The curious and the thrill-seeking rushed to their PCs as Microsoft unveiled the preview version of Windows 8.1 at its Build 2013 conference. It's free and the ISO fiules have now been made available. Microsoft promises that an ISO version of the preview will be available within the next day, but meanwhile, it's available only through the Windows store - in other words, to Windows 8 and Windows RT users. Bah humbug!
Microsoft has released ISO files which can also be used to install Windows 8.1 preview offline. It warns that Windows 8.1 Preview ISO files (.iso) are provided as an alternative to downloading Windows 8.1 Preview through Windows Store. The company states: "Windows 8.1 Preview and Windows RT 8.1 Preview are stable and have been thoroughly tested, but aren't the finished product. Your PC could crash and you could lose important files. You should back up your data and you shouldn't test the preview on your primary home or business PC." Primarly, ISO files are best used by advanced users only and are best installed on another partition, another PC, or a virtual machine.
Files can be downloaded here. It is also available through the Windows store for Windows 8 and Windows RT users.
Common-sense precautions and requirements
Remember that Windows 8.1 Preview is a beta-level operating system that could break. At PCWorld labs, we've tried loading it on 5 systems and have already had one hang. Another, low-powered system is taking forever to chug through the process. Microsoft offers no technical support for the preview, just an online forum. Unless you enjoy danger, download this preview to a system other than your primary one. You should also back up the device and read the Windows 8.1 preview FAQs.
The system requirements are the same as for current Windows 8 products: for starters, a 1GHz or faster processor and a MicrosoftDirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver. A 32-bit system will need 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage space, while 64-bit systems will need 2GB of RAM and 20GB of storage space. For the Windows RT 8.1 Preview, you'll need a device that's already running Windows RT and also has 10 GB of free storage space.
Windows RT users: no going back
Windows RT users, please note: If you download the preview, there's no going back--you won't be able to restore your prior Windows RT operation system to the device. You will, however, be able to upgrade to the shipping version of the 8.1 update coming to Windows RT in the future.
We tried the download on a Windows 8 system. You go to the Preview page and click the 'Get it now' button.
Another page appears, with further instructions and a button to click for 'Get the update.'
At this point, Microsoft downloads a file to your device, which you install, and then you restart your device.
Once the device has restarted, you should be prompted to go to the Windows Store and download the preview.
The wait's almost over
We've all been waiting for the Windows 8.1 Preview to arrive and restore our hopes for this operating system. Stay tuned for more reports on our initial experiences--and let us know what you think about it, too.