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How to Upgrade to Windows 8.1

Tips for acquiring and upgrading to Microsoft's latest operating system for your nonprofit or library

How to Upgrade to Windows 8.1 
Ginny Mies - November 08, 2013
If you decide your nonprofit or library is ready to switch to Microsoft's Windows 8.1 operating system, it is time to make an upgrade plan. Verify that your systems meet the technical requirements and let us walk you through steps to take before and during an install.

If you decide your nonprofit or library is ready to switch to Microsoft's Windows 8Windows 8.1 operating system, it is time to make an upgrade plan. Verify that your systems meet the technical requirements and let us walk you through steps to take before and during an install.

If your organization decides that it's ready to switch to Windows 8.1 and has verified that it meets the technical requirements to do so, it is time to make an upgrade plan. This article will walk you through steps to take before and during an install.

This article is geared toward the accidental techie who is comfortable installing software and who has only a handful of computers (fewer than 10) to upgrade.

Those looking for tips on virtualized environments, unattended installs, or network-wide mass deployment can find support on Microsoft TechNet Windows 8.1 Technical Library. A more general Springboard Series for Windows 8.1 has a variety of resources on new features, planning installation, and supporting the operating system.

Before You Begin

When Microsoft released Windows 7, we outlined a checklist of easy computing steps to ensure a painless upgrade from Vista or XP. Even though Windows 8.1 might look like a completely new operating system, these steps are still relevant for moving from Windows 7. Before you start upgrading your organization's systems to Windows 8.1, make sure to go through the checklist.

Also, visit our corresponding article Should You Upgrade to Windows 8.1: Questions to Consider to confirm that your systems are ready for an upgrade.

Getting Windows 8.1

You have various options through which to obtain Windows 8.1 software:

  • Obtain through TechSoup. Organizations eligible under the Microsoft Donation Program can request the upgrade version of Windows 8.1 Enterprise. Note that you cannot upgrade from any Home edition of Windows 7. See a summary of Volume Licensing Product Use Rights for specific licensing details. The full, base version of Windows 8.1 Pro is available at TechSoup via Microsoft's Get Genuine program. The full version is only available to eligible organizations that cannot use the Upgrade version and is limited to 50 licenses of any combination of Get Genuine products. More information about all Windows 8.1 products can be found on TechSoup's Windows 8.1 Page.
    • New donation request. If you've never requested software via TechSoup's Microsoft Donation Program, read this overview of the program and find out if your organization is eligible.
    • Upgrade to Windows 8.1 from Windows 8 through the VLSC.
    • Upgrade to Windows 8.1 Enterprise using Software Assurance. If you have requested a Microsoft PC operating system donation with Software Assurance within the past two years, you are eligible for a free upgrade to the latest operating system through the Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center, where you can download the installation files. You can upgrade to Windows 8.1 Enterprise from any Windows license that is covered with Software Assurance. For more information, visit TechSoup's Volume Licensing Service Center - Software Assurance Benefits page.
    • Download ISO files. TechSoup encourages organizations to go green and download installation software rather than have discs sent to you. Learn how to download software from Microsoft's Volume Licensing Service Center and how to install Microsoft Windows from downloaded ISO files.
  • Obtain from a charity reseller. If your organization isn't eligible to request Microsoft donations, or if you've already requested your 50-license allocation for the Windows OS title group, you can try obtaining Microsoft software via a charity reseller or a discounted software program. For more information, read TechSoup's A Quick Guide to Discounted Software Programs.

Installing Windows 8.1

Once you decide to make the switch to Windows 8.1, you have a few options for deploying it. If you are upgrading from Windows 7, you can do an in-place upgrade. Your system settings, as well as your installed applications and user settings, are preserved. This requires minimal reconfiguration, and you won't need to re-install your programs after you've upgraded.

You can also opt to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1 through a custom install, which is also known as a "clean" install. This means your programs, files, and settings are not preserved. You will need to back up your files and programs before upgrading and then re-install them afterwards.

If you're upgrading from Windows Vista or XP, the line between in-place upgrade and custom install becomes a bit blurred. Depending on which operating system you're upgrading from, you will have a choice of what you can keep when you move over to the various versions of Windows 8.1. The following chart outlines what you can keep when upgrading from one version to another.

Current operating system

New operating system

What you can keep

Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate

Windows 8.1 Pro

  • In-place upgrade: programs
  • Windows settings
  • User accounts and files

Windows 7 Professional and Enterprise

Windows 8.1 Enterprise

  • In-place upgrade: programs
  • Windows settings
  • User accounts and files

Windows Vista with Service Pack 1 or 2 1

Windows 8.1 or Windows 8.1 Pro

Personal files and Windows settings

Windows XP with Service Pack 3

Windows 8.1 or Windows Pro

Personal files only

1 If you are running Windows Vista RTM (release to manufacturing), you can keep your personal files only if you upgrade to Windows 8.1. We highly recommend downloading a free patch from Windows Update before upgrading so you can keep your Windows settings as well.

32-Bit or 64-Bit?

If you're questioning whether you should get a 32-bit or 64-bit version, Microsoft makes it fairly easy on you. You can upgrade to a 32-bit version of Windows 8.1 only if you're running a 32-bit version of Windows. And it is the same for 64-bit versions; you can't go from a 32-bit version of Windows to a 64-bit version of Windows 8.1 or vice versa.

Install and Customize!

Once you've decided on an installation method, the actual process of installing Windows 8.1 is simple. The Windows 8.1 Upgrade Assistant will warn you about hardware and software compatibility issues on your system. If you have a program that's not compatible, the Upgrade Assistant will remove it and restart the installation. Make sure to have your product key handy, as you'll need it to complete the installation.

Next, you have a choice of color themes for Windows 8.1 as well the opportunity to name your PC. Don't like the color you picked? You'll have more customization options after you finish installing Windows 8.1.

You will also be asked to pick between Express settings or Custom settings. For most users, Express settings are adequate, but be sure to read through the list of settings you'll opt into. Finally, you will be asked to enter your Microsoft account information. If you don't have an account already, you can sign up for one from the prompt screen.

And you're done! You are now running the brand-new Windows 8.1.

Image: Upgrade, Shutterstock