Windows 8.1 Update Now Available
Microsoft has released its Windows 8.1 update as a free download for Windows 8 users.
Windows 8 users can get the update through Microsoft's Windows Store here. Windows 8.1 includes a number of functionality improvements (including the rebirth of a Start button of sorts), as well as networking improvements. For an overview, see this Redmond article.
Microsoft has three editions: Windows 8.1, Windows 8.1 Pro and Windows 8.1 Enterprise (for volume licensing customers). There's also a Windows 8.1 System Builder edition for those building their own PCs. Microsoft's Windows RT 8.1 ARM-based operating system is only sold with computers and isn't available as a separate boxed product.
On top of the OS release, Microsoft's Windows Store now includes some new Windows 8.1 apps, and app developers can begin submitting their Windows 8.1-packaged apps for vetting, Microsoft announced. Microsoft also released Visual Studio 2013 today. Developers that got their Windows 8.1 apps into the Windows Store today got "preferential treatment," according to a post by veteran Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley, who listed 11 new available Windows 8.1 apps.
Upgrading to Windows 8.1
Microsoft charges for the upgrade for those using Windows 7 or earlier operating system versions, with upgrades carried out using the Windows 8.1 Upgrade Assistant. The Upgrade Assistant is a downloadable agent that will check if a machine is optimal for running Windows 8.1 first before giving the user the option to purchase and install the OS, according to Microsoft's description. Microsoft described the retail pricing for Windows 8.1 back in September.
Upgraders should take care to read Microsoft's Windows 8.1 FAQ before proceeding. The easiest upgrade is from Windows 8, but those using installation media for the upgrade "won't be able to keep your apps, Windows settings or personal files when you install Windows 8.1," according to Microsoft's FAQ, which provides a table showing what happens in various upgrade scenarios. Windows 8 users that upgrade to Windows 8.1 will have to reinstall their apps from the Windows Store. Those upgrading from earlier OSes will need the original install media for their apps.
Those users upgrading from Windows Vista or Windows XP will need a DVD with Windows 8.1 in order to perform a "clean installation," according to Microsoft's FAQ. Retail outlets around the world will begin selling boxed copies of Windows 8.1 on Friday, Oct. 18, along with new PC systems running Windows 8.1.
Microsoft lists the system requirements for Windows 8.1 at this page. To access some features, users may need certain hardware. For instance, a screen resolution of at least 1024 x 768 is needed for optimal Windows Store access. A screen with multitouch capability is an option for those wanting to use Windows 8.1's touch capabilities (Windows 8.1 also works with keyboard plus mouse combinations). See Microsoft's explanation about hardware support for touch at this page.
Running Hyper-V on the client only works with the 64-bit Windows 8.1 Pro OS on machines with second-level address translation capabilities and 2 GB of RAM. Using the "secure boot" security capability requires firmware with "UEFI v2.3.1 Errata B" support.
It's possible to upgrade from a 32-bit version of Windows to 64-bit Windows 8.1 provided that the underlying hardware has a 64-bit processor. However, such upgrades require reinstalling any wanted files, settings and apps.
There's no DVD playback software included with Windows 8.1. Microsoft suggests searching the Windows Store to get a media player in its "DVD playback options for Windows" page. Also, those looking to include Media Center for watching programs or recording TV from their computer will find that it's not included with Windows 8.1 but is available as an option through the Windows 8.1 Pro Pack or Windows 8.1 Media Center Pack, as described at this page. Windows 8 users that already have Media Center won't have to reinstall it after an upgrade to Windows 8.1.
Restoring the OS after installing Windows 8.1 is possible for Windows 8 users, but apps will need to be reinstalled following the restore process. For older OSes, a complete reinstallation of the OS would be required to go back. Microsoft describes the Windows 8 "restore" capabilities at this page.
Microsoft's Windows 8.1 update purchases include 90 days of no-cost support from Microsoft that will start after the OS product gets activated. There's also a support page for Windows 8.1 here.
IT pros looking for more information, plus evaluation trial copies of Windows 8.1 Enterprise edition, can find resources at this Microsoft Springboard page.
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.