The short answer is a little bit of yes and a whole lotta no, at least in the
way that most people expect upgrades to work.
Here’s how I found out…
By mistake, I ordered copies of the Windows 8 upgrade edition. All
that really means is that rather than being able to install Windows 8 to a
clean or “bare metal” machine, there needs to be a prior version of Windows 7,
Windows Vista, or Windows XP installed.
The option of Windows XP confused me because Windows 7 didn’t really handle
that scenario well; effectively, there was no upgrade from XP to Windows 7 and
yet it appeared that that might have changed with Windows 8.
As it turns out, things may be a little more streamlined perhaps, but that’s
I’ll walk you through my upgrade and point out the relevant points when
upgrading from Windows XP.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
Upgrade Install versus Upgrade Edition
It’s important to clarify two different uses of the word “upgrade”
An upgrade install is the process of updating a previous
installation of Windows to a newer version, preserving as much as possible in
the process. This is opposed to a “clean” install, which is basically the
process of installing a completely new version of the operating system without
regard to, and in fact deleting, anything that happened to already be on the
An upgrade edition is a copy of the operating system
installation media or package which can be used only to perform upgrade
installs. In other words, an upgrade edition requires that there be a prior
version of Windows to be upgraded. This is opposed to a “full” edition, which
allows you to do either a clean or upgrade installation. Upgrade
versions are typically sold at a somewhat lower price than full editions.
So I had mistakenly purchased an upgrade edition which would only
allow me to perform an upgrade installation.
I chose an installation of Windows XP to be upgraded to Windows 8.
I can’t stress this enough. Whenever you’re about to upgrade something as
major as the operating system on your computer, you must back up
My recommendation is that you perform a full image backup using a tool such
Reflect or similar. That way, if something goes wrong during the
installation, you can always restore your machine from that backup to the state
it was in prior to the attempt.
The problem here isn’t that things go wrong often. The problem is that when
things go wrong, they can go very wrong to the point that the
installation on the hard disk – either old or new – may not be able to be
A backup, on the other hand, will let you recover from anything.
Starting the upgrade
When upgrading Windows XP to Windows 8, you begin by inserting the
installation media (a DVD in my case) and running the setup.exe program if it
doesn’t start automatically.
As you can see, that’s the Windows 8 setup program preparing to run, on top
of Windows XP’s familiar default desktop background and task bar.
Next Windows 8 Setup asks for the product key.
In many ways, when you purchase software like Windows 8, it’s really the
product key that you’re purchasing that legitimizes and activates your
installation. Make sure to keep it in a safe place. You’ll likely be able to
re-download Windows 8 for free, but if you lose the product key, you’ll need to
purchase another should you ever need to reinstall.
Choosing what to keep?
After agreeing to the License Terms, Windows 8 Setup asks a very interesting
Wanting to understand this better, I clicked on “Help me decide” which told
The bottom line is simply this:
Windows 8 setup will offer to move or preserve what it can for you.
If you’re “upgrading” from Windows XP, the only thing it appears to be able
to preserve for you are your personal files. Everything else will be setup from
So it’s not really much of an upgrade as it is a clean install that
preserves some of your data files.
Completing the installation
Click Next and Windows 8 Setup confirms what it’s about to
Next, it gives you a warning, at least, that this could take a while:
After that “while”, your machine will reboot and be running Windows 8. But
you’re not quite done.
Initial personalization of Windows 8
You’ve probably noticed that so far the Windows 8 setup screens have all
been a lovely shade of … purple. Fortunately, the very first thing you get to
personalize is the default color or color scheme:
Next, you’re given the option to skip the rest of the options and let Windows
8 use its defaults:
Detailing all those options is a job for another day, but be aware that
while many of the defaults are in fact appropriate; they’re all Microsoft,
right down to Bing for your search engine.
Finally, you login with your old Windows XP username and password (this was
technically an “upgrade” after all, and that’s one thing that was indeed
preserved), and you’re running Windows 8.