Et tu Blue-te..? – Is Windows 8.1 Your New Best Friend?

The Public Preview of Windows 8.1 is out. Is it what we really wanted and needed, or not? Here are my initial impressions of the revamped OS.

Introduction

Microsoft has taken a huge beating over its implementation of Windows 8.  The problem isn’t the OS itself, which is fast and very much, (user noticeably,) bug free.  The problem is its hybrid user interface that works well with its Surface RT, or more tablet oriented hardware; and not its Surface Pro (which is more an ultrabook than a tablet) or 3rd party desktop machines.

When asked, I usually offer the following advice – if the PC your considering purchasing or upgrading doesn’t have a touch screen, don’t bother with Windows 8. Its just going to frustrate the daylights out of you.

In response to this (consistently reported, user) issue, Microsoft has introduced Windows Blue, now formally called, Windows 8.1.  While simply a point-release, many are calling Windows 8.1 a major release and not a simple upgrade.  Is it the Microsoft operating system you’ve been waiting for?  Will it save Microsoft and bring them back to the land of relevance; or is it simply prolonging the inevitable? Let’s take a look and find out.

Major Changes

There are several changes to Windows 8 in Windows 8.1.  This is not an exhaustive list, but I’ve tried to highlight the most obvious changes to this article. If I’ve missed something, I’d love to hear what you have to say in our comments and reactions section. A link to that area can be found near the bottom of the article.

Start Screen

Believe it or not, there are some really nice changes to the Windows 8.x Start Screen in Windows 8.1.  The biggest and best change is its new tile sizes. For tiles like Weather, Finance, Sports, etc. large tiles are truly awesome. They give you full access to scrolling data (though they don’t always update like you would expect them to, especially after you’ve run the associated app…)

Tiles can now also be placed in named groups.  For example, you can put all of your Office tiles together and name the grouping with an appropriate name.  Any tiles can be grouped with others in custom groups.  Placing tiles is still a bit tricky, and I’d really like to have more control over that.  Tile sizes aren’t always available for all tiles, either, which seems silly; but again, that’s just me.

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All Apps Screen

If the live tiles just don’t do it for you and you’d like a lot more functionality at your fingertips, you can have the Start Screen go right to the All Apps Screen.  This is really great for PC’s that don’t have touch.

Like the Start Screen, the All Apps Screen, is quickly accessed by clicking the down arrow at the bottom of the Start Screen, and is also customizable.  You can arrange apps in groups, making it easier to find them without searching. Also, note the “new” designations on recently installed apps.

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The Start Button (not Start Menu) Returns

Speaking of the Start Screen, I know that many people are excited, or think they’re excited, about the return of the Start Button.  If they are, they’re in for a bit of a disappointment.  The button may be back, but the functionality that everyone was really wanting, was the Start MENU, not the button.

The button is nothing more than a visual place for users to click to get to Windows 8.x’s Live Tiles or All Apps Screen. While many people were screaming for the return of the Start Button, what they were really wanting is Windows 7’s Start Menu, and it’s easy to use, easily understandable program layout and PC searching capabilities. Microsoft has apparently moved on from that and has embraced the tile paradigm.  They’re just waiting for the rest of us to catch up.

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  • Prince Cassius

    Great article. I for one like the improvements. Is it perfect, no but definitely better that 8.

    Personally, I don’t think it would do any good to pull Metro out of Windows 8 because I find it quite functional even when not on a touch screen device.

    What i would like to see the possibility of is the complete return of the start button. Stardock has a fantastic version that i think Microsoft should implement by cutting them a deal. While it is nice to boot into Windows Desktop, I prefer to just be able to turn the feature on and off whenever.

    What i would also like to see is the fact that your Apps gets synched into SkyDrive so that if you install a new copy of Windows anywhere, they’d follow you without having to find and re-download them all over again.

    Finally, thanks for sharing and keep the thoughts coming.

    Cheers!
    Prince Cassius

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