Today was the first day of Microsoft’s Build conference and it was busy. They announced a bunch of new products. Some available soon, some available not so soon. One of the most exciting things coming out soon is the Update to Windows 8.1. It’s already available on MSDN, and it will trickle out as a series of patches next week on Patch Tuesday. Being the impatient guy that I am, I downloaded it and installed it today. In this blog post I’ll talk about some of the install particulars and I’ll also cover some of the new features.
If you have an MSDN subscription you can go out there now and download the Update today. There are three downloads, one for x86, and one for x64, and one for ARM. Grab whichever ones are appropriate for your existing Windows 8.1 devices. The x64 version will also work for any Windows 2012 R2 servers you have laying around.
When you download the package it’s a zip file containing six Windows patches and a readme file. The readme file provides some guidance on which order you’ll need to install the patches. Don’t be surprised if you already have any of the patches. Every machine of mine that I patched today already had KB2919442. The KB2919355 patch is 700 MB and seems to be the bulk of the update. I had to reboot after installing each patch, so be prepared for that.
If you don’t have an MSDN account, or you’re just more patient than I am, then you’ll get all these patches as part of the regular Windows Update process. So make sure you have Windows set to download and install new patches as they come out.
There are a ton of new features in the Update. I’m not going to be able to cover them all in this post. When you get done here, check out Paul Thurrott’s review. He covers a bunch of things I don’t.
The big focus on this Update, much like the update to Window 8.1 is making things better for people using mice and on desktop PCs. Several features help that out. Probably the most notable is that there is now a Search button, and sometimes a Power button in the upper right corner of the Start Screen, next to the user’s name.
Both of these functions were already available from the Charms bar, but that can be tough to coax out with a mouse and not everybody knows about the Win + C hotkey. Also, if you’re accessing the machine through remote control software, or virtual machine software, it just might not be possible. Once you have the Update installed you’ll be able to hit the Start Button, then either the Power or Search buttons. Oddly, the Power button does not show up on tablets. It only shows up on Desktop PCs and laptops. Paul goes into it more in his article, but Microsoft has decided the Power button wasn’t a good fit for devices they consider slates. The Search button simply brings out the Search bar. Both Search and Power work exactly the same from the buttons as they would if you fired them up from the Charms bar.
Another nod to Desktop users can be found in the PC Settings area. While Microsoft has been diligent about adding more and more settings in the Metro Change PC Settings pages, there always seems to be one setting that’s just not there. Now there’s a “control panel” link at the bottom that takes you to the Desktop Control Panel. If you can’t find it there, it can’t be found.
While we’re talking about PC Settings, another one of our prayers has been answered. We can finally remove wireless networks. In the Networks page click Manage Networks to get a list of the all the wireless networks your machine has connected to. Click one to remove it.
Metro apps coexist with the Desktop a little better with the Update. It’s now possible to pin Metro apps to the Taskbar, and the Update pins the Microsoft Store for you to get you started. Metro apps also have a title bar that drops down when you hover near the top of the screen. This title bar has minimize and close buttons, like we’re used to seeing in Desktop apps.
Microsoft has also made it marginally easier to locate new applications after you’ve installed them. After an application has been installed there will be a reminder in the lower right corner of the Start Screen. If you go to the Applications view all newly installed applications will be highlighted. While this isn’t a homerun, by any means, it is a step in the right direction.
The update wasn’t aimed solely at Desktop PCs, tablets got some love too. Namely, Microsoft wants to expand its market share in the tablet space in the worst way. Today at Build they announced that there will be no licensing fees for Windows devices with screens smaller than 9”. I expect to see a flood of devices with 8.999999” screens any day. Along with that, the 8.1 Update includes better support for machines with limited RAM and small amounts of storage. With this Update Windows 8.1 will support running on devices with as little as 1 GB of RAM, and 16 GB of storage. It does this by trimming the OS down, and by running it out of a compressed WIM file. This feature requires an SSD and will only be available for new devices. When I upgraded my Dell Venue 8 Pro it was not able to take advantage of this. I think this is a step in the right direction. I feel part of the reason Windows 8 tablets never took off was because Microsoft strictly controlled the hardware it could go on, and those hardware specs were pretty tight. They wanted to make sure everyone had a good experience, but I think it bit them. I think the combination of free licensing, and better support for low cost hardware will result in us seeing a lot more Windows devices in the wild.
So go out there and install the Update. Let me know in the Comments section how it went for you.