Windows 8.1 Out Now: What You Need To Know

Dennis Faas's picture

Windows 8.1 is the first set of revisions for Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system. It's available as of this morning -- Friday, October 18, 2013.

So, what do you need to know about this significant new update? Here, we'll answer some of the questions we've received from our readers in recent weeks.

Question: Is Windows 8.1 the same as a service pack?

Answer: No. A service pack is a single download that contains all updates, bug fixes, and security patches to date in one package. Normally it's at least a year before Microsoft releases a service pack for a new edition of Windows.

Question: How much does Windows 8.1 cost?

Answer: As long as you already have a legal copy of Windows 8, this update is free of charge. (Source:

Question: What are the changes?

Answer: Most of the changes involve adding more options for controlling the look and feel of Windows. It's a response to complaints by users who weren't fans of the controversial tiled interface and preferred Windows 7's traditional desktop mode.

First and foremost, Microsoft has brought back the start button: tapping or clicking it will bring up a list of tiles representing the various applications on your computer.

You'll also be able to change the size of the tiles. Unfortunately, you don't have complete control (like in the old desktop mode), but you can choose between four sizes.

Question: What if I prefer the old desktop mode?

Answer: Windows 8.1 allows you to set Windows to always start up in desktop mode, meaning you never need to use the new tiled interface.

To make this change after installing Windows 8.1, go into desktop mode by pressing the Windows key on your keyboard. Then right-click the taskbar (the bar at the bottom of the screen), choose "Properties", and finally select the "Navigation" tab.

In this menu, check the option that says "When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start", and then click on "OK". (Source:

Question: I'm still on Windows 7 or earlier. Can I buy Windows 8.1 in stores?

Answer: In a change from its previous policies, Microsoft has released boxed copies of Windows 8.1 to be sold in stores. However, the pricing means these are only suitable for people installing Windows on a new machine instead of upgrading.

If you want to upgrade an existing Windows computer, it will be cheaper to buy an upgrade via the Windows 8.1 Upgrade Assistant.

Question: Will downloading Windows 8.1 disrupt my work?

Answer: No. You can carry on using your computer during the download. If you need to switch off your PC or you lose your Internet connection, you can pick up the download later on rather than have to start all over again.

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