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All About Microsoft Windows 8 and 8.1, and Alternatives

Get answers to your questions about Windows 8: how to figure out which version you have, how to upgrade to Windows 10, Microsoft's support, and more.

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Windows 8 is an operating system released by Microsoft in October 2012. Update to Windows 8.1 (availablemore

Windows 8 is an operating system released by Microsoft in October 2012. Update to Windows 8.1 (available in the Windows Store) to receive feature updates and additions until January 2018 and security patches until January 2023. If you use version 8.1, you can upgrade directly (but no longer for free) to Windows 10.

You can't get Windows 10 for free anymore

It's no longer free to upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows 7 or 8. For $120, you can download Windows 10 from Microsoft and its online retail partners, or you can buy the boxed version. The boxed version contains a USB thumb drive instead of an optical disc, since an increasing number of PCs do not come with optical drives.

Upgrading from Windows 8.0 to 8.1

If you've confirmed that you have version 8.0 (see the question before this one), the 8.1 download is not available in Windows Update: You must search for it in the Windows Store app that's built into Windows 8. To access the app, press the Windows key, type "Windows Store," and press Enter. The 8.1 upgrade should be featured prominently. If it's not listed, use the search bar in the upper right-hand corner. Then follow the on-screen instructions. The upgrade will take 30 minutes to an hour, and your computer may restart several times, so save your open documents before you begin.

How to determine which version of Windows 8 you have

Windows 8 is an umbrella term for versions 8.0 and 8.1. You need to have version 8.1 to get updates from Microsoft and to upgrade directly to Windows 10. To determine which version of Windows 8 you have, press the Windows key, type "winver" (without the quotes) and press Enter. This will open a window that tells you which version of Windows 8 you have.

The system requirements for Windows 8

Windows 8 requires at least a 1GHz CPU, 1GB of system RAM (2GB for the 64-bit version), 16GB of hard drive space (20GB for 64-bit), and a DirectX 9.0 compatible graphics device. These are basically the same requirements as Windows 7 and Windows 10.

Recommended Alternatives to Windows 8

Ubuntu Linux

Ubuntu Linux


If you want to get away from Windows completely, but you don't want to get a Mac, there are many versions of Linux to choose from, but Ubuntu is arguably the most accessible one. You can download it for free and set it up on a USB thumb drive to install into your computer -- or to run directly off the USB drive. It won't run most PC games, or Photoshop, or Microsoft Office. But for the latter two, GIMP and LibreOffice are credible alternatives. One big plus: Linux is virtually virus-free. Another plus: All of your system and app downloads and updates are centralized into one tool (and updates can be done automatically, if you prefer).

Windows 10

Windows 10


Windows 10 is clearly different enough from Windows 8.1 to be considered a new operating system, which hasn't always been the case with Microsoft's version releases. For desktop users, Windows 10 has more in common with Windows 7 than 8. That shared DNA feels like an intentional result of listening to feedback, as Microsoft did when gamers nearly rebelled against the original design of the Xbox One. It just took longer with Windows.

On the flip side, Windows 10 doesn't feel like a must-have upgrade for the average desktop user (if there is such a person). If Windows 7 or 8.1 does everything you need, there's no killer app in Windows 10 that will change the picture for you.

Linux Mint

Linux Mint


Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu (which itself is descended from Debian), but it removes Ubuntu's ironically divisive Unity interface in favor of a more traditional desktop look. You actually have several to choose from, and you can swap them in and out. Like Ubuntu, Mint is completely free and centralizes all system and app updates into one tool.