Microsoft Windows 8.1 Delta Review

SkyDrive Updates

This is probably one of THE best updates to the entire OS. SkyDrive is now fully integrated into Windows 8.1. Having its file synchronization app integrated at the OS level provides the file sync capabilities that most people want and are used to seeing in other 3rd party tools. It also fully integrates the service into both Desktop and ModernUI interfaces.

Win81-05 SkyDrive

The cool deal here is that you don’t necessarily have to download everything to access it. SkyDrive allows you to access information while its still in the cloud and then save it back there directly. You also get the option to sync the file directly to your PC if you have to have the file while you’re off line.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for on your PC, Search also allows you to search your SkyDrive for files that might be stored there. The long and short of it is that you’re never far from your data, and you nearly always have access to what you need.

Windows Store

The Windows Store looks very different in Windows 8.1 The much improved redesign provides users more information on the app, will include user reviews where appropriate, etc. It will also have a search bar at the top, allowing you to more easily search for apps.

Win81-06 Windows Store

App Listings are more descriptive and include a related apps section that can help you find other new apps. The one thing that bothers me the most about the new version of the Store is that I’ve never seen ANY of my apps get updates. I have no idea how those will appear, if that kind of notification or update has changed. I’m not certain if all my apps are up to date, or if there’s a notification issue. Prior to the Windows 8.1 release becoming available, I got update notifications on the Store’s Live Tile fairly regularly.

Windows Mail

Windows Live Mail in Windows 7 is what Outlook Express morphed into. The nice thing about it is that it was very, very usable. In Windows 8, The Live version was replaced by a ModernUI version. Unfortunately, and I’m not the only one who thinks like this, Windows 8 Mail really, really sucks.

In Windows 8.1, Microsoft has redesigned the app, given it a new face and made it kinda not suck. Windows Mail now has an interface that takes a lot from Outlook.com. Windows Mail categorizes your mail so that all of your newsletters and social networking updates flow into separate views.

Win81-08 Windows Mail 2

This makes organizing your mail a lot easier. Selecting messages is also easier, as you can now do so with check boxes. Moving messages is now done via drag and drop after they’re selected, and can be done with touch or via a mouse.

The app has gotten some real usability here, and it no longer feels crippled or like half an application. You can actually use this app to work with mail, and since it works with Exchange, it makes a good substitute for Outlook, in case Office 2013 or Office 365 isn’t on your short list of application purchases.

However, don’t go crazy or nothing’. This is not an Outlook substitute and isn’t something that runs in Desktop mode. This is a ModernUI app, and nothing you do is going to change that; but it is nice that its usable.

Search Everything, Everywhere

One of the best things about the Windows 7 Start Menu was that it could be used to search your entire computer for apps, extensions, applets, documents, etc. Microsoft has done away with the Start Menu, even though they brought the Start Button back.

Win81-09 Search Everywhere

However, Microsoft didn’t completely kill the search capabilities in Windows. You can still search nearly everything from one spot. You just do it through the Start Screen. The cool thing here is that when Microsoft says search everywhere, they not only mean your PC and the web, they also mean through SkyDrive, its online, cloud-based, document sync service. Previously, Windows 8 search defaulted to Apps only and searching elsewhere required an additional tap to enable.

This is feature now surpasses what was available in Windows 7 and is really what it should be. This is a real winner of a feature in Windows 8.1 and while I don’t like that I have to go into the Start Screen in order to get to it, that’s more about the Start Screen than it is about the Search feature.

Conclusion

I’ve expounded on Windows 8.x quite a bit over the past year or two. My most recent rant clearly outlines some of the points that I also made in this review – Microsoft has some real work to do in order figure out which end is up. They better get it together, too, as the world is watching – and waiting – for them to just that.

They need to separate the tablet/ touch paradigm from the desktop interface. It just doesn’t work; and until Microsoft learns that you can’t force this, Windows 8.x is going to have problems.

However, I still think that at its core, Windows 8.1 is a great operating system. Its fast, stable and the desktop interface, at least, is as familiar and as easy to use as ever. The return of the Start Button provides at least a little bit of familiarity in an interface change that’s still as radical as it was in its previous version. SkyDrive integration is really good, and allows you to put your content just about anywhere you want or need it, and still find everything you need to work on. Unfortunately, Microsoft didn’t satisfy all of its user’s demands when it comes to the Start Button and Start Menu.

At the end of the day, I think I said it best in an article I wrote for BYTE about a year ago says it all: If your PC doesn’t have a touch screen, Windows 8 is a huge mistake (at least without Start8).

Windows 8.1 is a improvement, but not the upgrade most every Windows user thought – or hoped – it would be.

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