP and Windows 8.1 Preview, there are a couple of things that you need to understand so that you don't panic when the system behaves differently than you might expect it to. When you install Windows 8.1, the new operating system's Boot Manager takes over the entire boot configuration of your system. Of course, the most apparent example of this is the boot menu; however, the takeover goes deeper than just the boot menu.
To begin with, each and every time that you boot your system, you'll see the Windows 8 Preview logo, a Betta fish, before you see the menu. At first glance, this makes it seem that the system is booting right into Windows 8.1 Preview and that Windows XP is gone. However, there is nothing to worry about. As soon as the Windows 8 logo disappears, you'll see the boot menu and can select either Windows XP or Windows 8.1 Preview.
The second thing that might seem a bit odd at first is when you select your Windows XP installation from the boot menu. When you do, your system will actually reboot again rather than just launching the operating system. When it does reboot, it will automatically launch Windows XP. (When you select Windows 8.1 Preview, the operating system simply launches.) Again, this is the way it is supposed to work.
The third thing that may throw you off is what happens if you change the default operating system. If you want to configure Windows XP to be the default operating system, you can click the Change defaults or choose other options at the bottom of the boot menu screen and follow the simple instructions. This means that after the countdown expires, the system will boot into Windows XP instead of Windows 8.1 Preview. However, when you make Windows XP the default operating system, the boot menu also changes. Now, you will see Windows XP's black and white boot menu like the one shown in Figure J. When you are using Windows XP's boot menu, both operating systems will immediately launch when you select them from the menu.
Windows XP's boot menu is black and white.
If you later decide that you like Windows 8's boot menu better, you can switch back. To do so, boot into Windows 8.1 Preview, launch an Administrative Command Prompt, and type the command
When you restart your system, you again will see Windows 8's boot menu.
One last thing that you might find a bit distracting, especially if you're a diehard Windows XP user, is that the boot menu identifies Windows XP as that Earlier version of Windows. To fix that, you need another third-party tool like EasyBCD. Using the free version, I was able to use the Edit Boot Menu option to rename the menu entry to Windows XP, as shown in Figure K.
Using EasyBCD, you can rename the boot menu entry. What's your take?
Will you use this technique to experiment with the Windows 8.1 Preview on your Windows XP system? What do you think about Windows 8.1? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.
Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.