Are you wondering if you should upgrade to Windows 8.1 RTM?
Microsoft recently released the RTM bits for Windows 8.1 to developers, along with Visual Studio 2013 RC. Since I am knee deep in Windows Phone 8 and Windows Store App development, I needed to move to the new platform right away. But, will it work the way I need it?
There is a large amount of conflicting information on the web regarding the question of retaining desktop apps during updates of Windows 8.0 My own personal experience with this has been a bit frustrating. I’ve tried several installs of Windows 8.0. I discovered that the PC Recovery option to save files restored Windows Store apps, but not desktop apps. I had to go back to a full recovery image to regain all the desktop apps I installed. Another time, Windows restored Store apps plus ‘selected’ Microsoft desktop apps such as Office and Visual Studio, and removed third party desktop apps.
Over time, my Windows 8.0 install was getting cranky, not able to open any Store apps. I attempted to recover from previous system images, but it did not help. I ran across others on search with the same problem. It turned out to be a conflict with Active Directory.
If I logged in as a local work group user, all was fine, and Windows Store and related apps worked just fine. If I logged as a domain user, Windows Store and related apps simply crashed with cryptic error messages in the log. A different computer we own with Windows 8.0 would log onto the same domain and same user with no problem.
The difficulty seems to be that I initially installed Windows 8.0 by logging into my Microsoft Account (Passport). I later changed it to log into the domain, and that was when the problem started. Trying to find out where group policy and file permissions were blocking Store apps was taking too much time, so a rebuild of the system was in order. It was time to do a clean install of Windows 8.0.
By the time that Microsoft released Windows 8.1 RTM to developers, I had just rebuilt my computer from scratch, using a new Intel 240 GB SSD and a clean install of Windows 8.0 RTM. I added Office, several versions of Visual Studio and all my necessary third party apps. After a large effort over several days, the system was just to my liking. To be safe, I backed up a full drive C: disk image onto the server using the “Windows 7 File Recovery” tool included with Windows 8.0.
How Much Pain Will Upgrading to Windows 8.1 RTM Cause?
Web searches on the topic proved inconclusive. I asked a friend working at Microsoft about this, and he said the intention was that a Windows 8.1 RTM update would not disturb desktop apps. The intention was to distribute Windows 8.1 via Windows Update so that existing third party apps would not be disturbed. I decided to give it a try and the results were pretty good.
As a developer, I received Windows 8.1 Pro as an ISO file, suitable for fresh installs. If you have Windows 8.0 running, you can open the ISO in Windows Explorer and then run Setup.exe. You will be guided through the installation as you might expect. At one point, you get an option to “keep apps, files, and settings”.
What does “apps” mean? Store apps, desktop apps, or both?
It turned out, for me at least, it was both. Hurray! Apparently, if you update from anything other than a clean installation of 8.0 RTM, you will not get the option to “keep apps, files, and settings”.
Some Unexpected Changes
First, I noticed on the desktop is that the “Windows 7 File Recovery” option was broken. In Windows 8.1 this option has been scaled down to be simply a onetime system image backup. It can be accessed on the “System Image Backup” link on the bottom left corner of the File History control panel. This is quite adequate for system image snapshots to recover from a drive C: failure. Be sure to use the option to burn a recovery CD at least once so you can recover the system image if needed. If you want more backup options, command line options are available.
Second, if you had installed the Media Center option on Windows 8.0, it is now gone. You will need to add the key for the option back in using the “Turn Windows features on or off” link in the Programs and Features control panel. After you do that, open the System control panel and reactivate your system if requested.
Third, the update also wipes out the search index database. So the indexer will automatically rebuild it. If you have a large Exchange mailbox as I do, this takes some time before searching email in Outlook is fully functional.
Fourth, the first time I ran Windows Update, the search phase ran on for about 10 minutes, then reported a “windows update error 8024A008”. Rebooting the system solved that.
Other than that, it appears everything else made it from 8.0 to 8.1 without a hitch. Props to the Windows team for getting this sorted out!