I got the Windows RT 8.1 Preview for my Surface RT mainly because of the irrational belief that new is better. This tablet for me is an experiment in the first place and the update is just more opportunity to experiment. Plus, I wanted a look at Internet Explorer 11.
You get the Preview by going to the Windows 8.1 Preview Download Page assuming that you’re reading this article on your Windows RT device. If you’re not reading this with RT, then the page you get will not have what you need, nor will you get so much as a hint about what’s wrong. Ignore Microsoft pages that say that you get the Preview from the Windows Store, because you can’t just go to the Store and search for “Windows 8.1 Preview.” After following the link preceding on your RT device, you will find a big button clearly labeled for the Preview. When you click that, an update is installed on your tablet, the computer reboots, and you are shown a prompt which links to the Store where you can then download and install the Preview. The download is 2.19GB in size.
One of the requirements for installing the update is 10GB of storage free. That’s a lot if you have the 32GB model Surface like me. You can free up 3.5GB by removing the recovery partition. Insert a 4GB or larger USB flash drive. From the desktop go to settings, then control panel, and search for “recovery.” Select “Create a Recovery Drive.” It creates a recovery flash drive, and instead of clicking “Finish” at the end, click this little link to delete the recovery partition. Viola, more storage! All the Microsoft pages about this process say to keep this recovery drive safe. Ignore that because once you install the 8.1 Preview, you can’t recover using that backup. There is no going back, at least not with anything published.
Big question for a storage hog like Windows RT: how much is left over after this installation. I ended up with 16.9 GB (this with a fair number of apps, and no recovery partition).
It took maybe 3 hours to download and install (I didn’t time it). After typing in my Microsoft password and accepting the Terms, it started right up and I noticed a new icon on the Desktop, a folder with an “O” on it—yes, Microsoft Outlook 2013. I hooked it up to my email account. Woo hoo! I’ve never been a huge fan of Outlook, but I used it for years at work, and it gets the job done. That’s more than can be said for that silly Mail app in the original release of Windows RT. Now the Surface RT is a serious contender.
I noticed for the first time a “Help and Tips” app on the Start screen, but it’s just “Coming soon.” Sounds interesting anyway. And there was a “Start-ish” button on the Desktop. If you tap it, the familiar Windows 8 Start screen appears, but if you tap and hold it, a pop-up menu appears with a fair number of options, including File Manager, Event Viewer, Device Manager, Disk Management (this is administrative stuff mostly), Computer Management, Task Manager, Search, Shut Down and Run.
Run? What can you run? Well, try Notepad for one, or CMD, or MSPaint (all these were there before). WOW, is that exciting or what?
Things seem to be different on the Start screen. Before you could give a little down-flip to select the tile and bring up a menu of things you could do, like uninstall it. That’s now a tap-hold (or a right-click with the mouse). Also you can now scroll up the whole Start screen (left side) to show the All Apps view.
A huge new feature in Windows 8.1 preview is that SkyDrive is integrated in Windows Explorer. Yea! That alone was worth the time to do the upgrade several times over.
At this point, I’m a happy camper.
It’s been over a month since I installed the update. I continue to be an enthusiastic user. Internet Explorer 11 doesn’t seem to be different from IE 10, except one popular web site (and I forget which) doesn’t work with it, giving a message that the browser isn’t supported–the site’s problem, not IE. Some of the Apps don’t yet use the new selection (tap-hold) method and stick to the down flick. I assume that will get worked out by general release in October. Also there are some bugs in XBox Solitaire Suite. Other than that, things are running fine.