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Moving from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1 at Microsoft

Quick Reference Guide

Published October 2013

Microsoft IT wanted to provide a way for Windows 8 users to quickly and easily roll out the Windows 8.1 update in the environment. With Windows 8.1 and Microsoft System Center 2012 Configuration Manager, it has become easier to provide a seamless way to update employees' computers.



What's in it for you

Download Quick Reference Guide, 291 KB, Microsoft Word file

  • Windows 8.1
  • System Center 2012 Configuration Manager
  1. Click, click, done. Deploying as an update with System Center 2012 Configuration Manager Company Portal provides users with a convenient user-initiated two-click method to install the Windows 8.1 update.
  2. Update deployment. Deploying as an update is faster and a cost effective alternative to creating complex zero-touch installation images.
  3. Seamless installation. The operating system update runs in the background and preserves users' data, applications, and settings.
  4. Less work for IT pros. Deploying as an update significantly helps reduce help desk calls and increase installation success rates.
  5. Reporting. Custom reporting helps track and communicate on the overall success of the Windows 8.1 deployment.


Microsoft wanted to take a different, more user-centric approach and reduce complexities in deploying the Windows 8.1 operating system. With the majority of users at Microsoft already running the Windows 8 operating system, Microsoft IT want to provide a way for Windows 8 users to quickly and easily roll out the Windows 8.1 update in the environment.

To help drive a rapid rate of adoption, Microsoft IT wanted deploy Windows 8.1 with these goals in mind:

  • Easy for users to initiate
  • Reducing complexity by leveraging capabilities provided natively in the Windows update process:
  • Preserving all user data, settings, and applications with no customization or configuration required
  • Easy for the IT department to deploy, manage, and support


Because of the investments the Windows team made to provide a fast and seamless update process, for the first time ever, an operating system update was rolled out like an application rather than using the traditional installation (refresh) method. Available to users that are already running Windows 8, the new installation mechanism was designed to be as simple as possible. Microsoft basically wanted to apply an update to the existing operating system and turn it into a new operating system.

Regular consumers and home users can go out to the Windows Store and download the update, but in an enterprise setting, IT shops typically want more control over the process. Any version of Windows 8 that has been activated through Microsoft Volume Licensing will not be offered the update in the Windows Store.

Note: If original equipment manufacturer–activated machines exist on the network, Group Policy can be used to block the Windows Store from offering the upgrade.

In an enterprise environment, the same type of update installation can be offered, but it is done by using the Application Deployment feature in System Center 2012 Configuration Manager. It uses the same setup engine as the consumer update. Microsoft IT had a couple of options, they could push the update out or make it available in the System Center 2012 Configuration Manager Company Portal for users to pull down at their convenience.

Push vs. Pull

System Center 2012 Configuration Manager (including Service Pack 1* and R2) supports "push" and "pull" installations

  • Pull installations (available). Microsoft IT chose to use a self-service method, where users initiate the upgrade from the Company Portal at their convenience.
  • Push installations (required). The Windows 8.1 upgrade can be applied to systems in the environment as a scheduled activity. Microsoft IT can push the update out to systems that are not upgrade by a certain date.

* Support for Windows 8.1 in Cumulative Update 3 for System Center 2012 Configuration Manager Service Pack 1.

Using the Windows 8.1 Standard Image

One application was published in the Company Portal and Application Catalog and was available to all users currently running Windows 8. Microsoft IT chose initially to offer Windows 8.1 in five major languages for both 32-bit and 64-bit architectures, totaling 10 different deployment types. All of the images are the same size, run in the system context when the user is logged on, and provide an unattended installation experience.

32 Bit 64-Bit
  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Japanese
  • Simplified Chinese
  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Japanese
  • Simplified Chinese

End-User Experience

From an end-user perspective, the update method of installing Windows 8.1 is very simple. For computers running Windows 8 RTM, Windows 8.1 Enterprise RTM shows up as a Featured Application after the user opens the Company Portal. Selecting the Windows 8.1 Enterprise application tile brings the user to the Installation option page.

When the user clicks the Install icon:

  • The Windows 8.1 operating system upgrade package begins to download and is installed silently in the background while preserving all of the user's applications, data, and settings.
  • Shortly after the user clicks Install, a flag appears in the upper right of the Company Portal. If the user clicks the flag, they will see Installing Windows 8.1 Enterprise.
  • A couple of minutes later, a toast notification appears in the upper right notifying the user that downloading has started.
  • The user restarts the computer when prompted.


The Windows 8.1 update was designed to be as fast as possible. Some of the higher-performance machines on a fast network can update in a little as 15 minutes. On a slower network or with slower machines, the length of time to upgrade can vary, and installation can take up to 2 hours. Because it all occurs in the background, users can use their computer until the first restart.


  • All of the modern applications that run on Windows 8 should run on Windows 8.1.
  • Internet Explorer 11 is included with Windows 8.1, but most modern web browsers should be compatible.
  • Most hardware that runs Windows 8 should be compatible with Windows 8.1.

What happens during the Windows 8.1 Installation

  • The computer connects to System Center 2012 Configuration Manager and initiates the deployment.
  • A policy request is sent to the management point.
  • The Windows 8.1 installation package downloads. The download operates in the background, and visual notifications pop up to inform the user that the download has started.
  • The installer runs the setup engine, Windows setup.exe. When the download is complete, it kicks off the startup engine and runs through a variety of compatibility checks to make sure there are no known issues with applications, drivers, BIOS versions—anything that could prevent installation completion. When it is done with the checks, the installer performs the update process.
  • The installer updates Windows 8 to Windows 8.1. The image is extracted onto the hard disk, moving the existing operating system out of the way as part of the process. The installer keeps all of the existing applications, user data, accounts, and settings. The exception is some of the application files and settings that need to be moved to the side before being merged back into the operating system.

Window Setup.exe

Operating system deployment for Windows 8.1 is done by using the Application Deployment feature of System Center 2012 Configuration Manager in conjunction with the Company Portal as a user interface for users. The app merely launches the appropriate Windows Setup.exe on the Windows 8.0 computer based on the processor architecture and the locale data of the machine for five supported languages.

The Configuration Manager client on the user's machine keeps control of the app until the Setup goes through the first system restart to report Windows Setup cancellation (triggered by the user in the Setup Wizard) or Windows application compatibility issues.

When Windows 8.1 update is successful, The Configuration Manager client repairs itself because of changes occurring in Windows Management Instrumentation initiated by the Windows Setup process.

Successes and Remediating Failures

The Windows 8.1 update is a straightforward process and, perhaps most importantly, it is recoverable. If anything goes wrong during the process, Windows will be able to detect the failure on the next startup and automatically roll back to Windows 8. The only time a computer ends up with Windows 8.1 is when there was a fully successful deployment from start to finish. It was designed to be as reliable as possible.


  • 22,000 installations of Windows 8.1 Preview
  • 97% installation success rate
  • On track to exceed 80,000 total installations by general release
  • Help desk calls reduced by 48%

Remediating failures

Windows Setup walks users through remediation of known issues, including disk cleanup and updating drivers and software. There was also self-guided remediation information made available through FAQs.

Some of the failures were caused by Windows detecting known compatibility issues and stopping the process early, before touching the system in any way. These failures create logs that helped Microsoft IT analyze to determine the kinds of remediation that needed to be taken.


To get installation data dynamically, Microsoft IT used custom reporting methodology. The Deployment Status summary report Microsoft IT created included:

  • Enforcement/compliance state of the application on targeted user machines
  • Operating system data collected from the Active Directory system discovery process scheduled to run delta discovery every hour
  • The numbers of rollback machines (machines rolled back to Windows 8.0 during Setup) collected by generating custom status messages.
  • A visual status of the success and failure rates of Windows 8.1 installations.


  • Microsoft IT saw 97% success rate in deployments and help desk calls were reduced by 48%.
  • The update required low user involvement during installation.
  • Using the available standard deployment images reduced complexity
  • The update installation preserved user data, settings, and applications.
  • The deployment method leveraged standard System Center 2012 Configuration Manager tools.
  • The Windows 8.1 update had lower cost than traditional operating system deployments.
  • Reporting leveraged the data collected in System Center 2012 Configuration Manager to gain insights into update deployment results.


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