Updating to Windows 8.1? Not so fast

New update brings improvements, but driver issues might need time to get sorted
Windows 8.1

With all the hype leading up to Microsoft's massive update to its new latest operating system, no one would blame you for wanting to get Windows 8.1 on your machine ASAP. But before you do, you might have to ask yourself if it's right for your machine...right now.

User reports have been surfacing all over the place about problems mostly caused by driver incompatibility issues, though some companies like ATI have been pro-active about having their latest drivers for 8.1 available for download at launch.

While there are arguments for updating now, there are also reasons you might be better off waiting until drivers for all your important apps and services are updated for Windows 8.1.

No direct download, boo

Windows Store 8.1 Pro

In an unusual turn of events, Microsoft is not making Windows 8.1 a direct download. If you're already on Windows 8, you have to go to the Store app and (hopefully) see a big icon telling you that you can update it for free. If you're on a Surface, you should also be able to download 8.1 from the store.

In case the update does not automatically appear in the store, you can click on the 'Get the update' link from the Microsoft website, which will then direct you to the download from within the Store app.

While the update is free for current Windows 8 users, Windows 7 users will have to pay for it. Pricing is at RM530 for the standard version and RM907 for Windows 8.1 Professional. You can even purchase the DVD from stores carrying boxed versions of Windows if you'd rather not download it from Microsoft.

Cool reasons to update

The biggest hoo-hah about the 8.1 update is the 'return' of the Start button. Well, basically it just means you can choose to login straight to the Desktop mode instead of being greeted by the Windows Metro interface.

Other notable features:

  • Better search. Microsoft's worked some magic with Bing and integrated it into the Search on Windows 8.1 so it really feels like a good alternative to Mac OS X's Spotlight.
  • Better multitasking. Before, if an app was in 'Windows 8 mode', you would have to alt-tab out of it to use another app. Now you can snap up to four apps at once to your screen at the same time.
  • A new Apps screen view. This allows you to see all your apps in one place with just a click of a button.
  • Internet Explorer 11. Now, some of you might dread the thought of using IE, but the new version isn't half-bad. You can now have side-by-side browsing of websites, which you have to admit is pretty cool.

For a peep at the new features, Microsoft has videos on its official Windows 8.1 page.

Reasons not to update...yet

Even if your current machine is running Windows 8 just fine, there is no guarantee that all drivers working in Windows 8 will work fine in Windows 8.1. That is a serious flaw - you can understand why there might be driver incompatibility for older Windows 7 drivers but for an update to break Windows 8 compatible apps and drivers? That's ridiculous.

During the installation itself, the software checks your system but it can only really detect if your hardware meets the requirements but gives no real indication whether or not all your apps or drivers will work once you install 8.1.

Musicians and other people who use Roland audio software shouldn't update to 8.1 as the company has announced that it has yet to make its software compatible for 8.1, despite having previously created drivers for Windows 8.

On the other hand, both ATI and Nvidia have 8.1-ready drivers, which you can download straight from their websites. So before you get all excited about Windows 8.1, do a quick search to make sure your machine is ready for the update else be prepared for things not to work, especially older software or drivers.

Windows 8.1 is a good step in the right direction for Microsoft, addressing user complaints and making the OS more desktop PC friendly. But early adopters will have to anticipate driver issues and prepare to find workarounds. In the meantime, we'll keep you updated on what else is going on with Microsoft.