Windows 8.1 RTM: What's new, what's next?

Windows 8.1 RTM: What's new, what's next?

Summary: After digging its heels in initially, Microsoft relented today and made the Windows 8.1 RTM bits available for MSDN and TechNet subscribers and for Volume License customers. Here's what you can expect.

TOPICS: Windows 8

After initially saying it was planning to keep Windows 8.1 under wraps until its General Availability date in mid-October, Microsoft reversed course this week and put the RTM bits on MSDN and TechNet, so that developers and IT pros can begin working with the update in advance of the public.

It’s a welcome move by Microsoft, even if one wonders why they didn’t do this in the first place. We’re in uncharted territory with Windows 8.1, an update that is the first in Microsoft’s new rapid-release cadence, so I guess it’s possible to expect some confusion during the process.

I’ve been busy installing the Windows 8.1 RTM code on a variety of machines here today. Because this release is explicitly designed for testing and not for public availability, I don’t plan to review it yet. Instead, I want to use this post to answer some questions that early adopters, developers, and IT testers are likely to have.

What’s available now?

MSDN and TechNet subscribers, Volume License customers, and BizSpark and DreamSpark Premium members can download a standalone installer for Windows 8.1 Core and Windows 8.1 Pro, in both 32-bit and 64-bit editions. (Windows Embedded 8.1 Industry Enterprise and Pro editions are also available, as is Windows Server 2012 R2.)

These aren’t small downloads. The x64 multiple-editions version of Windows 8.1 (U.S. English) is a hefty 3719 MB, and the x86 version is 2780 MB.

Supported languages include the following: English, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, German, Greek, Spanish, Estonian, Finnish, French, Hebrew, Croatian, Hungarian, Italian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Dutch, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese-Brazil, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Slovenian, Serbian, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Chinese - Hong Kong SAR, Chinese - Simplified, Portuguese-Portugal

Where’s Windows 8.1 Enterprise?

The Enterprise SKU will be available at the end of September.

Where’s Windows 8.1 RT?

This update will not be released until the General Availability date, October 18.

What can I do with the Windows 8.1 installer package?

This is a full copy of Windows 8.1, which means you can use it to install on new hardware, or you can upgrade an existing Windows 7 or Windows 8 installation. If you upgrade from Windows 8, you can keep all your apps (including desktop programs) and files. If you boot from a USB flash drive or DVD to start the install, you must do a clean install. If an existing copy of Windows is on the target drive when you do that install, it gets moved to a new Windows.old folder.

What does RTM mean?

RTM means Released to Manufacturing, although it is more accurate to say Released to Manufacturers, as in Microsoft’s OEM partners. This release is explicitly for testing. There are a handful of known issues, mostly affecting Internet Explorer 11 and a new feature called Work Folders, which are documented in this Release Notes file.

The good news is that any updates released in October will apply to this edition, so you will not need to uninstall it when GA arrives.

Do I need a product key?

Yes, you do. MSDN subscribers get five product keys for Core and Pro, respectively. TechNet subscribers get three keys for each edition. Each key can be used for multiple online activations.

Can I upgrade from the Windows 8 Preview?

This is not a supported upgrade path. If you run the setup program from a machine running the Windows 8.1 Preview, you will see only the option to keep your files. You must reinstall Windows 8 or Windows 7 to enable the option to upgrade apps, files, and settings.

Do I need to create bootable installation media to upgrade Windows 8?

No. Windows 8 has the built-in capacity to mount ISO files, which is the format that the Windows 8.1 upgrade file comes in. After downloading that file, double-click it to open the installer as a virtual DVD in File Explorer. Then click Setup to begin the upgrade.

What’s new in Windows 8.1?

I’ve already found a lengthy list of new features in this release. For a close-up and more details, see the gallery, What's changed in the Windows 8.1 RTM release?

Topic: Windows 8

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  • Windows 8.1 without DVD play cababilities - end of the world is nigh...

    I don't have a dvd drive in my laptop, and only have one at home when friends require stuff to be put on dvd. I don't even have a dvd player (or blu-ray player) in the house (just stream to tv/devices).

    Oh, I can still use the operating system despite I cannot play dvd's without using third party software...
    • The DVD is not the (main) problem

      While I don't think the DVD playing capabilities of windows 8 is a major deal, it's emblematic.
      Everybody knows that Windows 8 was made for tablets mainly, but traditional PCs are still being sold, and it is a miss opportunity to stop expanding the use of them. PCs could have a center role in peoples lives - entertaining (gaming, multimedia, ...), social, work, ... and windows 8 is not doing a thing to conquer more of that place - maybe the opposite. It's no surprise for me that PC sales are going down....
      • Is there really DVD problem?

        MS invested $$$ and training to make sure VLC player works flawlessly in Windows 8. VLC on the other hand does not have to pay all the codec licensing fees that MS would have had to play if functionality was included in every copy of Windows. Millions of dollars for something most user would never use. Ok, MS saved the money but made sure the functionality was available for its users at NO COST to them. Win-Win for all involved. Where is the problem?
        • VLC sucks

          It does NOT work flawlessly for DVD playback in Win8. The playback is very choppy and actually unacceptable. A much better option that plays them smoothly is MPC-HC (Media Player Classic Home Cinema).
          • No "choppiness" here.

            sounds like a problem with your specific setup. Works great on mine and every one I've seen which is many.
      • Ummm you can use a soft DVD player for free.

        MS knows this and that's why they chose to skip out on paying royalties for DVD. VLC player is free and plays just about anything out there.
    • You can pay $10 or install VLC

      Three things on DVD playback:

      1. Every OEM that sells a PC with a DVD drive (and there are fewer and fewer of them) includes third-party software and codecs. So the only people who are affected are homebrew builders, a tiny segment.

      2. VLC is free. You install it, DVDs play back. Whee!

      3. You can also pay Microsoft $10 and unlock the DVD playback. They pass the money along to Dolby etc., which charges a per-PC royalty. Sorta silly to build the cost into the OS when most PCs no longer include DVDs.
      Ed Bott
      • So Windows 8, is basically incomplete?

        If you have to make additional purchases, to replace "missing functionality" (it was there in Windows 7), doesn't that make Windows 8 less than Windows 7?
        Troll Hunter J
      • Pay 10 Bucks To Unlock The DVD Playback Capabilities

        I wasn't aware of that option. Can you list more details, and is there some reference to how to do this inside of Windows 8.1 after it's installed? In other words, how would one know about this option if not for an article such as yours? This is the only place I've seen it mentioned so far.
        Also, I've always heard that the VLC player funneled adware & the like to your computer (or that it had some negative impact on the performance somehow). Comment on that also, if you would please...
        • VLC

          To the best of my knowledge VLC does not funnel ads to Windows machines or to any machines.
          • VLC Player

            Well, that's good to know. But then it raises the age-old question, if it's really "free", how do the devs make the money to support and upgrade it? I figured most of that type of app had to have a little hidden ad server or some-such hidden inside...
        • VLC is based in France

          hence they are able to get away with not paying for DVD codec licensing.

          The option to pay 10 USD to enable DVD playback in Windows has been well documented. In any case, right click This computer, properties, click "get more features with a new edition of Windows" and follow instructions.
      • Common Features

        See a DVD writer/player are still common on laptops and desktops any OS supposedly supporting these devices should provide some minimal support for using these devices. I have a test called the "Granny Test" which is that an OS must install a certain minimum suite of support for a non-technical user to use the computer without needing to install other software. Music and video playback is one area, uploading and pictures, and surfing the Internet are common examples. I exclude office suites and processing software. If W8 does have these features supplied then it fails the "Granny Test".

        My idea is that any user should be able to do a certain activities with any OS without needing to install more software or hardware. Most people are not technically literate so require them to install an easily included functionality is idiotic at best. Plus it annoys the family IT person because now they must install something so their less adept relatives and friends can use the computer.

        If MS continues to remove these features from Windows then I would recommend to family and friends they consider other options first such as a Mac or a popular Linux distro such as Linux Mint. Both include pass my "Granny Test".

        Also, included in my "Granny Test" is the UI must be reasonably intuitive so that a non-technical user is not immediately lost or confused. And they do all the important OS functions from the GUI. I know some will say Linux user must use the command line. However many Linux distros actually meet this test as well as Macs.
    • Get Linux Mint, it plays almost everything, even makes backup copies of DVD

      Load K3B software to record CD's and DVD's. VLC media player is now standard. All for free. Not tom mention LibreOffice which saves in MS formats.
    • Shadow Copies

      Other feature that Microsoft remove is Shadow Copies in the same device/disk. I can't upgrade until Microsoft put again this feature on Windows and made an option to COMPLETITY disable de Metro/Modern Retro UI, flat and fluid, the return of File Backup, Start Menu, Aero, Desktop Gadgets, the Advanced Appearance Settings, Details pane on Windows File Explorer on the bottom, more technical information on Stop Errors, etc.

      Really, Windows 8/8.1 with less features that Windows 7 is a downgrade. Windows 7 is an upgrade from Windows 8 and no need third party utilities to make it usuable.
  • One statement I liked reading was:

    Windows 8 has the built-in capacity to mount ISO files. Seems like a nice thing.
    • That's nice... but...

      This is really nice... but way overdue. It should have been added with XP SP2 or Vista at the very latest. How many years have we had to download Virtual Clone Drive? Which is especially silly considering that Microsoft distributes there software (via TechNet/MSDN) in .ISO form.

      My big complaint with Microsoft lately is that they spend so much time/resources/money to create major changes when there are tons of little features that never get done. And it's all these little features that make such a huge difference to people who use computers for 8+ hours a day.

      I'm sure I'll get used to the Metro UI eventually, just like I eventually got used to Windows7 and now love it, but I'd still like to see Microsoft invest more in the little tweaks and features that people want and have been asking for.
  • My DVD Player is

    built in to the 28" TV screen I use as a monitor for my Surface Pro 128GB. No need for Windows to control my movies. I love Windows 8.1! Next...........
  • Just Finishing Up Installation

    I am just finishing up an installation of 8.1 as I write this. 8.1 appeared on my MSDN subscription list last night so I initiated the 2.7GB download overnight and came in this morning to see it ready. The biggest surprise was that I needed a new key to unlock 8.1. I was under the impression that 8.1 was a simple upgrade to 8.0 yet my 8.0 key did not work. No problem getting the 8.1 key but this has me curious as to how people will upgrade when it is officially released in October. Will Microsoft issue them a key when they run the update or is this just a quirk with the MSDN distribution?
    • Initial Testing

      In initial testing it has been working fine. Several device drivers needed to be reinstalled. Also my ancient ATI Radeon X1400 driver, which worked fine under Windows 8, is now being flagged with a warning popup that it is out of date. Unfortunately, there is no updated driver as the hardware I am using for testing is an old Dell Inspiron 9400. The driver is working and there is an option to disable the popup which I will do. The option to boot to the desktop is not exactly prominently displayed. Took some Google searches to find the procedure for going right to the Desktop.