If you're upgrading from Windows 7 or Windows 8, you can do an in-place upgrade that simply applies Windows 8.1 over your existing OS and leaves all of your devices and software intact.
But if you're upgrading from Windows Vista or Windows XP, or if you've already installed one of the Windows 8.1 preview versions, Windows 8.1 will do a clean install of the operating system, and you will be forced to reinstall all of your applications. With that in mind, make sure that you have the original software installation media available—whether it's a CD, DVD, or digital download—and that you have any necessary activation or registration keys.
Patch, update, repeat
If you haven't done so already, put Patch Tuesday on your calendar. It's the second Tuesday of every month, when Microsoft releases a slew of security patches. While the Windows 8.1 installation should address many security issues in previous versions—especially if you're upgrading from a version prior to Windows 7—you can never be too vigilant about security. That's why you should also check with third-party software and hardware vendors for updates to keep your applications and device drivers patched and working smoothly.
Back 'em up
Say it with me: "I will back up my PCs before installing a new operating system." With so many options available, from the backup utility in Windows to third-party tools such as Norton Ghost from Symantec and Easeus Todo Backup, there's no excuse to attempt this maneuver without a safety net.
You can create a complete system image that you can restore if necessary, or you can just back up data files such as documents, presentations, and spreadsheets. Keep in mind that if you have only the data backed up and disaster strikes, you'll have to install the operating system and all of your applications before you can restore your data and get back to work.
Upgrading to a new operating system always comes with a few growing pains. Paving the way for a smooth transition can be time-consuming, but it'll be well worth the trouble to avoid common headaches. Then, instead of swapping horror stories with your colleagues, you can move straight to helping your users acclimate to the modern interface—and that's another story in and of itself.
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