Why is Microsoft dropping support for Windows 8.1?



This article is by David Tuffley, Lecturer in Applied Ethics and Socio-Technical Studies at Griffith University. It originally appeared on The Conversation.

analysis In a move certain to raise the ire of users of Microsoft’s Windows operating system the software giant has announced that next month it will cease support for Windows 8.1.

But that operating system is barely eight months old and already an upgraded version of the Windows 8 system that failed to impress many users since its release in 2012. Microsoft has this month already killed off support for the long-lasting Windows XP system, so why is it ending support for Windows 8.1?

The aim is to force users to install Windows 8.1 Update, thus establishing it as the new service and support baseline for users. The Update is actually a cumulative collection of all that has already been released for the Windows 8 operating system plus some new improvements for desktop users.

Microsoft traditionally releases any security patches to its operating system and software on the first Tuesday of the month – known as Patch Tuesday. The software giant is urging all Windows 8 and 8.1 users to upgrade now as any patches released in next month’s Patch Tuesday on May 13 “will be dependent on Windows 8.1 Update”. No Update means no further security patches will be installed.

That means people who stay with standard Windows 8.1 will find themselves in the same position as Windows XP users after Microsoft ceased support earlier this month after 13 years.

Getting users to upgrade to newer, more secure versions of Windows has always been a problem for Microsoft. Today, more people are still using the older Windows 8 than 8.1, even though the later version is free and is an improvement on the old.

Why are people slow to install upgrades? Probably because they are busy and the update process is a disruption to their work-flow, taking time and enforcing a re-boot. The user then has to re-open their applications and re-load their work-in-progress. People probably think, “I’ll do that later” but they seldom do. But for 8.1 users, the longer they leave it to upgrade, the more they risk being hacked.

The irony is that regardless of how authoritarian Microsoft’s efforts have been to get people to upgrade, this new release is an improvement worth having. It is one that most users are likely to appreciate once they have installed and got used to the changed setup.

New features of Update include the default booting of users without touchscreens to the desktop and the default use of desktop applications. The sensitivity of those pop-up “hot corners” has been reduced, recently installed apps are highlighted and generally a much improved user interface for keyboard and mouse users. On the technical side, the size of the installation package has been halved from 32Gb to 16Gb. Being leaner, Update also performs faster on older hardware while reducing the minimum RAM from 2Gb to 1Gb.

Windows 8.1 Update is probably the version that Microsoft should have released from the beginning. If it had, then Windows 8 may not have received so much harsh criticism and disappointing user uptake, being variously described as an unfinished touchscreen operating system aimed at tablet users.

One of the most baffling aspects of the Windows 8.1 Update story is that users of the original, much-maligned Windows 8 will continue to be supported by Microsoft until January 2016. If Microsoft’s intention is to establish 8.1 Update as the “service and support baseline” why would they not insist that Windows 8 users also upgrade. Why take a hard line with 8.1 and not 8.0? It doesn’t make sense.

Compounding the difficulties for users wanting to upgrade, it was announced earlier this month that the Windows 8.1 Update was having SSL problems that held up deployment of the upgrade for a few days.

This issue has since been resolved, but it could not have come at a worse time with the Heartbleed security bug creating alarm around the world with its exploitation of an OpenSSL library vulnerability.

The best advice is for all users to do a manual check to make sure they have access to the latest software upgrade and get it installed as soon as possible, ahead of the deadline. Simply relying on automatic updates is not enough.

So the clock is ticking. With support for Windows 8.1 ending on May 13, and various problems rendering their 8.1 Update package problematic, time is running out fast for both Microsoft and those people who are trying to comply with the strong-arm directive to upgrade there computers before support ends. But Microsoft’s new CEO Satya Nadella has only been on the job since February 2014 and already we are seeing much activity at the US headquarters these days:

There will be plenty more too in the run-up to the release of Windows 9 sometime in 2015.

With Microsoft’s market share still under threat from Apple, the Windows 8.1 Update mandate is a high-stakes gamble that may yet pay off for the company – as the old saying goes “you have to risk going too far to discover just how far you can really go.”

David Tuffley does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. Image credit: Microsoft

The Conversation


  1. “Why are people slow to install upgrades? Probably because they are busy and the update process is a disruption to their work-flow, taking time and enforcing a re-boot.”

    That may be an issue, but I think a bigger one is, people don’t like change. Upgrading to a new version of the OS will mean there is a whole lot of new things they have to get used to. And it might mean, that features they used everyday will change of disappear.

    • Or, another reason why people don’t update.

      Applying the update causes functionality of the device to either fail, or not work according to what it’s supposed to work. For a good example, see the ASUS TaiChi. Every update has broken the screen switch functionality and ASUS, Microsoft and Intel play the blame game loop.

      • I run Microsoft Flight Simulator with a lot of customization. I’ve been burnt by the Windows 8 Joystick bug, i’m not going to risk upgrading to 8.1 if i can afford to. Also, what do I have to gain for the risk?

      • As an academic Mr Tuffley demonstrates his lack of real world experience with questions about 8.1 vs 8 ongoing support. As Greg rightly points out, there are compatibility and support issues with upgrading to 8.1 from Win8 – manufacturers won’t support PC, notebooks and tablets not running the ‘shipped version’ of the operating system. To compound this problem manufacturers have been slow to refresh their product lines since Ivy Bridge (Intel 3rd gen Core architecture) – with IvB and Win8 there was a flurry of activity with manufacturers jostling for market share in the new touch world of Win8, ultra books, tablets and hybrids, and they were all burnt by slowing sales combined with a deluge of competing products.

        In response, Haswell (Intel 4th gen Core) releases have been far more cautious – even if you wanted to buy a Haswell ultrabook or touchscreen notebook with Windows 8.1 today you would find yourself with a disappointing lack of available options.

        So that leaves an unacceptably high proportion of the market left with Windows 8 options, a choice that means they take their warranty and support in their own hands if they choose to risk updating to 8.1. Most people don’t have the requisite skills (or interest) in fixing driver or software issues, nor are they keen on paying IT specialists to fit problems – it is far easier to leave well enough alone.

        Additionally, businesses with fleets of PC, notebooks and tablets running 8 are not going to risk the support nightmare resulting from running an unsupported OS.

        Make no mistake, just because it is a free upgrade, Windows 8.1 is still a different operating system than 8 and can break drivers as readily as any other OS change.

        As for forcing users to apply the 8.1 Update package for continued support, there must be some core vulnerabilities in stock 8.1 (also in Server 2012 R2) for Microsoft to take such a hard line. I’m not at all surprised they’re not talking about what the vulnerability is, either – that would be irresponsible. The fact that 2013 saw a 90% increase in hacks and vulnerability exploits is telling, though – security is quickly becoming the most important area for software designers and system administrators to concentrate on – it was always important, but where only enterprise and government needed to worry about hardening their systems against the worst attacks those days are now over – small businesses and consumers are now far more vulnerable due to not having the resources and expertise to throw at security, so vendors have to do it for them. Microsoft can only do so much as application of patches comes down to users – this is one step in the right direction.

        • I take your point with this … but I have to say, I don’t hear about a lot of modern machines suffering from broken drivers due to a point upgrade of a Microsoft operating system. Back in the Windows XP or Vista days, yes. But Windows 7 and 8? Not really. And I doubt the likes of Dell are going to abandon support for one of their products because someone upgraded their laptop or tablet to 8.1.

          With this new style of update process, Microsoft is trying to shift consumers towards the Apple model, where the O/S is updated quite frequently. It’s the right way to go, even if it is going about it in a way which is a little pushy. Enterprises will always update much slower and in a controlled way after testing SOEs with the new patch etc. But I like what Microsoft is doing here. And I don’t think the newer versions of Windows in general have the kind of driver or broken app issues that you’re alleging here.

          • I understand your perspective. My comments come from direct first-hand experience. Go and look at the manufacturers support pages for nearly every Windows 8 notebook or tablet and see what you can find under 8.1 drivers – the vast majority will have no 8.1 drivers unless they also released a refresh of that model shipping with 8.1. Then call the manufacturer and tell them you have product X that shipped with Windows 8 and you want to upgrade to 8.1 and you can’t find 8.1 drivers on their website – they might tell you it should work, but they will tell you they only support the operating system (and subsequent drivers) that was shipped on the product (and that went through Windows driver qualification certification). I have had this conversation with Asus, Toshiba and HP just for the sake of completeness over the past six months, but it’s nothing I haven’t been told by every hardware vendor over the past decade or more – nothing really new about it.

            Now I take your point about hardware and drivers ‘just working’, but that really isn’t the case in the real world. Microsoft WHQL driver signing requirements change between OS versions (for good reasons, as technology is constantly evolving). For example, a whole heap of Intel’s most popular wifi modules failed to meet the WHQL standard in Win8 so will not work at all, period, even though there’s nothing wrong with the hardware and it will work perfectly well in Win7. There’s a similar issue with Intel LAN controllers moving to Server 2012 R2 – you must add new NICs to get networking to function correctly even though the controllers that failed driver cert are the most highly deployed on board server chipset that is still being sold today in brand new servers.

            Likewise there are plenty of products that fail WHQL on 8.1 that passed for 8 that you can still purchase new today. Hence my comment – sure, a lot of stuff will work, but there’s enough that won’t to make people wary, and for good reason.

          • but I have to say, I don’t hear about a lot of modern machines suffering from broken drivers due to a point upgrade of a Microsoft operating system. Back in the Windows XP or Vista days, yes. But Windows 7 and 8? Not really. And I doubt the likes of Dell are going to abandon support for one of their products because someone upgraded their laptop or tablet to 8.1.

            The problem is that it is happening at all. It shouldn’t happen.

            Take my ASUS Taichi as an example. For those that don’t know what it is, it’s a Windows 8 laptop with a unique feature where, when the lid is closed, the top of the lid acts as a touch screen. Works perfectly fine. Then MS push out 8.1 and suddenly, the “additional” screen stops functioning. ASUS have NFI, neither does MS nor Intel (the video card manufacturer). Months pass and eventually ASUS provide a BIOS update plus an updated Intel video driver (you have to use these, you can’t simply download them from Intel) and ASUS support utilities (that somehow don’t show up in their software as having updates available). Now, the laptop actually functions as advertised (or people restored to 8.0 until this was fixed).

            8.1 Update comes along and funnily enough, the same issue has arisen. Although ASUS have released andd updated BIOS and other utilities, my Taichi still doesn’t have use of the second screen (applying the Intel drivers causes Windows to no longer boot until a system restore is performed).

            Does the above sound sane for a consumer who has bought the product off the shelf at Harvey Norman? I sure as hell don’t think so. This new style of updates is great. Getting everyone on a proper update cycle is fantastic. But when that product update cycle causes PCs to break or lose advertised functionality, then that’s where I draw the line. I don’t care “who’s” really at fault (in this case it’s ASUS’s piss-poor customer service and care for one of its products). MS are still to blame for pushing this out without the consumer’s ability to know whether or not this update will break something, and that’s my main point.

          • I completely agree with Greg about Asus – their after sales service is disappointing (and that’s being generous).

            And Microsoft should be ensuring they don’t break functionality with patches, or doing whatever necessary to fix things if they break. There are several issues with the 8.1 update if you look on technet, one of which was so major they slipped in a patch to the whole package a couple of days after the original release.

            But it’s not up to Microsoft if 8.1 breaks machines running 8, that is down to the manufacturer. Sadly some manufacturers also use older components that simply will never work in the refreshed OS – that’s not a deal breaker as long as either basic functionality remains or the hardware can be replaced. It’s when manufacturers use hardware whitelists (so brick their device when non-authorised hardware is installed, from wifi modules to memory) that lock you into certain hardware choices (and thus can lock you out of OS upgrades) where you wind up with serious problems – I’m looking at you, HP.

            BTW those problems with the Taichi aren’t universal – I’ve upgraded a few that managed to completely avoid the issues you’re talking about (although I did have to get raw Intel drivers for some components, I think wifi was a problem from memory. Asus told me ‘not supported’).

            Asus were seriously burnt by their Taichi foray – they had so much stock they wiped $1k off the price just to get them sold. Good for consumers in the short term – they were an amazing product for under $1.5k, but long term it means companies like Asus will innovate less and become more conservative in future because the risks just don’t pay off. I’d prefer to pay a bit more and wind up with a great solution and have access to more great products than get a bargain today. Sadly I don’t see the Windows 9 launch going off with anything like the vendor support 8 had, even though it will be more deserving of it (and Broadwell will usher in further reductions in size and weight while providing greater battery life and more vibrant screens, with an OS that will actually look good on high pixel count displays).

        • I wondered to myself before posting earlier if there was a vulnerability in Windows 8.1 that was unannounced, and possibly as bad as heartbleed. All I can say is that if there is such a thing, I believe Microsoft would release a hotfix for it, and publicise it, rather than pushing everyone to upgrade to a further update.

  2. Painfully, over the weekend Windows Update on my PC has become unable to download the 8.1 update, and the MS direct download has also stopped working. Looks like a reformat just to stay secure.

  3. So am I not using Windows 8.1 after running The Update? It’s confusing the way MS has advertised this.

    Will the new version be known as 8.1 U1 or 8.1 SP1? Or just 8.1? Does my support for 8.1 end after I update to 8.1?

    Confused, much?

    • You know because the 800+mb download is the only update you will be able to apply ;-)

  4. So you have a Sony laptop $1,300 running Win 8.1. What happens if you upgrade to Win 8.1 (update or what ever you call it) and for other reasons (a short while later) you have to do a full system recovery? All of a sudden you’r back with a unsupported OS. Do you?:

    A. Buy a new laptop
    B. Say “stuff it I’l stick with the unsupported OS”.
    C. Buy a new widows licence and try to install all the drivers (if the hardware is supported)
    D. Scream and buy a Apple laptop?
    F. Install a Linux distribution (if the hardware is supported)

    • F. Install a Linux distribution (if the hardware is supported) which can be checked by running a liveCD

    • Um … what? If you have Windows 8 you can just upgrade to 8.1 for free AFAIK. As far as I understand you may have to get new installation media in some cases, but I’m sure it won’t be too hard, especially from major vendors.

      • It’s in the Windows Store. Costs $0. If you haven’t applied 8.1 now, the 8.1 in the Windows store includes Update 1.

      • So from the article “software giant has announced that next month it will cease support for Windows 8.1” so I must be missing something? You say there will not be any support for full 8.1 instillation, so that statement is incorrect? What should have been said is that there is always a free upgrade path. Is that correct? So if I have to roll back to the original install, then at any time I can have the option for the free upgrade. Am I missing something here?

        • Yes, you’re missing something.

          As of the end of next month. Windows 8.0 will be fully supported (as will 7) and so will 8.1 Update 1. 8.1 Vanilla will not be.

          • That’s just so badly worded! Here is how I understood it after many reads.

            They are not actually dropping support for windows 8.1. They are just forcing people trying to update from 8.0 to 8.1 to go to from 8.0 to “8.1 update 1”.

            Fair enough.

            I’m still scarred from 3 attempts at the 8.1 update where my display driver (ATI 6950) would just now work with displayport.

    • You do what everyone does – install then patch. And patch and patch until you are fully up-to-date. Then install _good_ antivirus and update that, and only then do you open your first Web page.

      It is also possible to download redistributable update packages so you don’t have to download the whole thing over and over again, but if you only have one or two PCs I wouldn’t bother.

  5. some older machines ive upgraded to windows 8 successfully will not upgrade to 8.1. comes up with an error saying it does not meet system reqs. These are quite old machines but still above minimum for 8.1. I think it may be to do with the bios but due to being older dell has not released a bios update in a long time.

    It may be that others who have upgraded to windows 8 are having the same problem which is why microsoft will be continuing support for windows 8.0 but not 8.1 as if you have 8.1 likely you wont run into this issue when upgrading to update 1.

  6. I’d argue that Microsoft’s problem with regards to home users isn’t that it’s “too authoritarian,” but rather that it isn’t authoritarian enough.

    Consider Chrome. By default, it now updates itself, silently, in the background, without prompt or consent. The entire Google App suite, by virtue of being a hosted service, is updated without end user consent.

    Computer games purchased on Steam are now patched automatically.

    The average home user isn’t actually interested in making granular patching decisions. The default setting should be for Windows to silently and automatically update itself. Corporate and power users could disable the setting.

    This automated patching system would give hardware manufacturers more incentive to stay current. Asus’ floundering over the dual monitor issues in the Taichi is appalling.

    • The problem is you cannot patch the kernel while it is running, and patching components that integrate with operating services and drivers is also problematic unless you can guarantee a user is willing to save what they’re doing and wait while affected services are shut down, patched, then restarted. The easiest way to guarantee necessary components aren’t active is to apply the patches to system during a restart/shutdown state, hence Windows prompting a reboot after most updates have been applied.

      It’s possible to get the OS to hand off to another manager and shut down pretty much everything, but it will cause active processes to fail unless you shut them down too. So essentially all you’d be doing is tricking the user into thinking the OS hadn’t rebooted by locking the display output while the patch ran in the background, but in reality it would still be doing the same thing anyway.

      Oh and yes, Chrome updates automatically, but only if you shut it down – on my workstation chrome only updates when I reboot after patch Tuesday updates because I never shut it down. Google doesn’t patch or update Android in the background without user awareness, which is a more like-for-like comparison – in fact after a certain number of version updates you can’t keep updating Android versions on particular models without going to Cyanogen or a similar unsupported community OS version.

      Security and software patching is about as idiot-friendly as possible already – if you’re happy for your PC to update and reboot itself, leave the default settings. If you need control so the OS doesn’t reboot overnight and lose your work (and you’re prepared to take responsibility for regular patching) then change it to manual mode.

      But only turn off updates if you’re disconnecting the PC from the Internet permanently. Likewise for continuing to run XP…

  7. I doubt this affects many corporates, who are probably all on Windows 7 at best, and busy rolling out ipads.

    • If you think iPads have a major presence in large enterprise you are seriously mistaken.

      • Ok, whooah there.

        Trevor, I’m going to actively start pre-moderating your posts based on this comment. I’m sorry, but this comment is just not true. I have personally reported on many large enterprise rollouts of iPads, and it is common knowledge that most corporates are still on Windows 7 at best and that most have focused on the iPad at a tablet level instead of rivals.

        I’m sorry, but your comment is just wrong, and I can’t tolerate that on Delimiter. I suggest you read the comments policy:


        • Woah there yourself – I didn’t say anything about Windows 7, did I? A little trigger happy there, aren’t you?

          As for iPads, I didn’t say there are no large companies with iPads, I said the idea that iPads have a major presence in large enterprise is mistaken. The rollouts you have reported on are noteworthy precisely because they are not common practice.

          If you want to provide some evidence that shows my comment is ‘just wrong’ go right ahead – I know, for a fact, that my comment is broadly accurate – most large enterprises that have iPads use them in small numbers for specific purposes. Many who allow iPads have also simply opened up their usage policy to allow employees to use their own devices, not purchased them themselves.

          Don’t get me wrong, the iPad (and tablets generally) has its place and can be a useful (even productivity enhancing) tool – I don’t personally have anything against them if they are the best fit for a particular task. My comment was in direct response to the claim that many corporations are ‘busy’ rolling out iPads, which I believe is unlikely – some probably are, sure, but they would not be in the majority.

          Feel free to prove me wrong :-)

          • hey mate,

            thanks for explaining. This makes a little more sense. However, based on these two statements:

            “If you think iPads have a major presence in large enterprise you are seriously mistaken.”

            “most enterprises are sticking with that until Win9”

            I am still going to keep you on the pre-moderate list for now. Your comments are on the borderline in terms of rationality. iPads do indeed have a major presence in large enterprise, although the situation is a little complex as you note, and Windows 9 has not been confirmed to exist yet, much less been seen outside Microsoft.

            I’m sorry, but Delimiter is an evidence-based site. You need to take a more practical approach to commenting and not go out on these limbs.


          • Well as I originally mentioned corporations rolling out iPads, I’d just like to say that it’s based on personal observations in organisations I’ve worked with, and it’s gathering steam. It’s not a PC replacement by any means, more of an adjunct, but it’s the new growth area. Windows 8 and 8.1 certainly isn’t.

    • I’m a small corporate. Windows 7 still feels like a more robust operating system for my business than Windows 8. Most developers I know weren’t fussed on 8.

      • Yes I agree – the Windows 7 comment was broadly accurate – most enterprises are sticking with that until Win9. The exception is those running 2012 R2 (and Hyper-V 2012 R2) – management clients must be Win 8.1, so while the cube farm may still be on 7, administrators in agile enterprises are running 8.1 (on VMs as a minimum if not on bare metal).

        But then, IT pros are far less intimidated by 8.1 – I’ll even go out on a limb and say it is a better, more efficient menu system than the old hierarchical start menu. But then as long as WinKey+R continues to work I’d probably weather any GUI changes, so my perspective is certainly not indicative of general usability trends ;-)

  8. Probably a bit late for this to be noticed, but the main reason I don’t update from 8 to 8.1 is because my Users directory is off the system drive. I still find it difficult to believe that with SSDs being around for as long as they have been, Windows doesn’t make it easier to do this.

    • Rather than moving the whole user folder I just moved the My Documents folder to another drive.
      Not as space efficient as moving the users folder, but avoids these issues.

  9. To say that people are too busy working to take time to install updates is quite a pathetic excuse that can barely hide their sluggish attitude towards their own safety and growth. How can the update process be a disturbance to your work if you are an aware user?

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