Mercifully toothless Windows 8.1 Update 2 due next week

Long-anticipated Update 2 will arrive as plain-vanilla patches, as speculation mounts about free upgrades to Windows 9

Everything is on course for an August Black Tuesday release of the Windows 8.1 patch formerly known as Windows 8.1 Update 2, and now apparently code named "August Update," according to unnamed sources cited by ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley.

According to Foley, "Microsoft won't be making a big deal out of this next update," which is great news for the decreasing number of Windows 8 users everywhere.

Reading between the lines, it sounds to me like the much-feared and long-anticipated Update 2 is going to arrive as a bunch of plain-vanilla patches, replete with KB numbers, sent down the automatic update chute, so you can pick and choose which ones you want. That's precisely how Windows patching has been done for a decade, conforming to holy writ and the expectations of the lowly unwashed masses. We're currently getting dozens of patches every Black Tuesday, now it looks like we may be getting dozens more than usual -- no biggie.

Getting Update 2 out of the way sets the stage for Redmond's New Coke: It's full speed ahead on the next version of Windows, whatever it may contain, whatever it may be called. "Windows 8" deserves defenestration, but whether Microsoft can come up with a better set of names remains to be seen.

Foley dangles one more interesting tidbit: "There are rumors Microsoft is planning to offer Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7 users some kind of deal -- possibly even a free upgrade to Windows 9 -- in order to get them to move to the latest Windows version once it's out next year." That's a fascinating stretch for all sorts of reasons.

For starters, it's hard to imagine Microsoft taking on the cesspool of XP legacy drivers for its shiny new OS -- assuming one could even get Windows 9 to run on old XP hardware. But it certainly makes a lot of sense if a free upgrade offer moves to a stunted version of Windows 9 or Windows 365. An XP-to-Windows-365-Starter-Edition upgrade would be mighty popular, particularly if there were a fully functional XP compatibility mode in Win365SE. Combine that with an in-app purchase of a "full" version of Windows 9, and Microsoft could make hay while the sun still shines.

The mechanism for performing a free or low-cost upgrade also opens a Pandora's box of possibilities. What's to keep a new system builder from loading cheap, ancient (but valid) copies of XP, then riding on the Win9's or Win365's coattails? As a counterpoint, would Microsoft really mind that kind of shennanigan, if Win9 or Win365 is considered the razor, with Windows Store selling the blades? Hard to say, but a similar scenario played out with Office Starter 2010.

It'll be interesting to see what kind of magic the dev team can conjure, now that Microsoft (apparently) isn't hell-bent on ramming a new UI design down customers' throats.

This story, "Mercifully toothless Windows 8.1 Update 2 due next week," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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