Journey to Windows 8.1 Pro

The upgrade experience from Windows 8 Pro to Windows 8.1 Pro is something that we the Windows users never experienced before. When Windows 8.1 was available publicly as a public preview, it was already announced by third-party bloggers and later Microsoft itself that Windows 8.1 would eventually available for free to Windows 8 users through the Windows Store. Windows Store debuted in Windows 8. I did think of Windows 8.1 Pro as an update (feature pack or service pack) to Windows 8.1 Pro. The truth is more complex than that.

If you have a newly installed Windows 8 Pro machine without any Windows updates, you will not be able to upgrade to Windows 8.1 Pro from Windows Store. You will need an update called KB 2871389. This update will be installed in most cases through Windows Update. In my own experience, however, Windows Update cannot find KB 2871389 in one of the machines I manage while the other machines work fine. Microsoft does have a web page that describes such problem and another web page to download such update separately.

From the perspective of architecture, Windows 8.1 Pro shares similar foundation with Windows 8 Pro. It’s Windows NT 6.3, compared with Windows 8 as Windows NT 6.2. A service pack usually does not bump up version number; at least that’s the case for Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. There is no standalone installer, not the entire operating system, which has been distributed to allow the upgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1.

Windows 8.1 is available for free to all Windows 8 users. We actually have to download the entire operating system to perform the update. In the previous versions of Windows, the installation of service pack would add, replace, or remove some Windows files. The update from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1 is actually somewhat similar to the installation of new version of Windows without reformatting the Windows partition, which the previous Windows files are being moved to a folder called windows.old. It actually installs the entire operating system. But what is truly amazing is that existing desktop apps can be migrated to Windows 8.1 automatically, which is technically possible when Windows 8.1 shares a very large portion of same structure with Windows 8. Of course, the users’ files and profiles are kept as well. The installation process suggests that Windows 8.1 is a new version of Windows but the user can still regard it as the same version because he does not need to pay for such upgrade.

Since the upgrade to Windows 8.1 Pro from Windows 8 Pro is the installation of the entire operating system rather than just a service pack, it may make sense to just install KB 2871389 update to allow the upgrade process to take place from Windows Store.

Upon the completion of Windows 8.1 installation, we can remove the windows.old folder by using Disk Cleanup utility.

The upgrade process from Windows Store would eventually ask and require you to sign in with your Microsoft account if you are not already signed in. Upon the completion of upgrade to Windows 8.1, you can disconnect the Microsoft account to use the local account once the upgrade process is completed. The requirement of Microsoft account is also the reason I did not try Windows 8.1 Preview, which did not support local account. While I am an outlook.com/SkyDrive user, I do prefer local account. Microsoft recommends the users to use Microsoft Account. The Built-in SkyDrive App only works with Microsoft account. I mainly get access to SkyDrive though desktop Internet Explorer 11.

No, the Start Menu is not coming back. But the users can choose to show the app view automatically when they go to start screen, which is essentially a full-screen Start Menu. I’ve argued before that “Start Screen” is a full-screen Start Menu in Windows 8. “App View” does exist in Windows 8. We go to “App View” whenever we use the “Search” charm. In Windows 8.1, we swipe up on the Start screen or click on the arrow button that appears at the bottom of Start screen when we move the mouse cursor to go to “App View”; “Search” charm no longer brings us to “App View”. For those people who have a lot of apps installed, Start Screen allows you to sort apps according to category and priority we define; we may choose to pin the apps or folders to the Start screen that we currently need. On the other hand, “App View” will show all apps or folders we pinned to Start screen, sorted by pre-defined ways, such as name, category (folders), date installed, and most used. In particular, the “most used” does remind me of the old Start Menu.

Windows 8.1 also features “desktop first”. By default, Windows 8 would require you to see the Start Screen whether or not you mainly use desktop apps. There is no built-in option that allows you to change such behavior. In Windows 8.1, you can change such behavior at “Taskbar and Navigation”. To some, that’s Microsoft’s compromise. To me, that’s Microsoft being practical.

More than a year since the original general availability of Windows 8 on October 26, 2013, my most important apps remain to be desktop apps; the apps from Windows Store still play minor, if not non-existent role in my day-to-day use. Windows 8.1 also includes apps like “Music” and “Video”. They are far from being a versatile media players that I like; “Metro-Style Apps” do not support the installation of additional codecs. They do have built-in online stores where I can purchase songs and movies. As far as music player app, my favorite is still Windows Media Player. My default video player is Media Player Classic Home Cinema. I’ve installed K-Lite Codec Pack Mega (now includes 64 Bit codec) in every single machine I manage.

There’s one app I probably found useful from Windows Store, which is 海词词典 or Hai Ci Dictionary. It is an English Dictionary that gives both English and Chinese explanation. I’ve to say that the upgrade to UniFi BIZ 10 certainly comes at the right moment. Higher-speed internet connection allows quicker upgrade process. Of course, as any service packs, Windows 8.1 also features behind-the-scene changes which are typically performance improvements and bug-fixes. So far, all apps are being migrated successfully automatically, other than “Sonic Generations”. It’s a PC game that I can’t play on my PC, which previously works on Windows 8. Hopefully, given the time, it will eventually works again.

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