Windows 8.1 Update: The IT Pro Perspective

UPDATE 1 – April 10th 2 – Post edited to provide more detail of Windows 8.1 Update installation timing.

UPDATE 2 – April 16th – Added link to blog post with important information for WSUS customers.

Today we announced the availability of Windows 8.1 Update. This is a cumulative update for Windows 8.1 that includes a variety of enhancements for enterprises, including improved IE 11 compatibility for enterprise applications, usability improvements, extended mobile device management and improved hardware support.

In this post we will provide detail on some of these enhancements and how to deploy the update. For an overview of the Windows 8.1 Update enhancements please see the Windows for your Business blog announcement.

One of the important enhancements in Windows 8.1 Update is the introduction of Enterprise Mode for Internet Explorer 11, announced today on the Exploring IE blog and the IE blog. This provides better compatibility with older versions of Internet Explorer and tools to manage which web apps use it. Businesses can benefit from the modern web standards, better performance, and increased security of our latest browser, while extending existing investments in legacy web apps. And by decreasing dependencies on older versions, Internet Explorer helps you stay up-to-date.

About the Windows 8.1 Update

As announced at the Build 2014 conference, the Windows 8.1 Update is currently available on MSDN. It will be available on Windows Update, the Windows Update Catalog, and WSUS on April 8th as part of the standard “patch Tuesday” updates. And on April 14th, updated Windows 8.1 images will be made available to all volume license customers via the Volume License Service Center.

Depending on the update architecture (ARM, x86, x64), the update will range in size from about 300MB to about 700MB.

Windows 8.1 Update has one dependency, http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2919442, which needs to be installed before the Windows 8.1 Update. We recommend that you start the deployment process for this update now, in preparation for the April 8th broad availability of the update.

Windows 8.1 Update is a cumulative update to Windows 8.1, containing all the updates we have released for Windows 8.1, so if you install this update you do not need any earlier updates. It also becomes the new servicing baseline for Windows 8.1, so next month’s security updates (on May 13th, the next “Update Tuesday”) will be dependent on Windows 8.1 Update. UPDATE 4/16 – please see this blog post for important details for WSUS customers including an extension of the timeframe for enterprise customers to deploy these new product updates from 30 to 120 days.

Windows 8.1 Update is categorized as “security update” because it includes two new security fixes (as well as all previously-issued Windows 8.1 updates). Separate versions of these security fixes (KB2922229 and KB2936068) are also available for those organizations that want to immediately deploy these security fixes. However the Windows 8.1 Update is still a dependency for next month’s security updates.

Deploying Windows 8.1 Update

Depending on where your organization is in your Windows 8.1 deployment, there may be a few scenarios to consider. Each of these are reviewed below:

· Computers currently running Windows 8.1

For computers currently running Windows 8.1 and updating from Windows Update directly, the deployment process is simple: Install the dependency (KB2919442) if it’s not yet installed, then install Windows 8.1 Update (KB2919355). For organizations using WSUS, Windows Intune, or System Center Configuration Manager for patch management, just approve or deploy those same updates instead.

· Existing Windows 8.1 images

If you have already built your own Windows 8.1 images, you can add these same updates into your existing images by mounting the WIM files and injecting the updates offline, following the instructions available in KB2919355. But if you routinely rebuild this image (for example, to pick up each month’s security updates), we recommend that you instead download an already-updated Windows 8.1 ISO from the Volume License Service Center, available on April 14th, and use that image instead of the original Windows 8.1 image released in October, since it will have the needed updates already installed.

· New Windows 8.1 Images

If you haven’t yet created a custom Windows 8.1 image, you can get started (using the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit or System Center 2012 R2 Configuration Manager) by downloading the already-updated Windows 8.1 ISO from the Volume License Service Center, available on April 14th. That becomes the base for your custom image. (Since the Windows 8.1 Update is cumulative, so you won’t need to install or apply any older updates when you use the new image from VLSC.)

· Updating from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1

If you are currently updating computers from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1 by leveraging the automated upgrade process (“setup.exe /auto:upgrade”) available in volume license versions of Windows 8.1 (Pro and Enterprise), you can swap out the current Windows 8.1 installation files that you are using (which includes the INSTALL.WIM, SETUP.EXE, and all other related setup files from the Windows 8.1 media) and replace it with the new files from the updated Windows 8.1 ISO available from the Volume License Service Center on April 14th. That saves you the trouble of installing the new updates separately.

· Updating from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1

Unlike with Windows 8, there is no direct upgrade process to move from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1. Instead, create a new Windows 8.1 image using the new ISOs available on April 14th, and then deploy that with a wipe-and-load deployment process using System Center Configuration Manager or the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit.

Updates have also been released for the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit for Windows 8.1, adding support for a new “Windows Image boot” process (also called “WIMboot”) introduced in the Windows 8.1 Update. These updates are not required for deploying or using the Windows 8.1 Update, so no action needs to be taken in regards to these; they will not impact existing deployment tools (such as MDT or Configuration Manager). See the Configuration Manager Blog for more information about the Windows 8.1 Update and Configuration Manager, and Microsoft Deployment Toolkit Blog for additional details about the Windows 8.1 Update and MDT 2013.

It’s important to note that because the Windows 8.1 Update is not a new Windows release, no additional actions need to be taken in regards to infrastructure readiness or product activation. Management tools like System Center Configuration Manager and Windows Intune will fully support updated Windows 8.1 computers. Your existing KMS infrastructure can support updated Windows 8.1 computers, and existing MAK and sideloading keys will continue to work. Speaking of sideloading, we’ll be making improvements in this as well, as mentioned in the Windows for Your Business blog. Look out for more details on the Springboard Series blog coming soon.