Goodbye Windows 8, hello Windows 8.1

Goodbye Windows 8, hello Windows 8.1

Summary: Moving to a continuous development cadence will require Microsoft to make a lot of decisions that might not make everyone feel warm and fuzzy.

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Consider the following: Internet Explorer 11 is available as a preview for Windows 7 or as part of the Windows 8.1 preview, but not for Windows 8. Similarly, PowerShell 4 will run on Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, but not Windows 8 — even though it will be available for Windows Server 2012, which is the same core code as Windows 8.

So does this mean Microsoft giving up on Windows 8? Um, no.

Windows 8.1 is Windows 8, as far as Microsoft is concerned. It's an update to Windows 8 that will be available in the Windows Store, free of charge. It has new APIs that aren't in Windows 8 that Internet Explorer can use.

Read this

Windows 8.1 unveiled: will it change your mind about Windows 8?

Windows 8.1 unveiled: will it change your mind about Windows 8?

The Start button is back. But that's just one of a very long list of changes you'll find in Windows 8.1, which will be available as a preview in a few weeks and will be released before the end of the year. Don't let the name or the price tag (free) fool you: this is a major update. Here's what's inside.

Microsoft will port some — but not all — of those back to Windows 7 for IE 11; as we understand it, the HTML5 Media Source Extensions and Encrypted Media Extensions support that lets you stream Netflix in IE 11 without needing a plugin won't make it to Windows 7.

It has new versions of the controls developers built apps with too; the new alarms and timer app in Windows 8.1 uses the Windows 8.1 version of a control that's three times faster than the Windows 8 control on a low-end PC. "We could have done a lot of profiling of data, a lot of tweaking — or we could just upgrade to the version 8.1 control," program manager Steven Abrams said at the Build conference.

Couldn't Microsoft just port those APIs and controls to Windows 8 as well? Well, it already has — that's Windows 8.1.

Microsoft is betting that if you're prepared to install a new version of the browser and the updates to make it work, you'll be willing to do that as part of an update that also gives you the Start button so many people have been asking for and a bunch of new features.

Microsoft is also trying to put out a 'new version' of Windows in a year, rather than three, with a new version of the browser in a year rather than 18 months (which is how long it took to get from IE 9 to IE 10) — and as part of a continuous development schedule that put the usual SP1 contents into Windows 8 before it went on sale and has given us 700 improvements to Windows 8 since then.

Given that there are only so many hours in the day and only so many engineers on the team, it makes sense that Microsoft has decided to prioritise resources for Windows 8.1 and Windows 7 and create, test and support two versions of the IE 11 preview rather than three.

Keeping up with a continuous development cadence is going to require Microsoft to make a lot of rational decisions that don't make everyone feel warm and fuzzy. Similarly, when IE 12 comes along, I expect it to only run on Windows 7 and Windows 8.2.

You can also expect to see a significant push to get you to upgrade to Windows 8.1. The way Microsoft is trying to make that acceptable to end users and businesses alike is by making upgrading easier and promising compatibility. "Upgrading to Windows 8.1 is simple as the update does not introduce any new hardware requirements and all existing Windows Store apps are compatible," says Erwin Visser, the Windows general manager who handles the business side of the market.

That means that all Windows 8 devices will run Windows 8.1, that all Windows 8 Windows Store apps will run on Windows 8.1 (something they're working on but that isn't true in the preview), that drivers and desktop applications will work in the same way. And that upgrading to Windows 8.1 won't mean wiping systems and installing a corporate image and reloading your applications and data. Visser calls upgrading to Windows 8.1 much more like running updates or installing a service pack. And if you were planning on switching to Windows 8, just plan to switch to 8.1 instead.

To use the car metaphor that's so popular, in a year, the Windows team isn't rebuilding the car or even fitting a new engine; it's changing the tyres, swapping out the instruments on the dashboards, fitting a new car radio and tuning the engine control software.

It's worth noting that it's different for servers. A server upgrade is a major task and Microsoft doesn't expect anyone to upgrade their servers every year; the best they can hope for is that any new servers you put in place will run the latest version of Windows Server. Also, Windows Server 2012 R2 is a major upgrade from Server 2012, with a significant number of new features — it's a much more impressive and compelling update than Windows 8.1, ironically. Windows Server 2012 systems will be around for a long time so they need PowerShell 4 and its major management improvements like Desired State Configuration.

Microsoft hopes that Windows 8 won't be around for long after Windows 8.1 comes out. It hopes everyone using Windows 8 will upgrade, just as it hopes we're all using automatic updates to keep our PCs up to date. After all, we're telling Microsoft to keep up with Apple and Android; surely we want the new, improved stuff, especially as it's free with better features — why wouldn't you want that, thinks Microsoft. And if it can just get us to keep updating our PCs year after year, it will never have to deal with a decade of XP again.

With that combination of incentive and what we're telling Microsoft we want, why would it make sense for it to give us any reason to stay on Windows 8 when we've been so vocal about telling Microsoft to change it?

Topics: Microsoft, Browser, Windows 8

Mary Branscombe

About Mary Branscombe

Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.

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61 comments
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  • Service Pack

    Windows 8.1 comes out 1 year after Winddows 8. Same as the Service Packs for previous versins of Windows did. Windows 8.1 does not contain major changes to the kernel, same as the Service Packs for previous versions of Windows did.

    Windows 8.1 comes with major updates to various applications - applications that did not exist in previous versions of Windows (and that were not necessarily ready for a major release when they were first launched).

    I still see 8.1 as a big Service Pack (like XP SP3), with marketing done right.
    Sacr
    • update/upgrade/feature pack/service pack

      By Microsoft's definition, it's more than a service pack because it has new apps and features, and the core of a service pack is fixes for OEM integration issues; but so few of Microsoft's service packs have stuck to those rules anyway that the definition hardly matters. 8.1 is a worthwhile, useful, significant update that's on the scale of what you can do in a year - much like a new version of Mac OS.

      incidentally, the IE 11 choice is the same as the one Microsoft made with IE 10 and Vista; IE 10 didn't come to Vista despite even though it had the graphics platform to do hardware acceleration (which Windows XP never had). The IE team could have done all the work to build, test and support IE 10 on Vista - or they could use those engineering resources to do other things, like adding more features to IE 10 on other platforms. Looking at the number of Vista users, they made a rational choice - which would certainly make anyone who viewed themselves as being 'loyal' to Microsoft because they moved to Vista feel abandoned. Rational choices don't always make users happy.
      mary.branscombe
      • Yep, good marketing

        I don't disagree that they market it as being more than a service pack. I also won't disagree that it's worthwhile, useful, significant, as I'm running the RT preview on a VivoTab. And I also agree that the scope is similar to some of the OS X updates.
        Sacr
      • Vista was omitted due to the Lifecycle Policy.

        Vista was out of mainstream support when IE 10 was released. According to the lifecycle policy operating systems outside of mainstream support do not receive new features.
        ye
    • Windows NT 6.3

      Windows XP SP3 did not have a new kernel version.
      jpal12
  • Not to beat a dead horse here but, "Not START button, start menu..."

    "Microsoft is betting that if you're prepared to install a new version of the browser...as part of an update that also gives you the Start button so many people have been asking for"

    Microsoft has been playing dumb on this and bloggers have reinforced it. But consumers wanted the start menu back so they didn't have to flip through pages of tiles, nobody wanted or asked for a START button specifically. This has been Microsoft's way to play like they're compromising with enterprise users demands while pushing an agenda to move everyone to the new UI targeted at manipulating home users to move to exclusively MS products for chat, search, games, and web.
    Socratesfoot
    • Sure

      Because Microsoft's bread and butter is Windows 8 chat, search, games, and "web." (What do you even mean by "web?" IE usage?) Microsoft has much bigger fish to fry than that, if you're looking for an agenda.
      WebSiteManager
    • Have you used 8.1?

      Configured for all apps on the start screen, it takes less clicks to find the app you want. Please don't make me go back to endless clicks, scrolling and pop outs.
      LarsDennert
      • start menu

        I assume you do not have many applications you use on your PC to be able to find easily in tiles. Those of use who do a bunch of things with our PC have a long list of applications and tiles makes really hard looking thru bunch of pages for them versus a list like start menu. For you teh metro (I know that is old term) ui is probably nice, but others of us with bunches it is not.
        dwight-watt@...
        • I have MANY

          I have hundreds of applications installed, and prefer the combination of Start screen and the All apps list. Not only can i live on the desktop with my most common apps pinned to the taskbar, I can then go to the start screen for those less but still often needed applications, then for anything I use seldomly I can either just type or switch to the all apps screen. I much prefer this to the old Start menu.
          hafenbrack
        • Hey was also talking about setting the all apps

          view as the default. If you do that there's no tiles shown. Just a list of installed programs that can be sorted many different ways, including listing desktop programs first. In this case accessing you programs can be many clicks less. Click the start button, then the icon for the program, no more nested menus to find them though.
          Sam Wagner
        • Instant Search

          I find it very easy to find any of the numerous applications I have installed on my computer thanks to the instant search feature, where you just press the windows button and type and it immediately starts searching. Note: Some things aren't listed as "apps" by Windows 8, but if you press the down key twice to select "files" (then hit enter), it will be listed there.
          Nick Askins
          • Full screen?

            I'd be happy if, when you clicked the Start button, you got a flyout with the All Apps view, an Instant Search box, and a row of buttons which took you to common areas (Control Panel, Computer, etc).

            Seems like a good compromise.
            RangerFish
          • Most of your suggestion are already possible

            Windows 8 already has an instant search just start typing for what you want on the start screen.

            From the desktop right click the start image that pops up to access the control panel and other areas. Alternatively pressing win+i will open the settings menu where you can select the control panel.
            Daveo_Davies
    • Start button, start menu. Whatever!

      You don't really need either. Try right clicking in the lower left of the desktop or the lower right of the Start Screen. Then try to comprehend what you are seeing.
      WATKINS12@...
      • Try to comprehend that you shouldn't be telling us what we want

        Also, clicking on edges is bl00dy hard in a VM or RDP screen inside another.
        meski.oz@...
  • One ring

    "Keeping up with a continuous development cadence is going to require Microsoft to make a lot of rational decisions that don't make everyone feel warm and fuzzy."
    This hasn't proved a problem in the past :-(
    Except the 'making a rational decision part'.

    "You can also expect to see a significant push to get you to upgrade to Windows 8.1."
    Who wouldn't want to move from a half-finished product to a 3/4 finished affair?

    "To use the car metaphor that's so popular, in a year, the Windows team isn't rebuilding the car or even fitting a new engine; it's changing the tyres, swapping out the instruments on the dashboards, fitting a new car radio and tuning the engine control software."
    Ah, it's a service pack then ... MSFT's propensity to redefine English words like 'capable' = 'incapable' and 'reimagined' = 'copy of APPL's highly profitable ecosystem' aside.
    " ... surely we want the new, improved stuff, especially as it's free with better features ..."

    Just one small problem with that ideology, raised by the Finance department - when do we get paid?
    Oh, wait a minute! Now I see why Office 365 subscriptions are so high ... to recover the lost revenue on free OS updates. That's the new SERVICES strategy. Gotcha.

    "ONE MSFT: one ring to rule them all ... and in the darkness bind them."
    jacksonjohn
    • 365 subscriptions are so high compated to what?

      Please don't say Google Apps because we all know Google could care less about making money from this. Microsoft is a software company, not an advertising company so they have to make money off the sale of software, Google does not.
      thekman58
      • Re: have to make money off the sale of software

        Small correction: Microsoft does not sell software, they sell right to use, which for some wicked reason they call a license.

        With Office 365 they are again not selling services. They sell right to use. No license either. Or, more specifically, Microsoft rents you the right to use...

        Google does something different.
        danbi
        • Wow I can buy the right to use a virus trap online too?

          After decades of never ending virus trap MicroKlunk operating system versions that were all plagued with security holes and bugs don't you think the world has gotten tired of it?
          ITJohnguru