Friday, 2 May 2014

Upgrading from Windows 8 to 8.1

Whenever we can we dissuade our business clients from using Windows 8. This is because it is designed with Home Users and social media at the very forefront of the entire operating system. It is clunky to use and difficult to navigate, and really needs a touch screen to get the most out of it. Windows 8 is also part of Microsoft's long-term intentions to move everyone to the "Cloud", which may not be the ideal scenario for business users.

The concept behind Windows 8 was to have the same operating system on your phone, tablet and computer. Except that all 3 devices are used for very different purposes. Oops.

We supply Windows 7 Pro as the operating system of choice for our computers. This is an excellent version of Windows, and by far the best yet offered by Microsoft. Many of our clients who buy their own computers will find that they have bought Windows 8, so they ask us to move them to Windows 7 instead. (Microsoft refers to this as a "downgrade", whereas we prefer to think of it as an "upgrade") 

This is a free upgrade if they bought Windows 8 Pro, but this is rarely offered unless requested. Most computers ship just with Windows 8 - which is different to Windows 8 Pro. Not very obvious, is it? Again, this is fine for home users, but not so for business users.

Windows 8 Pro comes with the upgrade rights to use Windows 7 Pro instead. Windows 8 does not, so you would have to buy an additional Windows 7 licence, at approx £100. Officially, since Oct 2013, this is no longer possible.

With Windows 7 we have always, as per best practice, moved the User Data from the C: drive of the computer to a secondary D: drive. The C: drive is then used exclusively for Windows and other programmes, (such as Office, etc.) This helps to protect the user's data in the event of failure of the Windows operating system and is a much more efficient use of the hard drive in a computer. It also makes data backup much simpler.

Microsoft's own take on this practice is, 
"For Windows, the most common reasons are as follows:

  • It is easier to back up data from a single drive & from a drive that contains only user files.
  • It is easier to rebuild the operating system drive on a user’s computer if user data is located on a separate volume. In this case, the drive that contains the Windows directory can be formatted, and Windows can be reinstalled without having to worry about how to remove user data."

However, it will eventually be the case that we will no longer be able to supply Windows 7. Microsoft originally said this would be in late 2014, but have since changed this to a date "to be determined". They have already stopped selling Windows 7 as an off-the-shelf product, as mentioned above.

So we will be forced to supply Windows 8, or its successor, whether or not that is good for our business clients. Which is all in the name of progress, of course. Or is it?

A Windows 8 computer will still allow us to move the User Data folders to the secondary partition, or D: drive. Indeed, this is becoming a vital necessity as we are starting to see relatively small SSD (Solid State Drives) being used for the operating system, (as they are very fast indeed), with more normal, larger hard drives used for the User Data, (as they are very cheap).

All well and good. Until we decide that we wish to upgrade the awful Windows 8 to the slightly less appalling Windows 8.1. In that case we can spend many hours downloading the Windows 8.1 upgrade, only to then see a message on screen saying, "Sorry, it looks like this PC can't run Windows 8.1. This might be because the Users or Program Files folder is being redirected to another partition.."

The reasoning behind this is very unclear indeed and is very much a backward step by Microsoft, especially in the face of SSD drives becoming more widely used.

The way around this problem is to manually move each user's data folders, one at a time, to the D: drive, but to leave that user's "profile" on the C: drive. This is a poor compromise which goes against Microsoft's own reasoning for moving the user profile completely, as shown above.

Microsoft says, "By changing the default location of the user profile directories or program data folders to a volume other than the system volume, you cannot service your Windows installation. Any updates, fixes, or service packs cannot be applied to the installation. We recommend that you do not change the location of the user profile directories or program data folders."

This means that, in one Microsoft article on this very issue, they recommend keeping the operating system and user data separate, and then tell us that we cannot do this! (see http://support.microsoft.com/kb/949977)


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The IT Dept offers computer support services in Lancashire, including Monthly On-Site or Remote Support Contracts; Secure Online Data Backup; Domain Hosting; Server and Desktop Sales; Software Supply & Installation. We cover all of Lancashire, including Chorley, Preston, Blackburn, Darwen, Bolton, Wigan, Blackpool, etc.
© Michael Donkin 2014