Microsoft released a preview of their update to Windows 8 today, and we’ve got all the details, starting with how to get your hands on it.

Note: we totally lifted that picture from Microsoft’s blog. Do they care? Nope.

Give Me the Info!

Before we give you the download link, there are a couple of things you should keep in mind:

  • Windows 8.1 will be a Free update to Windows 8.
  • Windows 8.1 will be offered through the Windows App Store today, though you’ll need a small update to trigger it.
  • Tomorrow, there will be an ISO image download of Windows 8.1. MSDN and Technet subscribers can already download the ISO release.
  • Important: Once you upgrade to the 8.1 Preview, you can’t upgrade from that to the final release later this year.
  • Update: some PCs won’t run the 8.1 update, and the 64-bit version doesn’t work in a VirtualBox virtual machine from what we can tell.

First, you’ll need to head to this URL and download a small application to trigger the update. Open and install that update first. You will be asked to reboot at the end.

Once you reboot, you will be prompted to head to the store to get the update.

It wasn’t working in VirtualBox for us, but it should work otherwise.

What’s New in Windows 8.1?

Let’s face it — Windows 8 was not very popular, and while there were a ton of really great enhancements and speed boosts under the hood, the paint job made people very upset. The new “Metro” start screen was not only forced on everybody, but you could barely customize it, so it wasn’t like you were going to learn to love it. Plus they renamed it from Metro to Modern, which left everybody even more confused.

The biggest complaints were the removal of the start button, the start menu, and the fact that you could no longer boot to the desktop. Everything else was really unimportant. So what are the biggest new features?

  • Start Button is Back: although it does open the start screen. There’s no start menu.
  • Boot to Desktop is an Option: it’s incredibly easy to enable, as well. Read here for how to enable Boot to Desktop.
  • Search is Unified: the search engine on Windows 8 was just awful, splitting different searches into different sections that made no sense. Now it’s unified into a single search engine as it was in Windows 7.
  • Better Start Screen Personalization: the experience is much improved this time around. You can customize the tile size a lot more, use background pictures, Modern apps can be snapped to fill half the screen, multiple monitors are supported much better, and a lot of other improvements.

There are a ton of other improvements in Windows 8.1, but those are the most important.

Note: We’ll be updating this post with more information about how to install the update as soon as we get our hands on it.

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Lowell is the founder and CEO of How-To Geek. He’s been running the show since creating the site back in 2006. Over the last decade, Lowell has personally written more than 1000 articles which have been viewed by over 250 million people. Prior to starting How-To Geek, Lowell spent 15 years working in IT doing consulting, cybersecurity, database management, and programming work.
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