Windows 8.1 has been out there for awhile, and there are going to be people looking to clean install. If you got Windows Media Center upgrades for your Windows 8 Pro license, stop here and read this.
Normally, you can actually clean install Windows 8.1. The path is pretty simple (in Windows terms of simplicity): Get the Windows 8.1 ISO (a pain, but do-able), use a dummy 8.1 key (since your Windows 8 key won’t work… way to think it through Microsoft and make Windows 8.0 users clean install 8.0, and then upgrade to 8.1). Finally, change product keys from the dummy 8.1 key with your 8.0 key, and finally activate Windows.
Unfortunately, for Windows Media Center Pack users, this won’t work. Windows Media Center (WMC) 8.0 Pack keys will not work on Windows 8.1… at all. The Add Features button will reject them if you are on Windows 8.1. I am not kidding, Microsoft actually differentiates between WMC 8.0 and WMC 8.1 product keys, even though 8.0 users are freely licensed 8.1. This, my friends, is dumb as bricks, and needless hair-pulling for users.
So, if you clean installed Windows 8.1, and you want to add your WMC 8.0 Pack key… guess what? Dude, you’re screwed. Here’s the right way to do it: You have to wipe your hard drive, fall back to Windows 8.0, and then add your Pro Pack key. Make sure in the System Control Panel that you’re on Windows 8 Pro with Media Center. Then Activate Windows. Finally, upgrade to Windows 8.1.
You can use either the Windows 8.1 ISO/USB install media, or the Windows Store method – they both actually do the same thing which is build a new Windows install in-place and move the “old” Windows 8 install to Windows.old and then perform a state migration. Clean? No. Close enough? Maybe, effort aside.
This is not risk-free. In some cases, upgrading to Windows 8.1 will disarm Windows (deactivate it), and then guess what? Dude, you’re screwed, and you get to spend a half-hour on the phone with Microsoft customer service.
Normally, I wouldn’t mind so much. Microsoft is trying to send Windows Media Center quietly off into the night. The best PC DVR app out there today is now Microsoft’s abandonware. None of that surprises me.
If there’s any doubt to this opinion, I will ask you to check out the Windows Media Center homepage today and ask yourself what the state of the product looks like for the future… Mind you, at one point WMC had its own entire web site, and Microsoft spent millions in television ads promoting it specifically.
What frustrates me, is that I’ve had to go through this process twice now. Once when my laptop’s Windows 8.1 upgrade went horribly wrong and BSOD’ed, and now when the motherboard failed in my primary Windows desktop tower.
Hey Microsoft, here’s an idea – product activation is miserable and a major reason why people are looking to me for alternatives. I shouldn’t be helping you with this, Microsoft. In fact, I don’t think Microsoft cares or will listen. My point is to help the people who are using Windows Media Center – and will suffer through this. I don’t like it, but the only way to clean install Media Center with 8.0 Pro Pack that I can find, is to clean install 8.0 and then laboriously upgrade to Windows 8.1… and pray your Windows Product Activation doesn’t get lost in translation.
Full disclosure: In case you’ve been living under a rock, I work in the home theater and consumer electronics sectors now. You can consider this biased criticism.
P.S. Someone toyed with the notion of applying the WMC key and files in a slipstream via DISM in the WADK. That is actually a logical sentence if you’re a Microsoft engineer. Sigh. Anyways, it doesn’t really work most of the time, and I don’t suggest taking the effort to try.