While Microsoft’s decision to exorcise Windows Media Center from Windows 8 has been hotly debated within tech enthusiast circles, we should at least give the software giant credit for making the little-used software available at all. And in the Release Preview, you can install Windows Media Center for free, plus get a peek at the new Add Feature to Windows 8 functionality in the process.
In my Windows 8 Release Preview briefings over the past week, Microsoft mentioned two related things, separately, that I found very interesting: First, the Add Features to Windows 8 functionality would be present in some form in this build, giving users their first hands-on peek at this replacement for Windows Anytime Upgrade. And second, it be would allowing testers to install Windows Media Center in this release.
I was curious to see how this would be implemented.
I wrote about Add Features to Windows 8 separately in Windows 8 Release Preview: Add Features to Windows 8. And while you should refer to that article for a more general overview of this functionality, it’s worth noting here that there are two ways to use the tool: You can step through a wizard that guides you through what upgrades are available and then purchase, download, and install an upgrade; or, you can enter a previously purchased product key and simply install the associated upgrade.
I had hoped (and sort of assumed) that Microsoft would give users a peek at the coming wizard-based upgrade functionality, but simply price Windows Media Center as free. But when you choose “I want to buy a product key online” from the Add Features to Windows 8 control panel in the Release Preview, you’re met with the following error:
Turns out, that’s not how it works.
Instead, Microsoft is simply providing a product key which allows you to install the feature using the second option in this control panel, “I already have a product key.”
The trick, of course, is knowing how to find that product key. I’ll save you a bit of trouble and simply provide the key here:
But if you visit Microsoft’s impossible-to-find Windows 8 Release Preview FAQ, you’ll discover one of the ways you might have obtained this key yourself. They actually provide this key there. It’s also available on the Windows 8 Release Preview install media, but whatever. Let’s just install the damn thing.
To do so, you must first close any apps and open windows you’re using. This process will reboot your computer and it will do so without warning or a chance to stop it.
When you’re ready, launch Add Features to Windows 8 (easiest way: Start Search). Then, choose “I already have a product key” from the opening screen. In the Enter Your Product Key view, enter the product key noted above.
The wizard will note that the key works. Click Next to Continue.
In the next view, Ready to Add New Features, accept the license terms.
Then, click Add features to continue. The wizard will display a progress bar and note that it is adding the feature.
Then, Windows will disappear and you’ll see the full-screen install experience that occurs when you install updates during a reboot. Your PC will reboot.
When it does, and you’ve signed in, you can check for the existence of Windows Media Center, again using Start Search.
When you return to the desktop, you’ll see that the Add Features to Windows 8 control panel has completed.
Now, just run Media Center and enjoy.
Well, there may be one more thing. On the PC I tested this on, I noted that Action Center was throwing off a warning. When I checked it, I was told that I must reactivate Windows, and it asked for a new product key. I entered the product key noted above, which worked. It’s not clear if this will happen with all installs, however, but be aware of this and have the key ready just in case.