By now you've no doubt read that Windows 8.1 is a must-have upgrade for Windows 8 customers, but barely rates a second glance for entrenched Windows 7 or XP users. Sometime in the next few days -- after the servers go through their obligatory meltdown and Microsoft crows about a million or two downloads of dubious pedigree -- you'll likely install it, if you have a Windows 8 machine or VM. Just use the Windows Store app.
If you're smart, you'll immediately go in and make the changes necessary to defang the new version: use local accounts; turn off SmartSearch; turn off Automatic Update; rebuild your libraries if need be; set to boot to desktop; disable the Metro hot corners on the desktop; install apps that will keep you out of Metro Hell (VLC media player, one of the PDF viewers, IrfanView); and install a third-party Start menu replacement.
That's all pretty much standard. I'll post a wrap-up slideshow shortly, and if you have suggestions for other primary Windows 8.1 remediation techniques, please add them to the comments below.
With the Band-Aid that is Windows 8.1 out of the way, a follow-on question immediately arises: Now what? Or as Mary Jo Foley over on ZDNet put it, What comes next after Windows 8.1?
Foley quotes unnamed sources as saying there will be an update to Windows 8.1 in about six months, to coincide with the release of the next version of Windows Phone. Paul Thurrott quotes a single source inside Microsoft and claims "where Windows Phone 8 has 33 percent 'API unity' with Windows RT, Windows Phone 8.1 will hit 77 percent." I think it likely that the Windows 8.2 update will modify the WinRT API specifically so it more closely matches the Windows Phone RT API. If Terry Myerson's truly concerned about the future of Windows (and every indication I have to date says resoundingly that he is), I'd be willing to bet he won't change much at all about Windows 8 that affects users; my guess is that we're looking at a change in plumbing.
If we're lucky, the change in plumbing will be sufficient to allow simple Windows Phone RT apps to run on Windows RT, and thus on the Metro side of Windows 8 -- a quandary I discussed at length 18 months ago: "That may be a long-term goal. Right now, it's nothing but a cruel joke."
The incompatibility problem arose, quite simply, because of Steve Sinofsky's steadfast determination to grow Windows "down" from the desktop, to tablets, then to the phone. With his phone background, Myerson's precisely the right guy to turn it around, to build the API "up" from the phone. If Foley and Thurrot's sources are correct, that's exactly what's going to happen.