Windows 8.1 – An update fiasco

Windows 8.1, advertised as a free update, has arrived. But it is neither free nor an update.

Windows 8.0 in comparison to Windows 8.1.

Windows 8.0 in comparison to Windows 8.1

As observers have correctly concluded, Windows 8.1 is nothing but a service pack (or feature pack, if you prefer): It adds several new features but there are no significant changes. Even Computerworld reported that for legal reasons, Microsoft cannot call it an upgrade.

However, from the very beginning, Windows 8.1 had the mark of being yet another release of Windows: Its version string showed an increase in minor version number (6.2 to 6.3) as we saw between Windows Vista, 7 and 8 (i.e. 6.0, 6.1 and 6.2). The OS name was changed from “Windows 8” to “Windows 8.1”. Its beta version came in form of an update that could be received from Windows Store and an ISO image contain a full operating system; but it never came in the traditional form of an ordinary service pack. Moreover, it included Internet Explorer 11, while Internet Explorer had not been part of any service pack since version 7. Even the installation ISO image required a separate product key.

Then, there came another batch of aberrations: Windows 8.1 was released to manufacturing on 27 August 2013 and was initially made available only to original equipment manufacturers; Microsoft refused to make it available to other premium channels before general availability date. After an outcry of criticism, Microsoft made it available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers. As such, I did not have access to it at the time, but those who had, must have noticed more changes in terms of breaking away from the service pack release traditions of the past. On 18 October 2013, Windows 8.1 was made generally available worldwide, although I am sure one of the words (“made”, “generally”, “available” or “worldwide”) is certainly wrong because of how it was made available:

  1. Windows Store allows the owners of a retail or pre-installed (OEM) copy of the core, Pro or RT editions of Windows 8.0 to update to Windows 8.1 for free. This implies:
    1. Owners of Windows 8.0 Enterprise edition cannot update from Windows Store.
    2. Owners of any edition of Windows purchased from an outlet other than retail or OEM channels cannot update from Windows Store.
    3. Users with monitors smaller than 1024×768 cannot update via Windows Store. (This includes users with 720p monitors.)
  2. There is no way of obtaining a standalone update package because, well, there are is no such package. (Windows Store downloads a full setup source as big as 3 GB.) As a result:
    1. Home users with multiple computers must download 3 GB worth of update per computer, if they are to take advantage of the free update.
    2. After re-installing Windows, they must download the free update again.
  3. There are no official ways of obtaining a free Windows 8.1 installation ISO image. Microsoft does provide full installation images but only to paying customers such as MSDN subscribers and volume licensing program members. I am guessing other users are already finding U.S. fair use laws very appealing.
  4. Even if users manage to get hold of an installation image, they still need a Windows 8.1 product key as Windows 8.0’s product key does not work. There has been unconfirmed reports that certain Windows 8.0 product keys can be used to activate Windows 8.1; my advice is to pay no heed. Usually, it is the case of the claiming person having not checked the activation status with the script after having taken it for granted.

Overall, Windows 8.1 has a split personality. It is just an update, but refuses to be recognized as anything less than a full operating system release. It demands to be recognized as a successor of the revolutionary Windows XP, the mighty Windows 7 and the annoying Windows Vista while in essence, it is not worth any recognition beyond that of Service Pack 2 for Windows XP.


Posted on 27 October 2013, in Windows Administration and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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