Small biz admins squawk over Windows 8.1 updates

Complain they must point each device to the Windows Store to download the update

Small business IT administrators were angry yesterday at Microsoft for making them update each Windows 8 machine individually to Windows 8.1, a tedious task that requires them to point each device at the Windows Store and download a 3GB file.

One of the most common questions Thursday during a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" (AMA) session hosted by several of Microsoft's Windows developers and product managers was why the Redmond, Wash. company made it so difficult for customers to update multiple machines.

"It looks like people who install Windows 8 Enterprise or Windows 8 Pro (if using a KMS key) can't upgrade to 8.1 in place," said darthgooey during the AMA yesterday. "I don't particularly want to re-image my workstation or all the tablets we deployed last spring. Will 8.1 be available as a Windows Update like prior OS' service packs?"

"No Enterprise/KMS/MSDN etc. support is ridiculous," added SooInappropriate. "I'm not doing clean installs of OS's to get this update. We will standardize off Microsoft software faster than you can blink if this is the 'new' model."

While Microsoft responded to the latter question, acknowledging both during the AMA and in a support document published yesterday that volume license installations weren't supported via the Windows Store and that installation media was available on the Volume Licensing Service Center, that didn't qualm others' concerns.

Firms that weren't volume license customers -- small businesses, in other words, since most larger companies sign such agreements -- were still puzzled, then frustrated.

"Microsoft has made it known there will be no .iso file for Windows 8.1 available to the general public," said Andre Da Costa, a Microsoft MVP and moderator on the Windows peer-to-peer support forums, in a Thursday message posted to one such forum. "'Consumers' here really means any copies of Windows 8 that weren't purchased through Microsoft's Volume Licensing programs. So a small business with 20 PCs to upgrade, for example, will have to do them one at a time via the Windows Store -- so that's 20 separate downloads."

Windows 8.1 updates weighed in between 2.8GB and 3.5GB.

De Costa, the system administrator for a high school in Jamaica, made it clear to confused users that updates to Windows 8.1 were not going to be easy for smaller organizations and businesses. "The Windows Store is the only way for consumers (non-enterprise, non-IT Pro) to download and install Windows 8.1," said De Costa. "No .iso [files] will be made available, so each device needs to be updated individually via the Windows Store."

Image files with the ".iso" extension are commonly used by businesses to load standardized disk images onto their PCs and other devices.

Users with devices that have been upgraded to Windows 8 -- from Windows 7, say -- and those that came with Windows 8 pre-installed, must acquire the Windows 8.1 update from the Windows Store. Likewise, IT managers at small firms that bought their Windows 8 devices at retail, as many do, must point each individual PC or tablet to the Store to update.

Companies with a volume license agreement can roll out updates more efficiently, but Microsoft warned those customers that they must use the pre-release versions of System Center 2012 Configuration Manager R2 or Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2013, or the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (Windows ADK) for Windows 8.1. "Older versions of Configuration Manager and MDT will not support Windows 8.1 deployment," Microsoft cautioned in an FAQ posted on its website.

And only machines managed via Configuration Manager Software Distribution or Group Policy can be updated to Windows 8.1 as an in-place update, Microsoft noted. An "in-place" update generally leaves the device's apps, settings and data untouched, unlike a "clean" or "fresh" install, which wipes the device then reloads the OS.

Others following yesterday's AMA were upset because they couldn't update through the Windows Store.

"Whose idea was it to not include Enterprise users in the group that gets 8.1 through the Store?," asked GOPWN "This exclusion was never once mentioned prior to release, but now suddenly Enterprise users get screwed over by having to clean install from an .iso instead of a simple update like everyone else."

Although the desire to use the Store may have seemed counter-intuitive to some, one user explained why that was the preferred route to Windows 8.1.

"Many of my users are at remote locations so having them being able to do the update would save us time and money," said BossManMcGee.

Microsoft summarized the Windows 8.1 update options in a Friday post to its Spring Series blog.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is

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