Microsoft tests auto-updates to Windows RT 8.1

The Nokia 2520 next to a Surface 2. Credit: Mike Homnick, PCworld

Microsoft is experimenting with automatic updates from Windows RT 8.0 to Windows RT 8.1, which would allow users to skip the Windows Store and still get the latest software.

According to Paul Thurrott, the test is aimed at helping users who've had trouble with the Windows Store update process. Microsoft is currently testing automatic updates in select markets, but the company could roll them out more broadly in the future.

In the meantime, Microsoft is also offering a manual download that allows RT users to get the automatic update. It's unclear when Microsoft will offer something similar to Windows 8 users.

Microsoft already uses automatic updates to migrate users from Windows 8.1 to the Windows 8.1 Update that launched in April. In fact, consumers who refuse the automatic update are no longer receiving security patches as of June 10. (Windows 8.0 users continue to receive patches.)

Because Windows 8.0 users aren't being forced to update, Windows 8.1 adoption has probably been slower than Microsoft would like. As of June, usage of Windows 8.0 and Windows 8.1 is about even, according to Netmarketshare and Statcounter. (The former shows Windows 8.1 in the lead, while the latter has Windows 8.0 still ahead.) Windows 7 is ahead of them both, with more than half of all desktop market share.

By comparison, the latest version of Apple's Mac OS X accounts for more than half of all usage, according to Netmarketshare. Apple has promised free updates to newer versions going forward. As the company adds new features, such as continuity between Macs, iPhones and iPads, it knows that most users will be able to take advantage.

This is likely what Microsoft is trying to build toward through automatic updates. Windows RT 8.0 users aren't numerous, but they may prove to be important test subjects for Microsoft's future.

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