Updated: December 13, 2013
If you are a sensible person like me, you will have waited several weeks after the official release of Windows 8.1 before attempting to upgrade from an existing installation of Windows 8. Indeed, you may even be waiting for this tutorial.
Let's kick it. Today, I will show you how you can upgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1. We will do it step by step, a complete procedure, and we will make sure to handle all the important details, like personal data backup, windows updates, local and live accounts issues, the use of the Classic Shell versus the stupid Start Screen, and so forth. After me.
Backup & Windows updates
Before starting, I strongly recommend you backup your personal stuff. If anything goes wrong, you will be able to recover fairly easily. Moreover, a complete system image is also most recommended. If you're using a laptop with a preinstalled image, this probably means that you do not have a DVD for installation, should something go wrong. You might be forced to use the recovery options, or maybe something along those lines. In the worst case, you might even have to revalidate your Windows copy. To that end, you should make sure you have the actual serial in your hands, which can be retrieved from its BIOS storage using a very handy Nirsoft ProduKey utility. Please see my full guide for more details.
Next, you should perform a Windows update, or a series thereof, until the Microsoft shield turns green, indicating there are no more critical and important updates available for your machine. Once you're done this step, you can proceed with the actual attempt to upgrade.
Launch update from the Store
Next, open the store. The chance are, you will see an offer for a free download of the Windows 8.1 upgrade waiting for you there. Do note that you won't find this glorified service pack failure waiting for you in the normal update channels. You will have to launch the fairly pointless Store and perform the upgrade from there. No matter, let's do it, for the sake of this exercise.
Start the upgrade
The hefty 3.2GB download will take some time. Later, Windows will restart several times, and run through all kinds of steps, like configuring updates, configuring PC, setting up a few more things [sic], etc. On my test box, a rather new Asus VivoBook, which came with Windows 8 from the shop, the procedure took almost three hours to complete, download and all.
In my case, the actual procedure took twice as long, because the update failed the first time with a rather unhelpful message, which you won't be able to find in the Event Viewer, for example:
Couldn't update to Windows 8.1
Sorry, we couldn't complete the update to Windows 8.1. We've restored your previous version of Windows to this PC.
I've used Windows forever, and have probably done at least 20-30 upgrades of various services pack in all sorts
of releases, mostly Windows XP and Windows 7, on desktops as well as laptops. Never had a single failure. Until
now. Thumbs down, Microsoft.
There are no helpful guides online that will resolve this for you. Honestly, your best bet is just to try again and hope for the best. You can ignore any kind of online tutorial that tells you to start tweaking and fiddling and installing weird stuff and drivers, because none of that really matters. Remember, Windows 8 works fine for you, so all these suggestions are just witchcraft by clueless people and would-be experts and such. Stay calm. Try again.
You will not need to redownload the files, so the second attempt that you may encounter ought to be much shorter. Accept the license agreement and let the Windows do its magic until you reach a very important stage of the user configuration.
Local vs online account setup
At this point, the installer will force you to create an online account before you can proceed. If you already have one, then you're ok. If you're using a local account, like I was, then it will be merged with whatever online account you choose. You do not have an option to skip this step here. This is somewhat similar to the crap we had to endure during the Beta testing. First, you will be asked to confirm your local account:
Next, you will have to setup some online account. You will then receive an 8-digit confirmation code to the email address you provided for the online account, and you will have to provide it before you can continue. This means you will need to have another computing device with Internet access, which you will have to use to get the code.
After this step is complete, the last few customization steps will be done. Soon, you will be logged in your old desktop, with a few significant exceptions.
Micro update: After reading the official documentation for the upgrade process, you may be able to reuse your local account. This means trying a very non-intuitive - Create new account, and then selecting, Continue using my existing account. No such luck for me. Moreover, some people suggested faking your email address will also work.
In my case, Windows 8.1 disabled the Classic Shell I am using instead of their failing concept of the Start Screen. The icon was still there, in the shape of the new Windows 8.1 logo, but the application was not usable. That's called altering my setup. Second, there was an icon for some weird application on my desktop, which I've never seen before. Perhaps Microsoft shoved some promotional piece of software down my throat. We shall yet have to see.
But the worst part is that I'm now using an online account, which I never desired. I can understand this is mandatory for Android devices, take it or leave it, but if my Windows 8 was setup with a local account, then it should remain local, you corporate fascists.
Restore local account
Again, instead of giving you three or four separate guides that cover all these things, like how to fix the local vs. online account thingie, how to fix the Classic Shell, plus the upgrade itself, you get it all in one, I'm so damn benevolent. Anyhow, to turn off the online account and go back to using the local one as you've always desired, search for Accounts > Your Account. In the Windows to the right, click Disconnect.
Next, you will be asked to create a local account. Do notice you cannot use the same name, you will have to create a different one. Microsoft is actually forcing you to use a different name than your own chosen one if you wish not to use their online crap. That's more fascism. We will also fix that soon.
Log back in. Check your account. It's local now. Good.
Rename local account to its old name
Now, let's get our old name back. Go to Control Panel > User Accounts. Then, under Make changes to your user account, change your account name. That's it. You can go back to what you always used, and who you really are. Screw you, Microsoft.
Fix Classic Shell
Rerun the installer and fix the software. You may also want to change the start button back to its old version, or if you wish, keep using that silly flat logo, whatever you want.
Check all is well
Verify you're running Windows 8.1. And you're done.
Don't use either Windows 8 or 8.1, they are both big failures.
However, Windows Phone 8 is actually really, really nice!
For more fun reading, in addition to my Windows 8.1 beta review, please read:
Windows 8 Consumer Preview stuff
Windows 8 RTM review
Thank you Microsoft
We must thank Microsoft for this stellar, delightful adventure. It was fun, not:
In the past, getting service packs was a simple thing. Open Windows Update, wait, done. Now, it's a 47-step process that takes 10 times as long. Now, morons out there will say, this is a change and you need to get used to it. Why? It's slower, more cumbersome, full of errors, full of annoyances, it intrudes my privacy and the integrity of my data, and it forces me to waste time. Fuck your change. Not all changes are good, stupid kissass oligophrens. And this is a good example.
Windows 8.1 is just a lousy service pack update for a failing operating system. Nothing more. But sure, force the users to go into your poor Store and make them sign in, they might stick around, right Microsoft? You just breed hatred and antagonism, and you're not helping yourself or anyone. This is crap in every flavor and form. There's nothing positive to be said about this whole sad process.
For you dear reads, luckily, you now have a useful tutorial that teaches you how to perform this upgrade, should you desire it, for whatever reason there be. You know how to handle updates, how to secure your data, how to run through the update procedure, and then, heal your desktop after Microsoft violates it with its online bullshit.
And we're done here.