How (and why) to upgrade to Windows 8.1

If you're already running Windows 8, upgrade for free. If you're not, here's what you need to know.

Microsoft released Windows 8.1 today. This update was the result of lots of feedback from Windows 8 users (much of the feedback not so good), and it brings some sweet improvements to the operating system. Here's how to get it.

Current Windows 8 users: Head over to the page for the link to the free download on Windows Store (or just head to the Windows Store on your computer). When you update, your files, desktop apps, and settings will be transferred--and you can even keep working while the update is happening. (Download can take anywhere between 30 minutes to several hours, according to Microsoft.)

If you're already using Windows 8, getting 8.1 is sort of a no-brainer. Although the improvements aren't mind-blowingly spectacular, many of them are useful, such as customizing the split screen between multiple apps, better multi-monitor support, a more configurable start screen, and a lock screen that acts as a slideshow. Windows 8.1 allows you to boot straight to the desktop. It also brings back the Start button, but that doesn't really work the same as the real start menu in Windows 7 and before, so you're better off still using a Windows 8 start menu replacement.

I've also heard that for future system updates to WIndows 8, Microsoft will require 8.1.

If you're running Windows 8, Vista, or XP--or the Windows 8.1 preview--you'll need to head to this page on for your upgrade paths (the page will detect your Windows version and customize the instructions for you).

You'll also be able to pickup a DVD install disc at a retailer starting tomorrow, October 18. The disc and price is the same, whether you want to upgrade your Windows 7 or previous version or want the full install. It'll run you $120 or for the Windows 8.1 Pro version (which adds corporate network features and Hyper-V virtualization support), $200.

As always, before you upgrade your OS, you should back up your files and plug your laptop or tablet in.

If you've been giving Windows 8.1 a try, let me know what you think of it.

Read more of Melanie Pinola’s Tech IT Out blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Melanie on Twitter at @melaniepinola. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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