19 Nov.

What’s New in Windows 8.1 Upgrades and Deployment Part 1 (15/81)

Some history

While many people focus on the market reaction and perception to Windows Vista, there was another area where it also had a major impact, and that was the change in deployment tools. From Windows XP to Windows Vista the deployment tools changed dramatically, and forced OEMs and IT Pro audiences to learn new tools and methods, many of their old tips and tricks not being compatible with the new toolset and operating system.

The good news is that from Vista to 7 to 8 to 8.1 it’s been a gradual update in the tools rather than a complete replacement of everything, but there have definitely been some improvements along the way. I’ll cover some of these in today’s post, as well as covering some of the Windows 8.1 upgrade and deployment considerations.

Even though the OEM Pre-Installation Kit (OPK) and Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) were rolled into the Assessment and Deployment Kit (ADK), the ADK wasn’t a major change in the approach to deployment. The biggest user adjustment problem I find is from people who had their deployment skills stagnate with the Windows XP deployment tools. At this point they are three versions behind, but the benefit is that the tools and documentation have been refined over time.

Software And Hardware Compatibility

First of all you need to make sure that the hardware you are planning on upgrading to Windows 8.1 or performing a clean install to is compatible. While there are some specific pieces of hardware that will cause issues, and later versions of Windows have specific hardware requirements such as PAE, NX and SSE2 support, the machines that would be affected are usually older machines that probably aren’t going to be targets for an 8.1 upgrade.

These hardware requirement changes also affect Windows PE 5.0, which is included with the ADK, so if you are finding that the PC can’t even run Windows PE in order to run setup, the machine isn’t going to be a candidate for a Windows 8.1 installation.

Overall, driver compatibility from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1 is very good to excellent, but there are some exceptions, such as DisplayLink drivers which need to be updated. Updated drivers are constantly being added to Windows Update, so these driver updates will be delivered to users, possibly even before they notice the device isn’t working as expected.

Desktop application compatibility with Windows 8 and Windows 7 applications is also very good to excellent, and should survive in place upgrades without issue. Windows Store apps designed for Windows 8 will also work on Windows 8.1, so there shouldn’t be any concerns.

Upgrades

The final piece I’ll cover in today’s post is upgrades, which is a bit of a thorny issue for customers with OEM or FPP copies of Windows. Why? These are essentially treated as a consumer update, and must be done through the Windows Store. The issue here is that you can’t download a package to apply to all machines – this approach is only available to those who have a volume licensed version of Windows 8.1 Pro and or Windows 8.1 Enterprise.

Unfortunately there is no technical reason behind this, it’s purely a licensing issue. The Windows Store upgrade package that is downloaded is effectively the same internally as the WIM file that VL customers can deploy. The package from the Store is in the ESD format, which gives better compression and download capabilities for web based delivery.

So what is the answer for customers that don’t have VL versions of Windows deployed? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but a good web caching solution for networks with multiple PCs, and bandwidth usage for those that don’t. Not a great answer, I know, but the official positioning is that businesses should be using VL versions of Windows to ease with upgrades and deployments, but this time they really mean it. The way that the consumer Store based upgrade or a corporate upgrade take place is the same behind the scenes, it’s the same upgrade engine.

So instead of finishing this post on a low note, here are some of the good things that will be discussed in part two – updates to the ADK and MDT, as well as some changes in USMT and Windows Store app updates.

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