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

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.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

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?

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