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Microsoft has released an update for Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 that is somewhat of a cross between a Cumulative Update and a Service Pack. Microsoft is calling this update “Windows Server 2012 R2 Update” which is sort of a silly name. I would have preferred something like “Windows Server 2012 R2 Update 1”, since there are rumors of another update like this coming out later this year (at least according to Mary Jo Foley).
This update is primarily designed to make both of these operating systems easier to use for mouse and keyboard users (even though Windows Server 2012 R2 is already easier than Windows 8.1). The update does make it even easier to use Windows Server 2012 R2 if you are more used to working with Windows Server 2008 R2. It also includes a rollup of previous updates for Windows Server 2012 R2, so it will save you quite a bit of time compared to pulling those updates down from Microsoft Update. You can also use a slipstream version that Microsoft has made available if you are doing a new operating system installation.
You can read more about the Windows Server 2012 R2 Update here. Adin Ermie has a nice blog post with lots of before and after screenshots here.
The update is already available for MSDN Subscribers Downloads, and Microsoft is going to make it available on Windows Update on April 8. I have installed it on a few VMs already without any problems. One initial question I had was how to quickly and easily determine whether the update was installed or not, since it does not show up in System Properties like a Service Pack would. It turns out that there is a somewhat easy method to find out, by running Msinfo32.exe.
To confirm the exact version of Windows Server 2012 R2 that is installed on a computer, run Msinfo32.exe. If Windows Server 2012 R2 Update is installed, the value reported for Hardware Abstraction Layer will be 6.3.9600.17031. You can also look for KB2919355 under installed updates.
If you are or will be running SQL Server 2012 or SQL Server 2014 in the near future, you really should be running Windows Server 2012 R2 as your operating system. If you are already running Windows Server 2012 R2, you should make plans to install this update as soon as possible, since it will be required in the near future. According to Microsoft, “Future updates as of the patch Tuesday in May, including security fixes, will be based on Windows Server 2012 R2 Update as the baseline.”