Windows 8.1 was released officially the week before last and brought with it all the goodness, and not as goodness, described in my previous blog post.
Although it seems like there would be significant changes in the four months since we last addressed the topic, not much changed as far as the feature set in the final release. Most of the additions discussed in the last post still apply. The Start Button, Start Screen improvements, the changes to search, and the adjustments to screen scaling all made the cut and are now out in the wild for the enjoyment of the general populace. It’s also a lot slimmer than its predecessor, which is a boon to those of us with smaller hard drives. Let’s take a look at the release.
How to Get It
If you’re already running Windows 8 or 8.1 Preview, the how of getting it varies. Enterprise users must obtain the media from the Volume licensing site and run through the install process. For those of us running Windows 8 Pro or even RT, the update can be found on the Windows store once your OS install is patched and up to date via Windows Update. 8.1 preview users can find the instructions for their install direct from Microsoft here. For those still running Windows 7, or even XP, you will find that Windows 8.1 has replaced Windows 8 in retail stores and can be purchased readily. Upgrade paths are here.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out this chart from that TechNet article that draws attention to what the upgrade may do to your current install. Even those coming from Windows 8 might find themselves reinstalling all their applications.
What Does It Get Me?
8.1 brings additional refinement to the often disregarded Windows 8. It takes what was a decent — yet very different from its predecessors — operating system and adds utility, robust features, and above all usability. The changes seem relatively minor on the surface, but 8.1 makes a big enough shift to be to Windows 8 what Windows 7 was to Vista.
Coming from Windows 8, you’ll find that much of the clunkiness of the modern interface has been smoothed out, making it a less frustrating experience. If you are moving to 8.1 from Windows 7, things will still be very different from the OS you knew before, but the transition will be much less jarring than it was to Windows 8. There are a bevy of features I could gush about, but I already have in the previous post. Suffice to say, the last four months have not changed my opinion considerably.
Give It to Me Straight
The release of 8.1 was not, however, without its foils. The most significant being that a subset of those updating from Windows 8 RT to 8.1 RT discovered that there Surface had become a very nice paperweight. A bug in the initial Windows Store update for Windows RT caused bricked devices amongst the customer base. Microsoft quickly released a recovery key for the bricked devices and pulled the update from the RT store until the problem was rectified.
In addition to that, not all the compatibility issues have been resolved. For one thing, IE11 is part of the install and is enforced. There is no rollback to IE10, so you better hope compatibility settings are enough to get your site working. Imagine this fledgling Lync engineer’s dismay when I discovered that Office Web Apps as leveraged by Lync 2013 still doesn’t work with 8.1 and IE11. Despite having it available for months and regular Windows updates, some drivers haven’t quite caught up to the new OS either. To be fair, even though there was a relatively long preview and RTM period, it is still a new release and has some teething issues to resolve.
Bring It Home
Windows 8.1 brings a lot to table, especially coming just one year after the release of the original, and has garnered some attention from the competition. Apple recently announced that the latest iteration of OS X, titled Mavericks, would be a free upgrade through the Apple store as well. This kind of competition for the hearts and minds of the desktop/notebook user is good for both their customer bases.
Hopefully Microsoft’s strategy of regular, incremental releases will pay off for those of us out here in the trenches and the first step in this model seems to bode well for that. There may be some drawbacks to early adoption, of anything really as those who jumped on Mavericks on day one learned as well, but the product here is a great one. I encourage you to talk to your tech staff, or favorite Microsoft partner — like us! — about implementing 8.1 today.