Windows 8.1 Release

The newest version of Windows (8.1) was released a few days ago. Should you get it?

Windows 8.1 LogoIf you are feeling intrepid today, you could visit the Windows Store to download Windows 8.1 before it is offered in the normal course of automatic upgrades.

Aha“, you might think, “I’ve heard this is going to give me back my Start button and make Windows 8 as cosy and usable as Windows 7. Let’s do it“. Well, it might not go according to plan and it’s not quite like that anyway.

If you are going to bravely go, then please please back up your data first. I don’t recommend doing it yet, anyway, for reasons described below. But if you are going to be a trail blazer at least make sure you don’t lose any precious data if things go wrong.

Clipart - "new" - version 2So why wouldn’t you go ahead?

It seems from what I’ve been reading that there are many setups that may not upgrade successfully. These include:

  • Windows RT upgrades (Windows RT is the special version of Windows 8 that runs on Microsoft Surface tablets – see this BBC report). These problems may now be resolved – see this link.
  • Laptop upgrades where the Windows 8 is installed on a solid state drive (SSD) and the data is stored on a conventional hard drive.
  • Other laptop upgrades where the installed drivers are not compatible with Windows 8.1.

Windows Surface computer
Windows Surface computer – some wouldn’t start at all after upgrading to Windows 8.1
In some cases (particularly running Windows RT), the upgrade doesn’t just fail – the whole setup is broken. This is clearly not good news.

What to do, then?

I would recommend just waiting and avoiding the upgrade for now. I think it likely that 8.1 will soon be offered as part of the routine Windows updates. When I checked the state of pending updates on my own Windows 8 machine a few minutes ago there was just one update available – KB2885699. Investigation of this update reveals that:

“After you install this update on a computer that is running Windows 8 or Windows RT, a notification that helps you update to Windows 8.1 or Windows RT 8.1 may be displayed when you unlock or log on to the computer.”

So, it looks as if KB2885699 will usher in the update to 8.1. Don’t hold your breath, though, as Microsoft will be staggering the availability of the upgrade, so you may not even be aware that it is available for your computer for a week or two yet.

Clipart - "New"The other big reason for not hurrying to install Windows 8.1 is that it won’t do what it’s been rumoured to do – it won’t bring back the “Start” button! My understanding is that some pale imitation of the Start button will re-appear where the old one used to be, but all it will do is take you back to the “Metro” (tiled) start screen. In other words, it will do the same as hitting the windows key when in desktop mode. It will, however, have one other feature in that a right-click on this new “Start button” will present options for closing down the machine.

There is also one other noteworthy enhancement to Windows 8.1 in that it will be possible to start the machine directly into the old “desktop mode” instead of having to arrive at the desktop via the Start screen. It must have really upset Microsoft to have to give in to popular demand on this point. After all, it will mean that you can pretty well avoid the tiled interface altogether if you want to.

So, it’s tempting to dismiss all of the hype about upgrading to Windows 8.1 as a lot of fuss about very little. More than that, it would be easy to conclude that the best thing to do, for the time being, is to avoid it completely if you don’t want to run the risk of breaking your system.

For my own part, I am going to keep an eye on things every time I re-boot (which is when the option to upgrade to 8.1 is likely to make itself known), but I’m going to be very wary of proceeding when it does offer itself. It’s probably safe to say that the later the option pops up, the more safe it’s likely to be.