Windows 8.1 General Availability: The IT Pro Perspective

As Windows 8.1 has reached general availability, I’d like to take this opportunity to encourage IT professionals everywhere to download the Windows 8.1 Enterprise Evaluation and start planning for deployment in your organization. This free 90-day evaluation software is designed specifically to help you test your apps and hardware with the final release of Windows 8.1 Enterprise, and to help you thoroughly explore how the new features described in What’s New in Windows 8.1 can benefit your organization.

The general availability of Windows 8.1 is also a great time to test and potentially optimize your deployment strategies and processes. All of Microsoft’s essential deployment tools have been updated for Windows 8.1, including:

  • Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2013 – The newest version of this popular free tool enables you to automate the creation and deployment of Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2012 R2, as well as Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012.
  • Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (ADK) for Windows 8.1 – Available in 11 languages, the Windows ADK includes the tools and guidance you need to customize and automate the large-scale installation of Windows 8.1 across an organization—and measure the operational characteristics (performance, reliability, and functionality) of a computer.
  • System Center 2012 R2 Configuration Manager – The latest version of Configuration Manager supports Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 deployment, software distribution, and more; and a free 180-day trial is available.

We have received a lot of questions about the upgrade and migration process with Windows 8.1. First, the Windows 8.1 media available now at general availability (GA) includes additional updates from the release to manufacturing (RTM) media offered in July. As a result, we recommend that you use the GA media when deploying Windows 8.1. If you have already deployed Windows 8.1 with RTM media, you will receive the GA updates via Windows Update.

Now, here is a quick summary of what you need to know:

Upgrading from Windows 8 Enterprise to Windows 8.1 Enterprise:

Download your Windows 8.1 Enterprise media from the Volume Licensing Service Center (VLSC). Please note that Windows 8.1 Enterprise cannot be updated from the Windows Store; it can only updated using media obtained from the VLSC. Use this media to either:

  • Perform an in-place update of existing Windows 8 Enterprise installations.
  • Refresh existing computers using MDT 2013 or System Center 2012 R2 Configuration Manager*, or burn the media to a DVD or copy to a USB key for simple installation.

Upgrading from Windows 8 (non-Enterprise SKU) to Windows 8.1:

If you have computers running Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro (retail- or OEM-activated), or Windows RT, follow the steps on the Windows 8.1 product site to install Windows 8.1 from the Windows Store. If you have trouble downloading from the Windows Store then please refer to the article Why can’t I find the update in the store.

If you have computers running Windows 8 Pro that are volume activated, follow the same steps listed above for “Upgrading from Windows 8 Enterprise to Windows 8.1 Enterprise.”

Upgrading from Windows 8.1 Preview to Windows 8.1

While computers running Windows 8.1 Preview can be updated to the final Windows 8.1 release, this update process will only migrate the data on the device. All applications (from the Windows Store or desktop applications) will need to be reinstalled as part of this process.

  • If you are upgrading from Windows 8.1 Enterprise Preview or Windows 8.1 Pro Preview (VL activated) you need to download the media from your Volume Licensing Service Center (VLSC) and perform an in place upgrade.
  • If you are upgrading from Windows 8.1 Preview or Windows 8.1 Pro Preview (retail- or OEM-activated), then you need to upgrade from the Windows Store.

Upgrading from an earlier operating system, or performing a clean installation

Download your Windows 8.1 media from the Volume Licensing Service Center (VLSC). Use this with MDT 2013 or System Center 2012 R2 Configuration Manager to refresh existing computers. MDT and Configuration Manager (or other similar tools) can be used to automate the move to Windows 8.1 while preserving data and settings, and can also install any needed applications as part of that process. If you want to perform a clean installation then you can also burn the media to a DVD or copy it to a USB key for simple installation.

What about activation?

If you are using a down-level Key Management Service (KMS) to activate your Windows 8.1 devices, you will need to update your KMS server. The update is available for download now and extends the Key Management Service (KMS) for Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows 8, and Windows Server 2012 to enable the enterprise licensing of Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2. New KMS keys are required to activate Windows 8.1; you can get your keys from the Volume Licensing Service Center (VLSC).

Where can I find more information?

For more resources to help you explore, plan for, deploy, and support Windows 8.1 in your organization, please visit the Springboard Series for Windows 8 on TechNet. Also, if you aren’t already a subscriber, sign up for the Springboard Series Insider newsletter to ensure that you receive information about the latest tools and resources, exclusive tips from Microsoft product team and community experts, and opportunities to connect with us directly at events near you.

*Note: To deploy Windows 8.1 with System Center, you must use System Center 2012 R2 Configuration Manager or System Center 2012 Configuration Manager SP1 CU3.