This article is a complete walkthrough on the steps taken when upgrading a Windows 8.1 installation from Windows 8.
First, we start with a sample demo machine I created for this demonstration. It runs Windows 8 Enterprise edition and it was fully updated prior to the upgrade process.
Laptop notice: If you’re using a laptop, I would strongly suggest that you plug it to a power adapter before you start the upgrade process.
The list of new and upgraded features in Windows 8.1 is beyond the scope of this article. See the following Technet article for a complete list: Windows 8.1 – What’s New, IT Pro Features, Devices, UI.
Note that once you perform the upgrade, you will not be able to uninstall or revert back to your previous version of Windows. You will need to re-install your computer with the previous OS from a recovery disk or from the original media provided by the manufacturer.
Remember this is an upgrade process of an existing installation. Obviously you’d want to keep at least some of your files, settings or apps, otherwise you would have chosen a brand new installation, wiping your existing one. So what can be transferred?
During the upgrade process to 8.1 you can keep some of your existing apps and settings. For example:
In this case I chose to keep nothing.
Note: In this demo I did not get the option to keep my apps, simply because this was a brand new demo virtual machine that had no apps installed besides the default ones.
This is most likely the cleanest option, as it deletes everything, including all of your apps, and replaces your current version of Windows with Windows 8.1. However, files and data will not be deleted, and instead they are moved to a new folder called C:\windows.old.
At this point the process begins and runs on full autopilot from the moment you press the button. You can now go and have lunch.
A few reboots and about 20 to 40 minutes later, depending on your computer’s hardware, the upgrade process will complete.
Next you can personalize the color of the display, and – this is very important – set a computer name for the PC. While this can be changed in the future, for now you are actually asked to personalize this, which in my opinion is a good thing.
Note: Since I chose to keep nothing, my old computer name was also removed. If you choose to keep your settings you will not be prompted to set the computer name.
Now we get to the nasty bit: Configuring the Microsoft account for use with windows 8.1. Unlike Windows 8 and 7 before it, in Windows 8.1 you cannot proceed with the installation (or upgrade in this case) without being connected to the Internet. While in today’s world this seems like a logical move from Microsoft, we still need to remember that there are many unconnected environments out there: labs, virtual machines, isolated networks, secure installations, and so on.
In this upgrade demo I was forced to enter my Microsoft account, but in a later demo I conducted where I chose to keep my settings, I was able to bypass this requirement by pressing “I am not <username>.” After doing so, computer signed off and I was taken to the logon screen where I re-logged on with my pre-Windows 8.1 user account, which was NOT a Microsoft account.
A few more moments pass, displaying all sorts of encouraging messages… :-)
When all is done, you will be presented with the Windows 8.1 Start window.
Note: If you chose to keep your Metro-style apps, it may take some time for all the apps to upgrade themselves to their latest versions. During this time you will not be able to use them.
This is the final result! Windows 8.1 is up and running.