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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Next Page

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Browse the internet with ease with Microsoft’s premier browser for Windows and Windows RT.

Windows is perhaps the most widely used operating system in the history of computing.  In the enterprise, you can literally accept no substitute.  Most people find it a must have in the work place.  With more and more applications for both home and work use shifting to mobile, online and touch-enabled applications, I’m glad that Windows’ default web browser, Internet Explorer is keeping pace. Its perhaps one of the most widely used Windows-based web browsers around.

With the implementation of Windows 8 and Windows RT, Microsoft has taken a different tact to computing. They’re embracing a new, clean and uncomplicated interface, and IE is following suite.  IE gets out of the way when you browse. Its controls appear when you need them and vanish when you don’t, giving you full screen browsing, allowing you to see the web, not IE. When you need the controls, an easy flick of your finger can bring them back.

Speaking of fingers, all of IE’s tabs are finger sized. You won’t have to fumble with on screen elements that aren’t tablet-centric or meant for interaction with a mouse. IE 10 is meant to be touched and interacted with.  For example, IE automatically detects which page is next so it’s easy to swipe from page to page with your finger. IE 10 is fast.  The browser is quicker to start and to render pages than previous versions.

With security being such a hot topic, especially for Microsoft, IE 10 has security measures built in.  It uses the leading malware protection, blocking up to 40% more malware than other, similar apps. If privacy is a major concern, IE 10 also supports Do Not Track as well as implementing SmartScreen filtering that helps keep your personal information hidden from the public.

The windowed version of IE 10 is decent.  The MetroUI version that comes with Windows RT is a bit difficult for some to get used to. Unfortunately, the full screen or tablet version of IE 10 breaks Microsoft’s previous Window paradigm, requiring most everyone to get used to a different way of viewing the web.  While Microsoft may tout this as one of its newer features, not everyone is going to see it as a value add.  The app’s web rendering engine though is pretty awesome; and its performance may help you push aside its UI or presentation layer and just concentrate on the web as opposed to how it displays it.

Download Internet Explorer 10

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Review – Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Introduction

This year is going to be action packed. Apple is on track to deliver Mountain Lion OS X 10.8 to Mac users in late Summer/early Fall of this year. Microsoft is on track to deliver Windows 8 by the end of the calendar year. With all of the excitement coming from both companies throughout the year, you’re likely to hear a great deal on what’s hot and what’s not.

Windows 8 Consumer Preview was released at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on 29-Feb-12.  This will likely be the last public release of Windows 8 before the software is released to manufacturing later this year.  Users of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview should be able to use the software until January of next year.

It’s clear that Microsoft is attempting to unify the computing experiences in the latest version of its operating system. With the release of Windows 8, Microsoft is clearly making a bid for the enterprise tablet market. The big question is – Have they made the impact that they were hoping for; and will Windows 8 draw people away from iOS and Android?  Let’s take a long look at Windows 8 Consumer Preview and see how they did.

Microsoft has made the download of Windows 8 available in both executable and ISO 32bits and 64bits forms.  The total download, regardless of installation method requires 2.5GB of space. I initially had trouble getting the OS, but was able to successfully download the software by late Thursday evening, 01-Mar-12.  I used Microsoft’s new 5MB executable method.  After running the install stub, the complete installation downloaded and was placed in a folder called WindowsESD.

I’ve been playing with the OS for a while now; and while it can and does run on most any Windows capable machine, even under-powered PC’s like netbooks, it’s really not meant for traditional computers.  The interface is based on touch, and while you can use Windows 8 with a mouse and a keyboard, the OS really wants to be manipulated with your finger.  Using a Windows 8 powered PC with a mouse isn’t as natural an activity as you might think…

Continue reading…

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