Microsoft Windows 8.1 Delta Review

Introduction

Windows PC’s are some of the most affordable computers available today. Portable or not, they cost hundreds of dollars where Macs can cost thousands. If you want an affordable or budget PC, portable or not, its likely going to be a Windows machine. Unless there’s a Windows 7 offer, you can expect to have the latest version of Microsoft’s flagship operating system on it.

Windows 8.1 has a few interesting changes in it. I’ve covered the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 for Soft32. There wasn’t a huge delta – or change – between the Consumer Preview and the version that hit the streets. There are some interesting changes between Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. Let’s check them out and see if Windows 8.1 is the version of Windows 8.x that we’ve been hoping for.

New Features

Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but please remember that Windows 8.1 is still very much Windows 8. There are some very, very good improvements to legacy usability that should make many users of non-touch enabled PC’s very happy; but Microsoft didn’t go quite as far as it could have – or should have – for a great many users. Windows 8.1 still has ModernUI throughout most of it.

However, that doesn’t mean that the improvements that were made weren’t valuable. They are. Windows 8.1 is a much better Windows 8 than Windows 8 was. Let’s take a look at what was done, and see how it all stacks up. Depending on the type of PC you have, you may find them more relevant than others.

Start Button – but no start Menu

The masses have not been happy with the lack of a Start Button and Start Menu in Windows 8. The Start Menu has been around since the early days of Windows XP, and as many will tell you, was optimized in Windows 7. Microsoft has heard the wailing and gnashing of teeth and has resolved the issue…sorta.

Win81-01 Start Button

The Start Button is back, but the Windows 8 Start Screen is still here. There’s no Start Menu any longer. So unless you replace the Live Tiles with the All Programs menu, you’re stuck with them. The functionality here is still very good, and Microsoft has included the new Search Everywhere option (which is the real value of the Start Menu) which includes searching SkyDrive as well as online, for the terms you’re looking for.

Those of us used to using Windows in the Enterprise will also notice that the consumer version of Windows 8.1 also includes a log off/Sign Out option, accessible via a right click or by pressing Win-X, allowing users to take the PC back to an on, but not logged on status. This makes sharing PCs at home a bit easier as you truly DON’T have to share a single account with a spouse or siblings. All the instances of each app can truly be customized for any user of any account and you don’t have to share unless you want to.

This particular point is still a huge issue for many people. They really don’t like the Live Tile-based Start Screen on non-touch enabled and/or legacy PC’s. For those that just can’t live with the Start Screen, you can always install Start8.

Boot to Desktop

One of the biggest problems with Windows 8 is that it took you right to the Start Screen every time the PC finished the startup process. As part of the Windows 8.1 update, Microsoft introduced a Boot to Desktop option for users who simply weren’t going to use ModernUI or who preferred to see the standard Windows Desktop. It *IS* where most users will do most of their work.

Win81-03 Boot Desktop

Interestingly enough, the options for this are connected to the Task Bar and not to your desktop (Personalization) or Display options. To get to these, right click your Task Bar, click Properties and then choose the Navigation tab.

Here, you’ll see a great many Windows 8.1 options, including the option to replace the Start Screen with the All Apps view. Take note of this tab and this dialog box. You’re likely going to become very familiar with the options here as you try to figure out the best set of “navigation options” for you.

This is one of the biggest advantages of Windows 8.1 over Windows 8. If your PC doesn’t have a touch interface and you aren’t going to be using it as a lean-back device (a tablet-like, content consumption device) then you may want to give serious consideration to using Boot to Desktop. Using this, along with options like the All Apps View go a long way to hiding ModernUI elements from users who really won’t make use of them.

IE11 Updates

Windows 8.1 comes with IE11, so you won’t need to update the browser via Windows update or any other manual process. The ModernUI version of the Microsoft’s web browser includes Reading View, which allows you to view and read content off line. It has settings that allow you to customize its look and feel with different fonts and colors choices. You can also turn Tracking Protection on and off and prevent sites from tracking you or from installing 3rd party cookies.

Win81-04 IE11

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