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Why upgrade to Windows 8.1?

There has been some misinformation about Windows 8, and now 8.1, responsible in part for consumers and enterprise sticking with Windows 7 or even XP – or moving to Mac.

Ultimately Microsoft desperately wants everyone to be on the same version to avoid OS fragmentation.

Windows 8 users will get this free upgrade after 18 October simply by going to the Windows Store. To upgrade they will need a Microsoft Live or Outlook account – very easy to set up. If you do not upgrade, Windows 8 patches and fixes cease around end of 2015.

This article primarily addresses the rest - Windows XP/Vista/7 users, as there has been little information about their costs or options.

A bit of history

XP, released in October 2001, was a watershed for Windows. IT was the most popular OS ever – it is still in use by 37% of Windows users. Typically, they are eking out every bit of life from their old Intel Pentium processors and this OS is well and truly past its use-by date. Official XP support e.g. patches and updates will cease in April 2014 – not an April fool’s joke so users really need to move up. If they do not they will no longer be protected from new vulnerabilities.

Vista, released in January 2007, received adverse and perhaps undeserved publicity – as the sacrificial lamb much needed to change the way Windows did things. It took Windows XP from 35 million lines of code to over 50 million and paved the way for Windows 7.

Windows 7, released in July 2010, is a desktop OS. It is stable, well supported and there are few compelling reasons to upgrade to 8.x – far better to wait until you buy a new PC or notebook/hybrid/Ultrabook.

Windows 8 released in August 2012, failed to make the impact it needed because it forced the new Metro Tiled ‘touch’ user interface (UI) on a world not yet ready to abandon the mouse and keyboard.

The Metro UI is excellent for touch devices like tablets and Ultrabooks – and the most frustrating thing on a desktop. Just over 12 months later, we have 8.1 as a free upgrade with the now optional use of Metro and/or the old Desktop and Start button are back.

The decision to upgrade:

  1. If you have XP do not try to upgrade older hardware to Windows 8.x. Buy a shiny new Intel Haswell or Silvermont PC or notebook.
  2. If you have Vista/7 your hardware should be compatible - you can upgrade to Windows 8 from for $150 and Pro upgrade costs $400.

We expect Microsoft to offer deals as it did with Windows 7 upgrades e.g. a Home Premium family pack for three to five PCs at a lower cost. Early indications are that a subscription model along the lines of Office 365 e.g., approx. $100 per year for up to five devices may also be offered.

Do you get enough added functionality to justify the upgrade?

If you have Windows Vista/7 you will notice a difference.

Windows 8.x:

  • Has better security – a key issue
  • Supports a greater range of hardware and peripherals
  • Start-up is up to 40x times faster
  • Is more hardware efficient – faster on older hardware and uses less memory
  • Retains the Windows 7 style of start button and desktop or uses an optional Metro touch interface
  • Has a new Windows Store Apps store that brings low cost, light weight apps to Windows 8.x
  • IE 11 is much safer with good HTML5 support than previous web browsers
  • Better multiple monitor support – important for those who use two screens or multimedia
  • Better DLNA; home group networking; sharing of printers, routers and storage.
  • Better cloud integration
  • Better Skype, Outlook and email, contacts and calendar – it is intended to be always connected
  • A Microsoft account to track your computers allowing you to register and deregister, backup and sync, and install software
  • Better social media integration
  • Windows Defender (anti-virus and malware protection) is integrated and quite good

In the end most changes are under the bonnet – it is technologically more advanced and will have the benefit of future upgrades delivered just like a security patch or update.

My only question is how Microsoft will pay for this - I suspect an Office 365 subscription model and I am happy with that.

More details will be released in early September at the Microsoft TechEd conference to be held on the Gold Coast - I will be there.


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!