Today, two days later, I tried again. This time the update started from the middle, so to speak (the download having completed the first time around). The computer went through a lengthy (2 hours) series of "configuring Windows", "getting ready" etc. screens, leading me to think the update was going to succeed. At the end, however, it said again "attempting to recover the install" and then after a while "sorry, the update failed, returning to your previous version of Windows" (all those not exactly verbatim, but words to that effect).
In both cases I selected the free update to 8.1, to which I am supposedly entitled. Is there some other, perhaps better way to do this?
This is a Dell Inspiron 15 laptop, mid-level (i3 processor, 500 GB HDD, 4 GB RAM, touch screen - now disabled, I use and prefer a wireless mouse - and so on) bought last October and since then in daily use in my office (so far I as GM am the only user <G>). Not much in the way of installed software - MS Office 365 (we have an office subscription), Google Chrome as browser, IrfanView, VLC player, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, WinPatrol, SpywareBlaster, Adobe Reader (replacing the useless Reader "App" from the Windows Store) and oh yes, the Classic Shell, in more or less default configuration (Win 7 style menu). Maybe I need to turn all that off before trying the upgrade? Oh yes, I also disabled the touchpad, accidental contact with which can have unexpected results <G>. And I configured Win 8 to start with the desktop, even before installing Classic Shell. All my "daily-use" programs (and a few useful "apps" such as Calculator and Character Map - I am multilingual) are pinned to the taskbar. Of course I could undo any or all of that if it would help.
It takes a lot to get me exasperated, but we are getting there <G>.
BTW I did create a "Recovery Drive" (16 GB flash drive) before trying to update to 8.1 ...
Thanks for enlightenment!