Windows 8.1 is going to be available to all Windows 8 users as a free upgrade in less than a month, on October 18. Windows 8.1 makes significant changes to Windows 8 and it’s a worthy upgrade whether you’re using Windows 8 on a desktop PC, a tablet, or something in between. How you’ll upgrade depends on which version of Windows you’re upgrading from — Windows 7, Windows 8, or even the Windows 8.1 preview release.
Is Windows 8.1 worth upgrading to from Windows 7? That’s a tough question and everyone has a different opinion, especially given Microsoft isn’t offering cheap upgrades anymore. At $120, you could get a lot more bang for your buck by upgrading your PC’s hardware — or just put that cash towards a new PC with touch that will run Windows 8.1 better.
Is it worth upgrading to from Windows 8? Yes, absolutely. Windows 8.1 is what Windows 8 should have been. The Modern interface isn’t as half-baked, while desktop users have been tossed a few bones that make it easier to ignore all the new Modern stuff.
If You’re Upgrading From Windows 7 or Earlier
Many people have said that Windows 8.1 finally makes it possible to leave Windows 7 behind. It has an option to boot to the desktop and restores a Start button. The button just loads the full-screen Start screen, but you can configure the Start screen to display a list of your desktop apps and never again see a single tile, live or otherwise.
However, you can’t upgrade directly from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1. You have two options: You can upgrade your system to Windows 8 now and then upgrade to Windows 8.1 when it’s available, keeping all your installed applications and files. Or, you can perform a clean install of Windows 8.1 over Windows 7, losing your desktop applications.
- If You Want to Perform an Upgrade Install: Upgrade to Windows 8 before Windows 8.1 is available. You’ll then be able to upgrade directly to Windows 8.1 from the Windows Store when it’s released.
- If You Want to Perform a Clean Install: Back up your important files and make a list of all the programs you’ll want to install on Windows 8. You could even download their installers before Windows 8.1 is released, making the upgrade process faster.
If you’re upgrading from Windows Vista or XP, you’ll need to perform a clean install of Windows 8.1 — unless you feel like upgrading to Windows 7 first, upgrading to Windows 8, and then finally upgrading to Windows 8.1
If You’re Upgrading From Windows 8
Windows 8 users have it easy. Windows 8.1 will be available from the Windows Store — yes, that’s the Store app in the Modern Windows 8 environment — as a free upgrade. It will download and install without you requiring any payment or preparation of installation media.
Because it will be available from the Windows Store, you’ll need to ensure you’re using a Microsoft account to log into Windows, not a local user account. This was required for the Windows 8.1 Preview release, so it’s a good bet that Microsoft will mandate Microsoft accounts for upgrades when Windows 8.1 is officially released. You should still be able to download Windows 8.1 installation media and perform clean installs with it, but upgrading without a reinstall seems to require a Microsoft account.
You’ll want to switch your local user account to a Microsoft account ahead of time so you can download the update. Ensure you’re using a Microsoft account by opening the Modern PC Settings app (press Windows Key + C to access the charms, select Settings, and select Change PC settings), selecting Users, and checking your user account. If you see a button allowing you to switch to a local account, you’re already using a Microsoft account.
If you really don’t want to use a Microsoft account, you could add a new, separate Microsoft account to your PC. When upgrade day comes, sign in as that account, access the Store, and upgrade to Windows 8.1. You should then be able to delete the Microsoft account from your system and go back to using your local user account on Windows 8.1.
If You’re Upgrading From the Windows 8.1 Preview
Were you one of the brave souls who installed the Windows 8.1 Preview release on your computer? If so, we hope you read the fine print. Microsoft stated that Windows 8.1 Preview users wouldn’t be able to upgrade directly to the Windows 8.1 final release. Well, they actually can upgrade — they’ll just lose all their isntalled desktop programs. Upgrading from Windows 8.1 Preview to the final version of Windows 8.1 will effectively perform a “Refresh Your PC” operation, which will wipe away all your desktop programs. You’ll have to reinstall them later.
If you want to get ready to upgrade from the Preview release to the final release, you can download your desktop programs’ installers ahead of time and ensure you have any physical discs you need. You can then quickly re-install your desktop programs after the upgrade. If you use Steam for PC games, you can copy your Steam folder to a backup location and then restore it without having to re-download all your games.
Of course, any Windows user can upgrade to Windows 8 by just performing a clean install with a Windows 8.1 disc or USB stick and replacing their existing Windows system with it. If you want to do this, be sure you have backup copies of your important files. You can also get up and running more quickly by downloading installers for your preferred programs, backing up any installed PC games to avoid long downloads, and gathering any software installation discs you still use.
Do you plan on upgrading to Windows 8.1 when it’s released? If so, what version of Windows do you plan on upgrading from? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!
Image Credit: Dell Inc. on Flickr (modified)