Windows 8.1, a free update to Windows 8, is coming later this year, but a pre-release version is available for you to try now.
Windows 8.1 Preview and Windows RT 8.1 Preview both provide noticeable improvements with personalization, search, apps, the Windows Store, cloud connectivity, and other features. Microsoft, however, cautions that only experienced PC users should install the previews.
Previews, after all, aren't finished products. Although they're supposedly stable and thoroughly-tested, your system could crash, so installing pre-release software on your primary home or business PC is seldom a good idea.
Furthermore, if you're running Windows 8 RT, you won't be able to go back after you install Windows RT 8.1 Preview. You will eventually be able to upgrade to the final version of Windows RT 8.1, but you'll be stuck running the preview edition for the time being.
Depending on which version of Windows your computer or tablet is currently running, there are two ways to install the Windows 8.1 previews: as downloads from the Windows Store or by using an ISO image.
If your computer is currently running Windows 8, Microsoft recommends downloading the preview directly from the Windows Store. In fact, if you're running Windows RT, you can only obtain the preview from the Windows Store.
For those whose PCs use Windows 8 Pro or Windows 8 Enterprise, the update can also be installed using an ISO image. Installing via the Windows Store, however, eliminates the need for a license key. You'll need a key if you use the ISO image, but one is available once you logon to the Windows 8.1 Preview download page with a valid Windows account.
If you have Windows 8 Pro with Media Center, you can keep Windows Media Center providing you download the preview through the Windows Store. If you install the update using the ISO file, Windows Media will be removed and you'll need to reinstall it with your original Windows 8 Pro pack or Windows 8 Media Center Pack product key.
Uninstalling Windows 8.1 Preview isn't supported regardless of the installation method. If your PC came with Windows 8, using PC refresh might get you back to the original OS version, but it's not a sure thing. Your personal files won't be affected, but you'll have to reinstall software and apps that didn't come pre-installed when you unboxed your PC.
If your computer was running Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7 before the 8.1 upgrade, you'll need to reinstall the original operating system and applications using recovery or installation media. Not all computers come with these disks and people often misplace them, so be sure you have them before attempting the upgrade.
If you don't have recovery media, consider purchasing a product like True Image 2013 by Acronis that will let you create a recovery image of your PC before you install the upgrade. The image, which can be accessed using a bootable CD or thumb drive, can be stored in a special partition on the local hard drive or on an external USB hard drive.
If you have a PC with a 200-300 gigabytes of free hard disk space, 4 or more gigs of RAM, and an Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processor (or AMD equivalent), consider installing Windows 8.1 Preview as a virtual machine using free Oracle Virtual Box. This strategy will let you to test drive Windows 8.1 Preview without affecting your computer's current configuration.
Is the upgrade worth the trouble? Among other things, Windows 8.1 Preview lets you boot directly to the desktop and puts a start button back on the task bar. If you don't have a touch screen, Windows 7 is still easier to use, but the overall Windows 8 user experience has been improved.
Be forewarned, however, that to logon to a computer running Windows 8.1 Preview, you must use a free Microsoft account, not a local account. Microsoft says the option to create a local account will be made available at the final release of Windows 8.1.
Windows 8.1 Preview and Windows RT 8.1 Preview are both free. For more information, visit Windows 8.1 Preview of Microsoft.com.
Portable Bluetooth speaker great for sharing tunes on the go
Logitech has launched a new line of products designed to let people to enjoy their music when and how they want. The new UE lineup includes earphones, headphones, wireless speakers, and a smart radio, but so far I've only had the pleasure of testing the UE Mobile Boombox, an ultraportable speaker that plays music from your smart phone/table from up to 50 feet away.
Two devices can stay connected to the speaker at one time, so you can easily switch from smart phone to tablet or vice versa. The unit delivers surprisingly good quality sound for such a small package, and its rechargeable battery delivers up to 10 hours of music. The unit even doubles as a speakerphone for voice or video calls.
Available in metal finishes, colorful accents, grip-action rubber casing, the Logitech UE Mobile Boombox is able to withstand a rough and tumble lifestyle and has a suggested retail price of $99.99. For more information, please visit LogitechUE.com.
Belkin simplifies setting-up a smart phone-based nanny cam
Belkin's new NetCam HD Wi-Fi Camera provides a watchful eye via your smart phone or tablet for pets, children, or elderly family members left alone. This includes 720p high-definition (HD) video resolution and clear digital audio.
The night-vision equipped wireless webcam features a streamlined setup process that lets you start using the device in minutes. You begin by downloading Belkin's free NetCam app (available for iOS- or Android-powered devices).
Next, add Wi-Fi Internet access and begin streaming video and audio to your mobile device. You can also configure email notifications when motion is detected or record video directly to their phone or tablet .
Belkin's NetCam HD Wi-Fi Camera is available at Belkin.com, Amazon.com, Verizon Wireless, Target, and other major retailers for $149.99. For more information, visit Belkin.com.
ChargeCard allows quick, convenient smart phone charging
Wouldn't it be great to always have a charging cable for your smart phone with you? The ChargeCard fits in your wallet, where it adds no noticeable thickness or bulk.
The unit is about the size and thickness of two stacked credit cards. The integral cable snaps in place, so the unit slides smoothly in and out of your wallet.
Models are available for most Android phones, the iPhone 4/4S, and the iPhone 5. The ChargeCard costs $25 and is available from the ChargeCardProject.com.