Fix found for Windows 8.1 upgrade problems on Surface RT

Donovan Colbert couldn't find the Windows Update to 8.1 in the Microsoft Store on his Surface RT tablet, so he turned to Microsoft support for help.

Surface with Windows 8.1

Note: Microsoft temporarily halted and then resumed Windows update 8.1 for Surface RT since this article was written. The issues described here should eventually be resolved, but the commands I highlight are important troubleshooting steps that may be useful, in general, when encountering issues on Windows RT or 8.1 (especially Modern UI problems).

Microsoft released Windows 8.1 for Intel and RT on October 17th, but it didn't receive much buzz. Many people quietly upgraded without problems, while others upgraded and regretted it. One of the most frustrated groups may have been early adopters of Windows 8.1 Preview. In various forums, quite a few users complained that they couldn't find the Windows Upgrade in the Microsoft Store, and the information online didn't resolve the issue. After finding myself in the same situation, I turned to my last resort -- Microsoft support.

This is a knee-jerk reaction on my part, having worked for years in Microsoft technologies and knowing how difficult it is to get a live person who can actually help resolve an issue. But Microsoft has made great strides in supporting end-user consumers with Xbox, Zune, and other products and platforms.

Before trying to contact Microsoft, I took the following steps:

I brought up the charms bar and selected Settings | Change PC settings | Update and recovery, and then applied all the updates there until I was notified that none remained. When the 8.1 update still wasn’t available, I performed a system refresh from the Update and recovery menu. The reset looked promising. After rebooting, I checked updates and discovered that the patches either had to be reapplied or that more were waiting. 

When I went into the Classic desktop, I felt a surge of excitement when I saw that the Windows 8.1 Preview watermark was gone. Unfortunately, the This PC properties page revealed that the device was still on 8.1 Preview. To make This PC show on your Classic desktop on Windows 8, right-click anywhere on the desktop and select Personalize. In the Personalization control panel, select Change desktop icons, and in the Desktop Icons Settings view, add a check to the boxes next to the icons you want on your desktop. You can then right-click on This PC and select Properties to view the information on the System control panel.

Next, I tried Reinstall at the Update and recovery menu. The same issues persisted. More online research indicated that you can make a USB recovery disk with RT. This is a step that I had unfortunately neglected, because it would have allowed me to revert to Windows 8. 

I visited the Microsoft Surface Contact Us page, which was easy to find and navigate. I selected a live chat and was quickly connected to a support person named Conan. I explained my issue and the steps I had taken, and to my dismay, he said that he wanted to confirm that all the updates required for Windows 8.1 had been applied. Though dubious, I decided it couldn’t hurt to play along. The agent had me hit the [Windows]+[X] keyboard shortcut that brings up a menu with shortcuts to a variety of destinations, including the Control Panel, which he had me open. I was then directed to type “windows update” (no quotes) in the search box at the right top corner of the window (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A

Type "windows update" in the search box. 

Next, he had me click Check for updates. To my surprise, this Windows Classic view found a firmware update that the Modern UI update from the Charms menu missed. Once the updates were applied and the RT had rebooted, he had me check again. An additional update was found and applied, and another reboot followed (Figure B).

Figure B

Figure B

Installing a firmware update.

This time, the Windows 8.1 Preview watermark was back, and no updates were available. I was then instructed to use the [Windows]+[R] keyboard shortcut and run the following command: "ms-windows-store:WindowsUpgrade” (no quotes). This launched the Microsoft Store and displayed the Windows 8.1 Update download screen. When I clicked the download button, it returned to the main Windows Store screen with no indication that the download was active. The Microsoft agent had me execute the same keyboard shortcut, but this time, he instructed me to enter the “ms-windows-store:installprogress” command. This brought up the install progress screen in the Windows Store, where I could see that it was going to be a long time before the upgrade was complete.

TechRepublic blogger Deb Shinder also experienced this issue with a Microsoft Surface Pro, and I provided her a copy of the chat transcript, which resolved her issue. Deb advised me that Microsoft has since published these instructions on the Windows 8.1 upgrade site. However, if you’re having problems finding the 8.1 upgrade in the Microsoft Store on an ARM- or Intel-based device, these instructions may help. 

By Donovan Colbert

Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his profession...