Everything you need to know about your Windows 8.1 upgrade options

Everything you need to know about your Windows 8.1 upgrade options

Summary: It's another release of Windows, which means it's time for Microsoft to change the mix of retail products and rewrite its license agreements. Here's what to look for in the new lineup (with some suggestions on how you might be able to save some money).

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TOPICS: Windows 8
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[Note: I’ll be updating this post as new details emerge about the options discussed here. Last update: October 4, 2013, adding details about Windows 8.1 Preview]

Here we go again…

With each new release of Windows, Microsoft changes the mix of products it offers to consumers and also changes the terms of use. Windows 8.1 is no exception.

windows 8.1 boxes
Windows 8.1 retail boxes, full edition (upgrades are no longer available)

This post lists the key changes you need to know about in Windows 8.1 pricing and licensing, with a few buying tips thrown in for good measure.

Let’s start with the good news: the Windows 8.1 update (which will be available online via the Windows Store on October 18) is free for all properly activated Windows 8 computers. Now the bad news: If you’re planning to upgrade a PC running an older version of Windows, you’ll need to pay for a new Windows 8.1 license. You’ll also need to pay if you want to install Windows 8.1 on a new computer you build yourself, on a Mac using Boot Camp, or in a virtual machine.

Beginning with Windows 8.1, Microsoft is no longer selling separate upgrade and full price editions through retail partners or online. Instead, every retail copy includes a full license. The Windows 8.1 software can be used to upgrade Windows 7, or you can do a clean install, with no requirement to have a previous Windows version installed.

By and large, that's a change for the better. A lot of Windows 8 upgraders were frustrated by installation roadblocks when they tried to use an upgrade copy to do a clean installation of the operating system. That's a perfectly valid installation scenario on a PC that has an underlying Windows license but no installed operating system, such as when where you're upgrading or replacing the main hard drive. The "full edition" licenses for Windows 8.1 retail purchases mean that you don't have to jump through any hoops to complete that sort of installation properly.

There’s also a big change in the terms attached to OEM System Builder versions of Windows 8.1. With Windows 8, Microsoft introduced a new Personal Use License, which allowed anyone to buy an OEM System Builder copy of the software and install it on a PC that is intended for personal use. Windows 8.1 removes that rider from the OEM System Builder license agreement, which means that the license agreement once again is for use on PCs built for resale only; the terms prohibit installing an OEM System Builder copy of Windows 8.1 on a PC for personal use.

To purchase a Windows 8.1 retail edition, you have two options:

  • Online purchase directly from Microsoft, via Windows.com
  • Boxed copy purchased from a retail outlet

Regardless of which option you use, you have the same two choices:

Windows 8.1 $120 (ERP)

Sometimes referred to as the Core edition, this is what you’re most likely to see on new PCs and tablets sold through the retail channel. It’s the successor to Windows 7 Home Premium in terms of its place in the lineup, although the mix of features is different.

Windows 8.1 Pro $200 (ERP)

If you need corporate network features like Windows domain join, Group Policy support, and the ability to be a Remote Desktop server, you pay the extra 80 bucks or so. Hyper-V virtualization is only supported on the Pro edition and, oddly, Pro is also required to run the Windows 8.x version of Media Center.

If you have a computer running Windows 8.1 (regardless of whether you updated for free from Windows 8 or purchased the newer OS software preinstalled on a new PC), you can update to the Pro edition using the … 

Windows 8.1 Pro Pack $100 (ERP)

As with Windows 8, the Pro edition is already installed on a Windows 8.1 (Core) PC. To unlock the Pro features and make them available, you just need to enter the Pro Pack product key and go through a very brief upgrade. (The Pro Pack is version specific, with one you can buy today for Windows 8 and another for Windows 8.1 that will ship when Windows 8.1 does.)

When Windows 8 was released, Microsoft offered discounted copies for more than two months. I don’t expect any such discounts this time around.

See the next page for details that cover the most common Windows 8.1 upgrade scenarios.

Topic: Windows 8

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107 comments
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            • Interest isn't the problem...

              When you are referring to the comments on tech threads, a large number of users on those threads are at least somewhat comfortable with technology in general, and consequently result in more people that learn new technology with greater ease.

              The negative comments regarding Windows 8 are more due to users who actually have learned it, even minimally, and find it to be a poor experience, particularly on a traditional computing environment. Windows 8 was designed with tablets in mind first, and in the race to be the first to develop a unified operating system, was simply ported to a "desktop" environment. Many find that Windows 8 does not provide a good experience on a traditional computer, especially power users, and for the way that we have become used to using a traditional computer over more than a decade. But it wasn't designed for a traditional computer.

              Linux, on the other hand, IS designed for platform that it is used on. While in this topic it is more commonly thought of as a desktop OS, Linux runs on many other types of devices. The difference is, it is an open-source platform where numerous developers design each flavor to be the best experience they think it can be, without trying to push an agenda, unlike a party like Microsoft. Since there are so many differences in the opinion of what a good experience is, there are many flavors of Linux.

              Learning comes with the territory, but how well that learning goes depends on how frustrating the experience is. And the more frustrating, the more like the user will shut down at the idea of learning it.
              pky254
              • Re: Interest isn't........................

                I was going 100% with you TILL you went off on the Linux bent. While everything you said about Win 8 is/was true you spoiled it by, "Try Linux".......................................
                The article is a MS article about a MS abomination. STICK TO THE SUBJECT AT HAND AND STOP TRYING TO TALK PEOPLE INTO LINUX!!! And yes I was and intended to shout, all caps!
                Disgruntled_MS_User
                • If you look at the big picture - bringing up Linux is right on

                  Microsoft continues to tell their customers what they are going to buy, not with innovation but with brute force, be it using their lawyers or market dominance. Key points;
                  1. Telling windows XP customers that they are going to stop releasing updates to correct poorly conceived code and to buy an upgrade or a new PC. How many XP machines do you really think will run Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8 / 8.1?
                  a. It is my view that so many people are still running XP is related to how absolutely HONORABLE Windows Vista was - the only thing enjoyable about vista was that the screen which always seemed to come up when the PC locked up throughout the day was a nice shade of blue.
                  b. now Microsoft is considering giving a free copy of Windows 8.1 as an upgrade? Sorry, although a great improvement in thinking that they might want to consider those who use their software as their customers, is still shows a complete disconnect with reality; does anyone really think an old XP PC is going to run 8.1? Many of the XP users are running XP because of 3rd party software that only runs on XP. I played with a Windows 8 PC, and it is frustrating coming from someone who was using Windows 7 until last week when I upgraded to Linux Lubunu. If Microsoft is expecting an XP user to start using Windows 8.1 they are going to have to ship Riddllin with them to have any chance of an XP user getting any product work done.

                  2. Windows Vista - Is there really anything that needs to be mentioned on Vista? Trying to stay positive I will say it did provide a much needed message to users of the importance of maintaining a robust data backup plan.
                  3. Failed update issues and then spending an entire day loading over 100 bug or security corrections after re-installing Windows 7. The only positive aspect of that was knowing this was happening to MANY other people who had clues to how to correct the issue.

                  I have used Microsoft OS my entire life, starting with an old Radio Shack Tandy booting from a 5.25 floppy back in 1983 and loaded and used Linux for the first time just a week ago. You are always installing the most recent version so it stalled and the computer was up to date in less than 20 minutes with not one issue. In fact I spent much more time looking for an anti-virus program finally finding that all that is needed is built in (one that works - ad Defender should be listed above as something that is worse than good as you think you are protected only to learn after it is to late that they were not - and slows the system down on top of it). So I guess now I too am a Linux geek, although I don't know how to code, and only love it because it just works. And I am sure I will run into some issues at some point that I will have to fix, but at least I didn't pay anything for it. From this point out I refuse to pay good money to be frustrated with poor product. I don't mind spending money, but when I do the product has to 1) Provide a cost / benefit positive value 2) Do what I want it to 3) Work as promised and expected 4) Reliable 5) last - I don't like to rent things I like to own things and replace them when a product that is innovative enough to make me want to spend money to replace my previous product.

                  These are only some of reasons why I think the Linux comments by the previous person were fine and helpful to those who are at a point of being able to choose. I am not a Microsoft hater, in fact other than having the common problem of installing updates, I thought Windows 7 was good until I experienced how fast my laptop runs using Linux Lubuntu, how easy the install was, how I was up and using the software within an hour, printer worked (I figured it was going to be like trying to print after buying Vista - after two months of trying being forced to buy a new printer), plugged in my old printer the software asked me if I wanted to install HP 3390 I printed a test page and it was perfect, on top of all that I am able to down load FREE programs for EVERYTHING I need to do, including a FREE office package called Libre Office and it works great. I am willing to move back to Microsoft provided that what I receive has value in relationship to what is available for free in proportion to what I am spending. Example; would I be willing to rent Microsoft office for $10 a month with a licence to use it for a year, or what ever term, compared to using the most up-to-date version of Libre Office for free for ever, not on your life. That just dose not make since.

                  Anyways, didn't intent this to sound so anti-Microsoft I just really did not not like Windows 8 at all, had to do something because I could not handle re-installing Windows 7 for the 3rd time because of the bug update release issues I kept having.
                  sotrick
              • Re: Interest isn't the problem

                I have found the negative comments about Windows 8 are always the same people, repeating the same false comments which you also endorse. This is especially true when you are pushing Linux on a Windows article.

                I have Windows 8 and find it better and a richer experience. Power user? Nothing have change from Windows 7 to 8. I use the desktop on W8 as I did in W7 and now Windows 8.1 allows people like you to bypass the Start Screen and go to the desktop. The Start Screen is an extra for free. Now you have the benefits to have apps, a more secure OS and faster. Everybody admits that is faster. All Windows before W8 was like a nice cake. Now we have the cake with frosting and we can eat it too. There is so much I can do now as a power user and because in addition to the desktop the Start Screen which is design like you point out for touch and mobile now I can do both.

                As for Linux, have you notice that Linux has been trying for over 10 years (or is it 20 years) to gain market share and has not? Why is that? First there are over a dozen distro or Linux version. Which one is better? You cannot get a consistent response on that. Like you mention, there is also the learning. Then we have the drivers for that printer, camera, etc. that you cannot find. Add the software that is not consistent. You can get a spreadsheet, or presentation program but they always fall short of your needs. Free stuff is "you get what you paid for". Simple as that. Then there is support. If you get the free version you get little support. If you buy one with support, then what is the point? That is why people also buy from Microsoft, because of the support and at least over 95% of computer use on the world use Windows. I could go on and on for the failing of Linux. I have use Linux and try difference versions. But at the end, I always had to go back to Windows. So why complicate my life using two OS or dual booting and taking space on my computer? So I can say I know Linux and use it?
                jazzy2945
                • RE:

                  When you said that you could go on and on, you would essentially be making readers suffer even more after reading your erroneous information which was, to say the least, difficult to read. Do you know how to truncate something -- to shorten your post down and focus on important bullet points, rather than blather on about how your emotions are today?

                  Apparently you don't know computer history. IBM approached MS for their 1981 PC, and then Microsoft sold their OS to other clone manufactures. MS didn't even have an operating system; they had to buy one. Linux didn't come until later, and MS had already achieved a stronghold on the PC market. This doesn't mean they are going to remain in control of their monopoly forever; something which we're starting to see right now. Linux doesn't have the same kind of device driver support as does Windows, nor is it backed by a myriad of MULTI BILLION dollar companies as is Windows. It's free/open source roots also make it so closed sourced programs aren't widely accepted by the community.

                  As for your Linux vs. Windows debate, there's no point in trying to argue with a Windows shill -- we'll just chalk it up as that you are an ignorant individual who knows now what he writes.
                  Lapithes
                  • *

                    not
                    Lapithes
                  • RE:

                    Just for your information, nobody is ignorant but if you insist then you are just for the nonsense you just posted.

                    I have used Linux as a server, that is what it does best since you can not get the equivalent business software on Linux.

                    Is Linux Trojan or virus free, nope, it has been hacked since day one. When I had my business online I had to have the validation go through a WinNT server then to the Linux which held the data. Going that route I had several pro hackers attempt to hack in and none could. So much for Linux being a stand alone system that can not be hacked.

                    The fact that there are so many distros of Linux also is a point against it, since each has its own install applications, that there is no support unless you spend big bucks to get it also is a reason not to go with Linux on a consumer's box.

                    One other issue is with programming, the source code is NOT compatible through different systems, what works on a Windows box does not work on a Linux box, while 98% of Linux code will run on a Windows box. If a cross platform language is suppose to work no matter on what platform you compile it on just males Linux look bad if the same source won't compile. Just for information the same source will compile on Windows and Unix, but not Linux, that is not good at all.

                    Now before you start calling people names maybe you ought to read what you post and see if it is from knowledge or stupidity.
                    rmartin60
                    • hmmn

                      You clearly did not set your Linux server up properly if it fell to hackers
                      explodingwalrus
                    • RE:

                      "One other issue is with programming, the source code is NOT compatible through different systems,"

                      Well it may do the readers a favor if you actually specified which platform you're speaking of...but apparently you left that out. You obviously have no idea what you're talking about and are not a developer, so please leave it to people who actually do this for a living and not people who are charlatans.

                      Windows code won't work on a Linux box...what the hell are you talking about? You can compile any program and have it work on Windows, Mac and Linux. Go ahead and use Windows; if that's what works for you, then great!
                      Lapithes
                  • Heed your own advice

                    "Do you know how to truncate something -- to shorten your post down and focus on important bullet points, rather than blather on"

                    And then you blather on right after you made that remark...

                    "As for your Linux vs. Windows debate, there's no point in trying to argue with a Windows shill"

                    And vice-versa...

                    "Apparently you don't know computer history. IBM approached MS for their 1981 PC, and then Microsoft sold their OS to other clone manufactures. MS didn't even have an operating system; they had to buy one."

                    Apparently, neither do you because that statement is pretty far from the actual facts of the MS story from day one.
                    waterhzrd
  • We'll see

    I just thought to start downloading the 32-bit "Preview" ISO for it to test it in a VM -- that and other versions are available from Microsoft - http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/preview-iso
    JustCallMeBC
    • Why are you doing that?

      The Preview expires in January. The RTM bits have already been released and you will be able to download the final version as an evaluation in about two weeks. Just wait...
      Ed Bott
      • It's just for a VM

        And I'm curious.
        JustCallMeBC
        • I understand that, but...

          There are some pretty big changes between 8.1 Preview and RTM. You'll get a much better evaluation if you wait two weeks.
          Ed Bott
          • Re: You'll get a much better evaluation if you wait two weeks.

            But the evaluation version will expire too, no?

            Which was his point, as far as I could understand. Also, you can do ... many things with a VM :)
            danbi
          • Either way it's an evaluation

            If you're going to evaluate something, presumably with a goal of deciding whether you should buy it, why not evaluate the actual product instead of an early preview?
            Ed Bott
          • There is no specifird evaluation version.

            The preview expires and the RTM is a full version that is released to the computer makers. The RTM version is getting updates and it will be the Windows 8.1 installed on new 8.1 machines when you buy after Windows 8 is officially released.
            Orlbuckeye76
          • There will be an evaluation version

            There is currently an evaluation version for Windows 8. When Windows 8.1 is released in a couple weeks, an evaluation version of that will be available. That's what I would wait for.
            Ed Bott
      • Ohh...

        I just noticed that the RTM's have already been leaked and are available via torrent. Hmmm.....the Preview is downloading way, way too slowly....
        JustCallMeBC
        • Then Hell will break loose

          when something happens (wrong). Just be patient, man. And if you are not or can't be, please remember not to complain.
          Charles_B