Last week the adventurous tech geeks out there got to dive into the long awaited Windows 8.1 Preview, the upcoming major update to Windows 8, and find out exactly how it all fits together.

I spent all of my last show, Observed Tech Episode 96, talking about the initial install experience on my Surface RT and upgrading my 64 bit Windows 8 Pro system.  Ultimately, I opted to restore my desktop to Windows 8 Pro and leave my Surface RT with the preview on it.

Well now that the Windows 8.1 Preview installation ISO’s are available for download and I have recovered from my recent gall bladder surgery to be able to sit at my desk for more than just a few minutes I decided to go ahead and do a clean install of the 64 bit version of the Windows 8.1 Preview. It is running in a dual boot with my Windows 8 Pro installation.  Remember when it used to be hard  to setup a dual boot system?  Well these days it is basically part of the install process if another Windows installation is found on your system.  In fact, it is so much a part of the process you do not even get asked to confirm a dual boot setup – it just happens.

So I am going to do this just like I have in the past as a series of bullet notes and I will follow that with several screenshots I took during the process.

  • Clean install from DVD took less than 20 minutes from reboot to Start Screen. My upgrade experience last week as 75 minutes long!
  • Only difference in setting up Windows 8.1 compared to Windows 8 is I was asked to select which other Windows 8.1 Preview device I wanted to sync settings with. I was also offered an option to setup my desktop as a new device. (See screenshot below)
  • Initially screen resolution was 1024 x 768, which was horribly low, and my second monitor was not recognized.
  • I was not asked about using SkyDrive during this setup process and that was likely because I had already set that up on my Surface RT Windows 8.1 Preview install.
  • Any PIN or Picture Password you have setup on the device you are synching settings with do not transfer to the new install and have to be set back up. I believe this is also the normal behavior in Windows 8.
  • If you are booting to the Start Screen, which is the default mode in Windows 8.1, the secondary monitor remains blank instead of showing the desktop background.
  • The Start Screen layout matched my Surface RT, which is what I selected to sync settings with during setup, with the exception of Office RT tiles which were obviously not on my desktop. Obviously the layout was slightly different because the desktop monitor was larger and could accommodate taller columns of tiles than my Surface RT can. This is to be expected of course and the tiles were still displayed in the same sequence and groups. (See screenshot below)
  • Windows Store Apps that I had on my Surface RT Start Screen were there but many were not installed. They each had a download arrow indicator in the lower right corner of the tile indicating they needed to be downloaded. If you clicked the tile in that state the download would begin. I did not click any of them and each one was installed, one at a time, in order from the left side of the Start Screen to the right side. From my experience last week you could click on every tile and start all the downloads at once as well. There is a progress bar across the bottom of the tile while it is installing which at least lets you see the progress. (See screenshots below)
  • There were also several apps on the All Apps screen that needed to be installed and that happened after all of the apps were installed on the Start Screen.
  • The built in Weather App comes up in a new install rotating through several default cities.  It did not pick up my default city that was on my Surface RT for some reason and eventually my Surface RT reverted to the default city list that the desktop was displaying. I had to set each to my location to get them working again.
  • There were several updates available in Windows Update between what came out yesterday and those that were waiting for the preview to be released last week.  I installed them and restarted the system.
  • After the reboot my screen resolution on my main monitor was its normal default of 1920 x 1080 as was my secondary monitor at 1440 x 900.
  • A Homegroup was automatically setup on my desktop even though I do not have a Homegroup setup on my Surface RT, which I was synching settings with, or any other device. Not sure why that would occur but it was easy enough to remove.
  • I was not asked for my time zone and was surprised to find it set to Pacific time even though my Surface RT was set to Eastern.  This should not happen or I should get asked to confirm my time zone.
  • Have you noticed the new tabs at the bottom of your Frequently Visited sites tiles in IE11?  Handy shortcuts to your other devices, the ones which use the same Microsoft Account to login that is, to extra visited sites on those machines. (See screenshots below)
  • No desktop icons settings, i.e. the ones you select for display, are transferred so you have to add those yourself.
  • I also had a Slide To Shut Down tile pinned to my Surface RT Start Screen and that was not synched to my desktop install.
  • I did do a tile readjustment on my desktop and eventually that seemed to sync with my Surface RT and jumbled up that column on there.  Will keep an eye on how this Start Screen sync handles differences in programs that are installed on different synched devices.  Maybe those tiles get in their own columns and then simply do not appear on the other device. Might be cleaner than mixing those things up in columns on the Start Screen.
  • I had several updates waiting for Windows Store Apps after everything got installed on the desktop. I used the usual method to install them through the App Updates screen in the Windows Store but once I clicked on install the screen just showed the progress dots rolling across the top of the screen. I eventually clicked back to find they had all installed except for one. The Windows Reading List app showed a 0x80073cfb error (package already exists). In fact, the app was installed and working but I could not verify if it was the updated version or not.  I am sure this is just a bug in the updated Windows Store and will get cleared up through an update at some point. (See screenshot below)
  • Noticed the Photo Live Tile on my desktop was not showing pictures in the local Pictures directory and this was the same experience on my Surface RT. It started working after about two days on my Surface RT so I am expecting that on the desktop as well.
  • I did add a tile to a Windows Store app on my Surface RT’s Start Screen just to see the sync happen and it eventually did. It is not an instantaneous experience so patience is a requirement as well as a reboot sometimes!

Here are my screenshots from the process with captions to connect them to comments above.


Windows 8.1 asks which device you want to sync settings with during setup.

Screenshot (11)

Initial Start Screen layout on new install matched the device I selected to sync settings with.

Screenshot (39)

A close up of the tiles with the download indicator on the ones which needed to be downloaded to the new install.

Screenshot (37)

Install progress bar across the bottom of the Start Screen tile.

Screenshot (40)

Check out the additional tabs below the Frequently visited site tiles in IE11. 

Screenshot (41)

Click on the tab and you will see additional sites that are frequented on those devices which are not displayed on yours.

Screenshot (43)

The stack of Windows Store App updates that were available for my newly installed Windows 8.1 Preview. The screen never updated once the apps were installed.

I am reminded that this is a preview/beta so there will be issues. That is part of the reason I decided to keep my primary system on Windows 8 as I depend on in for too many critical things. The dual boot will let me continue to experiment with the synching features and try several other things I want to see.

What has your experience been like with the Windows 8.1 Preview so far?

Please let us know what you are seeing in the comments below.