Is it safe to upgrade from Windows 8.1 Preview to Final? Not really

C:Windows.old subdirectoriesReally wish I’d done this:

But I didn’t – I read in three or four places that updating from this summer’s Windows 8.1 Pro x64 Consumer Preview edition would cause my “apps” to be lost. Who cares – Hardly use ’em.

Apparently I should have kept reading.

Running total of what the Windows 8.1 upgrader removed, four reboots later when it finally let me log in. Might as well have just backed up and started from scratch.

  • All contents of “C:Program Files”
  • All contents of “C:Program Files (x86)”
  • All contents of “C:Program Data”
  • Several subdirectories of %user% –
    • Most importantly: “AppData”, including mundane and unthreatening information like your browser profiles and Chrome/Firefox bookmarks, that wouldn’t have been affected by the upgrade.
    • If you had IE Favorites or Desktop shortcuts that weren’t moved over, they may have also wound up in C:Windows.oldUser<username>
  • All drivers, even including my WDMI-signed, Windows Update-sourced ATI Radeon driver.
  • And basically any modifications ever made directly to the registry, whether by 3rd party applications or manual settings changes, including some key remappings and graphical settings.
  • All Window Store apps, although reinstallation was made fairly trivial w/download buttons on large icons for many frequently used apps, right on the Start Screen.
  • And, of course, the betta fish boot logo. This one, of course, was expected.

What it didn’t wipe:

  • grub – Remarkably, this incredibly destructive upgrade didn’t seem to wipe my Linux bootloader, even on my single-disk desktop.
  • Boot to HyperV – Weirdly, a deleted Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview test install, however, was still in Microsoft’s boot menu. Didn’t test it at that time, however, as that VM and all others were missing from Hyper-V manager. The feature works just fine, however, after restoring the VM with original UUID and in its original paths.
If anyone else is in these same shoes, here’s a few rough, general notes on how I got back everything I really cared about – Much of what was lost was backed up to C:Windows.old, including:
  • Program data: Selectively restoring certain components of some larger applications was fairly easy, but restoring whole programs was all but impossible in my case.
  • Steam: Not the cleanest solution in the world, but basically do this to restore the bulk of your Steam games from the “steamapps” folder.
      • UPDATE, Nov 12: Looks like that wasn’t quite clean enough. Having to verify and redownload some files in most games, to ensure stability. Here’s how.
  • Browser profiles: Much of your IE information should remain intact, or will have been stored in the registry in difficult-to-recover ways. For Chrome and Firefox, however, (and possibly other Mozilla and Google products): Before reinstalling Chrome, just restore the Mozilla and/or Google folders from “C:Windows.oldUsers\AppDataLocal” by copying them out of Windows.old and into the same folder structure from the drive’s root. i.e. C:Windows.oldUsersGuest_000AppDataLocalGoogle just gets copied to C:UsersGuest_000AppDataLocalGoogle
  • Saved games: Applications that responsibly use the saved games file library seem to be fine. Everyone else? Check for any missing saved games in your old user folder’s AppData subfolders. If you’ve reinstalled a game that doesn’t see your old saves, you can likely exit the game, delete or archive its freshly-created user AppData folder, and copy the old one back in its place from C:Windows.oldUsers. If the game was really sloppily written, lacking multi-user support, you might also check its old installation at “C:Windows.oldProgram Files” or “C:Windows.oldProgram Files (x86)”
  • Desktop backgrounds/themes: Backed up in C:Windows.oldUsers%username%AppDataLocalMicrosoftWindowsThemes – Just had to copy its contents over the existing directory and reselect my Desktop Background Set et al. This one evaded my notice for over a week, as the Windows 8.1 upgrader weirdly retained the current background, but not its parent set.

And Hyper-V:

  1. Ensure that any user-defined Hyper-V host settings still exist, or have been redefined. (In my case, just needed to recreate my deleted “Virtual Switch.”)
  2. To restore lost Hyper-V instances, restore your VHDs: Move or copy “UsersPublicDocumentsHyper-VVirtual hard disks” out of “C:Windows.old” and into C:
  3. Right click on your host and “Import Virtual Machine.” Each VM can then be re-imported from “C:Windows.oldProgramDataMicrosoftWindowsHyper-VVirtual Machines”
  4. Select “Restore the virtual machine” and note your newly restored “C:UsersPublicDocumentsHyper-VVirtual Hard Disks” VHD folder.
  5. Beyond that, most everything else is just a “Next” “Next” “Next” –> “Finish”
  6. Start and log into your virtual machine(s) to confirm success.
  7. The one desktop feature that matters/The one feature that makes Hyper-V worth playing with at all worked fine after re-importing my VMs: Boot to VHD required no additional configuration, as the upgrader left the boot options in tact.

Selectively reinstalling these items proved good enough for me.

Eventually, it’ll be safe to walk away from all or most of the the C:Windows.old directory and a ~600+MB installer directory. Guide here, if needed.


Oh, and of course, the move from Ubuntu 13.10’s beta to final, performed just a few minutes before this ordeal began?

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade -y #ever painless.

Windows key mapping – Scancode map

I’ve now held on to a beautiful old IBM Model M and used it as my primary keyboard for 13 years. Came from a school district auction, along with a Commodore 64 monitor that became my first dorm television. This keyboard’s likely seen every major build of Windows since 3.1.

For this and any other device that lacks a Windows Key, however, the need for its addition is feeling ever more pressing. The keyboard-heavy interface in MetroUI greatly benefits from finding some way to fake it. Luckily, the need for others is rapidly dwindling. (Many use Caps Lock, I prefer Scroll Lock.)

In particular, check out Windows Key+Q, a Search Charm being used throughout the MetroUI environment. The Windows Key on its own handily toggles between MetroUI and the conventional desktop, as well, although that much can also be accomplished with CTRL+ESC. Other new or updated shortcuts are listed here by the Aussies at

Luckily, while the need has grown, the fix has stayed the same since Windows 2000. To reiterate, this fix works in Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows 10, and all builds of Windows Server.

Software-free automated fix: Download either of these Registry Editor files to remap the Caps Lock or Scroll Lock to the Windows key. Open them, say “yes” when prompted by the Registry Editor, and reboot.

Manual fix – If you want to edit or undo this, here’s how:

Step 1: Run Regedit. Hit CTRL+ESC to enter MetroUI, type “regedit” and select it from Apps.

(Already have a Windows key, or running an older version of Windows? Just Windows Key+R or Start–>Run Regedit)

Step 2: Within Regedit, navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESYSTEMCurrentControlSetControlKeyboard Layout.Regedit on Windows 8 - Essentially unchanged

Step 3: If creating a new mapping, go to Edit–>New–>Binary Value. If changing or erasing an existing mapping, knock yourself out. Double click or right-click–>Delete away.

Step 4: After making any changes, reboot.

The syntax can be a little tricky, but I recommend either this excellent post on the same subject. Great detailed per-key scancode list at the bottom of his original post. (Alternatively, this post covers longer registry keys, adding a second and third remapping key-pair.)

Hope someone out there finds this useful!

Tested in Windows 8.1, and works fine in Windows 10, too, if you run Regedit from the Start Menu or a normal Run dialog.

Windows 8 – Quickie review

The good:
* Hard to explain how much I like the interface.
* The screen looks crazily busy in screenshots, but when actually using it, this is every bit as much of a grand step forward for keyboard-heavy users.
* Omnipresent, keyboard accessible search.
* The MetroUI PDF reader is absolutely excellent. Like Mac OS X’s PDF reader, it is lightning fast. Much faster than even Chrome’s built-in reader (the only thing that keeps me sane at work). This is one area where the fullscreen-by-default approach of MetroUI seems like a clear win.

The meh:
Changes in MS Paint leading up to Windows 7 radically increased the utility of that simple tool, but progress seems to have stalled.
* Games: For better or worse, stock Windows games that we’ve had since Windows 3.0 are now gone.
* Game size: While some are still downloadable from the MetroUI app store, Minesweeper somehow crazily gobbles up over 140MB of storage space when installed.
* Took multiple reboots to perform the install and to later install Hyper-V (total 4 – 2 to get it to recognize I’d enabled AMD-V prior to installation and 2 installing). However, many driver updates (ATI Catalyst Radeon drivers, etc) strangely no longer require it. You win some, you lose some.
* Media center – Pretty clear why they’re currently giving it away. I didn’t use it in Windows 7, but it doesn’t feel at all like it was redesigned in any meaningful way for Windows 8 and MetroUI.
* Yes, they took away DVD decoding. Who cares – They also added in so many other codecs to the stock environment that it’s better than it was. Only DVD and MKV playback required additional software.

The bad:
* My PC hung up on both of the first two times I booted into Windows 8, locking hard w/o a BSOD or any functional human-interface devices. No repeats after patches, as noted by many other reviewers.
* The absence of a Start Menu and constant need to flip back and forth between the conventional desktop and MetroUI interface is unnecessarily jarring. Really wish there was a middle-ground/a mini-MetroUI that could be brought up where the Start Menu used to be.

Well, that’s about it – Planning to note other issues as they arise in separate posts, including some keymapping details.

(Hard to find a good answer via Google at the moment, and harder via Bing, but YES: Scancode Map key remapping in the registry works w/no changes.)