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Vol 1 Issue 188
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Winter, 2013
Updating to Win 8.1 - A Rocky Road;
File History Fumbles The Ball!


After surviving Red Thursday and Black Friday, and with Christmas shopping still incomplete, I feel satisfied to have completed this article. And, yes, I know, the label atop this Report is a tad inaccurate - it really isn't winter yet (as this was written) - that happens officially on Dec. 21, but . . . it has been cold and we did get snow.

Regardless, this was written on a Windows 8.1 updated desktop, a high-end Z77 machine (no touch screen yet) and does include the troubling "cumulative update" for Internet Explorer 11. If anything, this prose proves, I've now reached a point of 8.1 stability.

Do I like Win 8.1? Well, it's a major improvement over version 8. In what I'll call work mode, the desktop side now has no surprises. The Metro side muddle is easier to manipulate, but still has hidden oddities.

Entertainment mode is another matter. There's scads of colour-packed distraction. Example: I spent hours of good fun, admittedly with my grandchildren, trying the huge variety of games via the Windows Store! Tip: current choices included - Armed and House of 1,000 Doors.

But, back to the update trip from October 17. Now, more than a month later, I can say it was not anything even close to what I had expected. It was mostly a rocky rollout on my testbeds - and for many others - including Microsoft.

The "free update" as the company describes 8.1, is more like a Major Upgrade. It involves much deeper machinations than even a full-grown Service Pack. When finally all is loaded in, as Microsoft says, most occurring: "in the background, while you use your PC to do other things," you should, I say - be prepared for just about anything!

Sure it looks much like version 8, but update results vary from slick to miserable. I even encountered a mind-numbing "return to your previous operating system" screen on one testbed. On another, the mouse moved incredibly slowly. On another, favourite software refused to work. Again, on another, hardware died from driver problems.

My worst-case scenario, was a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) system crash. Mind you, a few days later I did get a two-hour install that was golden - a usable Win8.1 machine.

I searched online and found I wasn't alone - others had wide-ranging install problems. Microsoft was inundated and issued bug fixes for mouse problems and quickly assembled and published online installation suggestions on how to avoid many of the issues.

One of these sites, Update to Windows 8.1: FAQ points out that: "The installer will check to make sure you have enough disk space, that your apps and devices will work with Windows 8.1 . . . and that you have all the required updates. In some cases, the installer might find something you need to take care of before you can continue installing the update. If so, you'll see a message telling you what you need to do."

I had problems, but not even once did I see that message "what you need to do!"

Later Microsoft information suggests uninstalling such programs as Start8 and Classic Shell to avoid conflicts and to temporarily turn off your antivirus program. It seems, some antivirus software may also interfere with the installation.

The company also now suggests making sure you have all the latest device drivers installed on Windows 8 prior to doing the update. They say its best to update any device drivers from the manufacturers' website. Microsoft also suggests you unplug all accessories (except for keyboard and mouse) before you attempt to update to Windows 8.1.

Those are all helpful ideas, but the Forbes site, where their tech contributor Larry Magid, describes his Win 8.1 instal problem and solutions is not much help - to say the least.

Somehow, amid his updating, he gets a phone call from Microsoft Tech and allows them to take over his machine and find and fix the problems. Magid says: "I guess getting a call from Microsoft with an offer of help is one of the perks of being a tech journalist. I wish everyone could get that level of support."

Normal people can phone Microsoft Tech for help and usually pay a fee. My main problem with the Magid story is that he gives no word on what the tech found wrong, nor how the fix was made. Duh?

The IE11 "cumulative update" Arrives

Yet another matter of concern was the cumulative update for IE11 on Patch Tuesday, November 12. It moved IE from version 11.0 to 11.0.1 and included 17 bug fixes as well as separate general security updates. It required a reboot and no surprise, put my then current Win8.1 install into deep freeze.

So I went back to an image made before the cumulative patch install - postponing the IE update a few days on that testbed until I had regained a stable situation. Then, happily, it went in with no problems. Thank goodness for image backups to restore order.

Unhappily, a few days later I got persistent apologetic startup messages about Microsoft's Mouse and Keyboard center. According to online reports the IE11 update doesn't like older hardware. But my mouse and keyboard are only months from the store! I uninstalled it and re-installed as directed, and for some reason a few days later, all is once again quiet..

But the mouse lag and jitter issue remains for gamers and they are really annoyed, Cyril Kowaliski, writing for Tech Report says; "Microsoft acknowledged the issues in this Microsoft Community thread. Moderator Naman R explained, "The mouse lag issue is actually several different issues that could vary based on the game, input methods used, etc." He adds Microsoft is "working to get these issues resolved as quickly as possible . . . we don't have a date yet for the release of a fix."

Another problem is the fixes themselves - they may cause problems with other software or hardware! The Microsoft fix for now is that you reinstall the apps or drivers. Yeah, right.

Kevin Parrish on Tom's Hardware wrote that: Softpedia while trolling Microsoft's forums looking for signs of Windows 8.1 issues, many customers still don't even see the Windows 8.1 upgrade in Windows Store to tap and begin!

"The problem actually began on day one, and was even experienced by several here at Tom's. The problem, at least initially, was that the Windows 8 platform needed to be updated with specific patches released before the update finally appeared on Windows Store. Naturally, one month later, we'd expect that Microsoft would have resolved the issue, but many users reportedly still don't have access despite fully patching their systems."

Some problems involve messages with error codes attached. Microsoft advises to check the code number carefully before following any of its procedures on the support pages. They say: "we are still investigating the 0x40017 error issue to determine what additional drivers are causing this error. . . We'll post a fix or solution as soon as they are confirmed."

Juan Carlos Perez writing for PC World says these problems start with Microsoft's characterization of the update. "People often assume that if it's labelled a point upgrade - as in 8.1 - then it probably includes minor changes that won't cause serious configuration problems."

That's a bad assumption to make, according to Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions On Microsoft. During a period of testing and installing Win8.1 he discovered his preferred security software isn't supported on Windows 8.1."

Free Update globally available October 17

In case you've been on another planet, these adventures started on October 17, 2013, when Microsoft's News Center announced the global availability of Windows 8.1. The press release called it: "a feature-rich update to its popular Windows 8 operating system. . . Consumers with a Windows 8 device . . . can download it . . . via the online Windows Store."

"Just touch anywhere on the page!" (Click, for anyone using a mouse). Then the download begins. The Win8.1 update ranges in size from 2.8 GB to 3.63 GB depending on your machine (32 or 64 bit) and what version (Win8 or Win8 Pro) you have installed. My Win8 Pro on a 64-bit machine required that largest-size download.

There follows 40-odd minutes of watching a green line download indicator grow and then finally a new window Getting Info, later another window - Preparing for Restart, then another reboot or whatever and finally after an hour I finally was presented with a licence screen and . . . the update problems followed..

Can we expect future big updates? Shara Tibken on CNET predicts: "another Windows 8 update will arrive in the spring. And, according to CNET sister site ZDNet, the company may even introduce a bigger, new version of Windows in the fall of 2014. More likely, though, is a major release of Windows in the spring of 2015, ZDNet reported, a move that brings the current Windows and Windows Phone operating systems closer together."

She also suggests checking "Windows 8.1 tutorials", featuring everything you'll need to get started, find your way around, and get things done."

Another 8.1 Upgrade Woe: Keys and ISO

My preferred way to instal operating systems is with an ISO archive and a product key.

But, as Paul Thurrott on his Supersite for Windows says: "it's not possible to install Windows 8.1 using a Windows 8 product key, which makes no sense at all.

"Worse, Microsoft is punishing its most loyal users by refusing to provide a downloadable install set in the form of an ISO . . . which would enable users to install or upgrade to the OS multiple times with just a single download. . . Neither of these issues makes any sense at all. "

He points to people such as me: "What about the guy with 2, 3, 5 or more PCs to upgrade? In places where downloading is slow or expensive, asking such a person to redundantly download exactly the same code over and over again is a bit much."

However it didn't take the computing community long to figure out a way to bypass Microsoft's hurdle. CNet's Ed Rhee gives a fairly simple and completely legal 7-step method of how to do it.

The final step is choosing whether you want the installer to create USB flash drive media, or save the ISO file.

Rhee says: "If you choose ISO, the ISO file (Windows.iso) will be saved to your PC and you'll be given the option to burn it to DVD. Once completed, you can actually go back and create the USB flash drive media as well." If you go that route, you need a 4 GB or larger flash drive to hold the ISO.

Yet Another Bump in the Road: File History

Another of my favourite tech writers has found disturbing problems in Win8 / 8.1, which at this point, are seemingly unrelated to the update itself.

Fred Langa, writing for, Windows Secrets warns in the November 28, paid edition of Windows Secrets, his personal problems with its File History program.

He says: "I recently needed to retrieve an earlier version of a file I was working on, so I opened Win8's File History and navigated to where the previous version should have been. (For more on File History, see the Windows Secrets July 11 Top Story, Understanding Windows 8's File History). But File History wasn't running. It hadn't copied any files for three full days!

"Disturbingly, this was a totally silent failure- Win8 hadn't uttered a peep. I had received no warnings, no alerts, and no notifications whatsoever that File History was inoperative.

"It turned out that the external USB drive I use for File History had gone into sleep mode - and it had not awakened when File History tried to access it. Win8 is supposed to use the main drive (typically C:) as offline storage when File History's primary save-to location is unavailable, but that didn't happen in this case. File History simply failed - period.

"File History resumed operation after I power-cycled the external drive, but there's a three-day gap in the saved files. I'm a bit paranoid about data loss. . . . File History is only one of several backups I use. I also back up my user files every night to an offsite, encrypted, cloud-storage service - and to two secondary PCs. . . . Things will go wrong, and relying on any one backup system - including File History - leaves you vulnerable.

"The only way to be truly safe from data loss is to have multiple backups and to manually verify that they're all working!"

I loudly second the motion. Backup. Backup. Backup.

Which brings me to these early wishes for everyone:

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

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