Microsoft requires migration to Windows 8.1 Update within 5 weeks

'Just plain crazy' that Windows 8.1 users must apply Windows 8.1 Update before May 13 to keep getting patches

Microsoft yesterday confirmed that Windows 8.1 users must upgrade to Windows 8.1 Update, the refresh that begins rolling out to customers today.

"Failure to install this Update will prevent Windows Update from patching your system with any future updates starting with updates released in May 2014," said Michael Hildebrand of Microsoft in a Monday blog.

Elsewhere, Microsoft pegged Windows 8.1 Update as "the new servicing baseline for Windows 8.1," again emphasizing that customers who have moved to Windows 8.1 since October 2013 must deploy the Update to receive future bug fixes, security patches and feature enhancements.

Microsoft has not been this aggressive in the past for prior service packs, the all-in-one roll-ups that combined months, in some cases years, of patches and fixes. Users could decline a service pack -- for example, Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1) -- and still receive future security updates.

That's not possible with Windows 8.1 Update, which if declined, will have ramifications as early as May 13, the first Patch Tuesday after today.

Some didn't care -- at all -- for the forced migration to Windows 8.1 Update.

"What happened to Microsoft's Lifecycle policy with providing customers with a 24-month timeframe before ending support of a superseded operating system RTM/Service Pack?" asked a user identified as "wdeguara" in a comment appended Tuesday to Hildebrand's blog.

"By immediately withdrawing all future security updates for Windows 8.1 RTM in the eyes of most enterprise customers you are effectively performing an immediate End-of-Life on Windows 8.1 RTM," wdeguara said. "This places enterprise customers who are in the midst of a Windows 8.1 rollout in a very precarious position given that they are now forced to introduce this very large update ... in a very short timeframe. I know that Microsoft wants its customer base to adopt updates to its Windows platform faster, but immediately dropping security patching on the Windows 8.1 RTM release is just plain crazy."

RTM stands for ""release to manufacturing," Microsoft-speak for the original version of a specific Windows edition.

Those still running Windows 8 RTM from October 2012 do not have to update to Windows 8.1 Update to continue getting patches. But those users have their own deadline -- Jan. 12, 2016 -- to migrate to Windows 8.1. After that date, Windows 8 RTM will not be eligible for security updates and other fixes and enhancements.

Microsoft also pointed out that Windows 8.1 Update requires Windows 8.1 as a prerequisite, meaning that a migration from Windows 8 will be a two-step process: Windows 8-to-Windows 8.1 as the first stage, Windows 8.1-to-Windows 8.1-Update as the second.

At some future date, it will be possible to upgrade to Windows 8.1 Update directly from Windows 8, including by downloading the bits from the Windows Store, the only sanctioned app market for Windows 8's "Modern," ne Metro.

Although Windows 8.1 Update has been available to MSDN (Microsoft Developers Network) subscribers since April 2, the general public will begin seeing the Update in Windows Update today.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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