The original release of Windows 8 was heralded as a breakthrough -- a unification of operating system code bases intended to support both traditional desktops and mobile devices. While Windows 8 was largely considered a stable and reliable step forward, the changes in its feature set and user interface were regarded as a bit extreme.
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In October 2013, Microsoft released Windows 8.1, which addressed criticisms, restored some of the functionality familiar to desktop and laptop users, and integrated a new set of applications -- such as OneDrive and Internet Explorer 11 -- to extend usability. Let's consider some of the issues involved with adopting the OS, Windows 8.1 compatibility and the addition of Update 1 released in April 2014.
What are the best or most important features of Windows 8.1 Update 1?
Microsoft's release of Windows 8 was a serious paradigm shift for users, emphasizing touch computing and eliminating some of the fundamental control schemes that Windows users had relied on for decades. Windows 8.1 took steps to resolve many of these issues, but Windows 8.1 Update 1 halved the storage requirements from Windows 8.1 and restored familiar keyboard, mouse and other user interface functionality to more traditional PC and laptop users.
With Windows 8.1 Update 1, the Taskbar can be located any time the mouse moves into the bottom of the display -- similar to the way that Windows 7 can hide the Taskbar when it's not needed. The Taskbar also allows users to pin or unpin applications and enter the Windows Store, allowing convenient access to the most commonly used programs. The pinned apps are also persistent as users switch screens.
Mouse control is extended, allowing users to right-click an application or select multiple applications on the Start screen and browse the context menu to pin, unpin, resize, uninstall and perform other actions. This is a real boon for slightly older hardware that lacks a touch display.
The application title bar atop Windows Store applications can be revealed by moving the mouse cursor into the title bar area, and mouse users can close or minimize applications from the title bar area again.
The boot process can also be tailored to the device and personal preferences. For example, booting to the desktop is now a user option, allowing more traditional device users to continue working with a familiar Windows desktop environment rather than the Windows Modern-style interface. A power button, referred to as a "charm," has been added to the upper right corner, so it's easier for PC users to power down their devices without additional swiping.
Which applications are likely to experience Windows 8.1 compatibility problems?
Any operating system upgrade should be preceded by research and a thorough proof-of-principle test cycle to evaluate the actual compatibility and performance of key devices and applications. In many cases, existing software and devices should function on a newer OS. But there may be situations where application patches, device driver updates or even new apps may be required. The degree of uncertainty depends upon the amount of change.
More on Windows 8.1 compatibility and updates:
- IT gets railroaded by Microsoft's rapid Windows 8.1 update
- Forecasts uncertain for Windows 8.1 tablet market
- What's new for enterprises in Windows 8.1
- Microsoft brings back features in Windows 8.1, pushes Windows Phone
- Slideshow: Windows 8.1 user interface improves on Windows 8
- Dealing with the Metro user interface and Windows 8 app compatibility
- Windows 8 lacks XP Mode, but it can be made backward-compatible
- Opinion: Windows 8.1 Update 1 isn't optional
When planning a move from Windows 7 or Windows 8 to Windows 8.1, the Upgrade Assistant tool is probably the most useful utility for checking Windows 8.1 compatibility across desktop applications and connected devices. If you're considering a move from Windows Vista or even the now-unsupported Windows XP, you must use the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant.
The presumption is that virtually all applications and devices that support Windows 8 will also support Windows 8.1. Additional resources include the Windows Compatibility Center as well as support from the individual application or device vendors.
Generally speaking, the applications and devices on a computer running Windows 8 will also run on Windows 8.1. For example, a third-party DVD player in Windows 8 should continue running in Windows 8.1, though Windows Store applications will need to be reinstalled.
Organizations seeking to upgrade from Windows Vista, Windows XP or Windows 7 should expect increasingly wider gaps in support. Identify the important apps, and use results from the Windows Upgrade Assistant, Windows Compatibility Center and individual vendor support websites to determine compatibility and available upgrade options.
Some applications may simply require a patch, while others may need to be repurchased in a Windows 8.1-compatible version. The biggest problem areas are legacy or in-house custom applications that rely on OS-specific coding -- these may need to be recoded or replaced.
Test the available options, and be sure to understand the proper upgrade process, errors and potential workarounds before rolling out updates to enterprise users.
Will I get problems installing 8.1 on top of my existing Windows 8 installation?
Vanilla installations of Windows 8 should upgrade to Windows 8.1 without problems. However, if you added features to Windows 8, using the Windows Store to perform an update to Windows 8.1 may cause difficulties. This can usually be corrected by manually clearing the Windows Store cache with the wsreset.exe utility, which can be executed from the Run command-line entry. Once the Windows Store cache is cleared, open the Windows Store and try running the update again.
Also, remember that Windows 8 will require several updates before Windows 8.1 appears in the Windows Store. Make sure that the Windows Update feature is enabled, or run all available updates prior to Windows 8.1. This should install the updates needed to enable 8.1 in the Windows Store.
If you still don't see a Windows 8.1 update in the Windows Store, it might be that you're actually using an enterprise or professional edition of Windows 8. In these cases, the systems administrator or value-added reseller who installed Windows might need to arrange or push the update using a tool such as Windows Server Update Services.
Operating system upgrades can be challenging, especially in enterprise environments with multiple OSes and application versions, along with a diverse array of devices. The best way to streamline the upgrade process is with advance planning and testing to identify software and hardware incompatibilities. This will also allow IT time to develop solutions that will minimize downtime and user disruption.
Take advantage of the available Windows 8.1 compatibility tools, but also investigate key applications with individual software vendors and pay close attention to any custom or legacy software that may malfunction under a new OS.