Before you begin your download
I know you will be tempted to start your Windows 8.1 download right away, but there are few things to do in preparation before you begin the process:
- Make sure you have updated your copy of Windows 8 by running Windows Update.
- Make sure you are logged in as the account administrator.
- Make sure you have allocated a couple of hours to the project - it will likely take less time than that, but you can never be sure.
- Just to be safe, you might have you activation code for Windows 8 close by.
Note: After you install Windows 8.1, you will be asked to sign in to a Microsoft Live account. There will be no apparent way to move past that screen if your intention is to only have a local account. Here is the trick: Click the Create New Account link and then at the bottom of that next screen you will see a link that will let you cancel the process. You will then login using your local account.
If you have a retail version of Windows 8, you can update to 8.1 by going to the Store from the Start Screen - the first item you should see is a large Windows 8.1 download icon (Figure A).
The next page (Figure B) is where you will actually click the download button. This is also where you can get some explanation of what changes are available with 8.1.
The download took a long time (Figure C), but I am thinking some of the increased time was because of the number of requests coming in on the first day of availability.
A slow download
Subtle but welcome changes
Once you have completed the download an installation process, the Start Screen of Windows 8.1 looks much like Windows 8 always has (Figure D).
Windows 8.1 Start Screen
One of the prominent complaints against Windows 8 was the steep learning curve. In my opinion, much of the problem was that Microsoft did a terrible job explaining how things work in Windows 8 - especially with regard to the Start Screen.
Windows 8.1 includes a Help + tips tile (Figure E) that explains many of the navigation features users should be familiar with when they are using the Start Screen. There is also an explanation of some of the new 8.1 features.
Help + tips
Figure F shows you some of the new features of Windows 8.1. For me, some of the more noteworthy changes include the better Search, multiple applications on one screen, and more personalization choices.
Figure G shows you a few more of the new features, including the additional integration of SkyDrive. This is an important change - the default saving folders are now all on SkyDrive. You will have to specify a different saving path if you want to save on your local hard drive, for example.
More What's new
You have many more settings options (Figure H) with 8.1 and you can now display two modern interface apps side by side.
Applications side by side
There are also more options flowing off of the Personalize settings screen (Figure I). In a business setting, this may not be as important, but for individuals falling under the BYOD mode of operation it is often very important.
Corners and edges play a major role for touch screen users and the settings for those navigation aspects are included in the Personalize settings menu. (Figure J)
Corners and edges
As a desktop user, I am more excited by having more features and choices available from the Windows Desktop. Figure K shows you the options you get when you right-click the Start button in the bottom left corner.
More right-click options
As you can see in Figure L, an additional menu off of the right-click menu gives you all of your Shut down options.
Shut down options
The Start button right-click menu also gives you direct access to the familiar all-encompassing Control Panel. (Figure M)
Another new feature in 8.1 that desktop users have been looking for is the ability to login directly to the Desktop. The setting for this feature can be found in the Taskbar and Navigation properties screen, shown in Figure N. You get to this screen by right-clicking the Taskbar and clicking the Properties menu item.
Taskbar and Navigation properties screen
Another personalization feature is the ability to set a background image for the Start Screen. (Figure O)
As mentioned earlier, the Search feature in 8.1 now searches everywhere (Figure P), which eliminates the need to specify apps over settings etc.
The Windows Store has also received a facelift with 8.1. (Figure Q)
The new Windows Store
As I said originally, if you use Windows 8 you will want to upgrade to Windows 8.1. There are new features and subtle changes that address many of the issues user complained about when Windows 8 was released. And you get these better features for free - that's tough to complain about.
Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.