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Windows 8.1

Note:  In order to continue to receive security updates, you MUST update to 8.1.  This post contains a nice collection of links regarding this. 

Windows 8.1
 
Windows 8.1 update 1 was released in April 2014.  You can upgrade from win8 to 8.1u1 for free through Windows Update.  All the resources from Windows 8 are still there but 8.1u1 incorporates feedback and improves the keyboard/mouse experience.

Windows 8.1 falls under the same lifecycle support as Windows 8.  It will reach the end of mainstream support Jan 9, 2018 and the end of extended support Jan 10 2023.

Windows 8.1 resource links:
 
For a list of changes over 8 see:
  
Windows 8
 
Windows 8 was released to the retail market October 2012.  In addition to the improvements and updates to the tradition desktop experience, Windows 8 introduced a new Start Screen and a new interface, initially called Metro now referred to as the Modern UI.  The new interface is built on the Windows RT library which is cross platform compatible with ARM chips.  This allows Windows Store apps to be purchased and run on either x86/64 systems and ARM based tablets consistently.

In order to continue receiving support, you MUST update to Windows 8.1.  See life cycle link above.
 
Free Windows 8 Jump Start training resources for IT Professionals  from Microsoft.
Apps Troubleshooter link (scroll to bottom of page)
The Upgrade Asssistant will test your existing computer and inform you of any issues you might face in upgrading to Win8.

New/Updated features in Windows 8 Standard/Professional/Enterprise

       Note:  Enterprise is only available to Volume License customer.

Windows RT

Windows RT is only available from OEM ARM tablet manufacturers.  This is Microsoft's iPad competitor and is not compatible with x86/64 apps on the standard/professional/enterprise versions.  It comes with longer battery life and the Home/Office version of Microsoft Office included.  Office runs on a desktop on the tablets as well as Internet Explorer.  Internet Explorer also has a separate Windows 8 UI mode version run in tablet full screen mode by default.

The Start Menu has been replaced by the Start Screen


In the meantime, you can embrace change, or see this article that covers most of your options for third party add on.

Media

Microsoft has renamed their OEM version to 'OEM System Builder' and modified the license terms.  For details see Microsoft's FAQ.  Do a search for "Windows 8 System Builder' on Amazon, New Egg or your preferred vender for a media kit. 


Downgrade Rights
In some situations you may have downgrade rights.  Consult the following links to review if your circumstances apply