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3/7/2014
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Jeff Bertolucci
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Windows 8.1 Update 1: 10 Key Changes

Windows 8.1 Update 1 makes the Modern UI and Start screen a little friendlier for the mouse-and-keyboard crowd. But it won't silence critics.
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Update 1... already?
Microsoft is prepping yet another Windows 8.x update, one it plans to make available the first week of April, according to various reports. As its name suggests, Windows 8.1 Update 1 isn't exactly a dramatic overhaul of Windows 8.1, which Microsoft released just five months ago. Rather, it offers incremental improvements designed to make Windows 8's touch-oriented Modern UI a bit more appealing to mouse-and-keyboard users.

Window 8's interface has been controversial since its official launch in 2012. Does the hybrid UI represent the future of computing? Is it useful? Half-baked? An ambitious experiment gone hideously wrong?

More pundits these days seem to be migrating to the hideous camp. For instance, here are two recent -- and very bearish -- takes from seasoned Windows bloggers Paul Thurrott and Woody Leonard.

In a Feb. 9 post titled "What the Heck is Happening to Windows?" Thurrott wrote:

Windows 8 is not well-designed. It's a mess. But Windows 8 is a bigger problem than that. Windows 8 is a disaster in every sense of the word.

Leonard, in a Feb. 10 article ("The sorry state of Windows 8.1 Update 1") for InfoWorld, was just as scathing:

Personally, I don't see anything about Update 1 that warrants a complete reversal of faith; it simply lumbers along in the ill-defined path of its predecessors. Windows 8 is bad, as I've been saying for years, and Windows 8.1 did little to improve the situation. Win 8.1 Update 1 is just more of the same, piled higher and deeper.

InformationWeek's Michael Endler takes a slightly more positive view in a Feb. 28 column:

Windows 8's reliance on touch alienated many longtime Microsoft customers, and Windows 8.1 appears to have undone only some of the damage to the product's reputation. The update coming this spring appears to still lack a Start menu, which will disappoint desktop users. Still, a version of Windows 8 that works better on non-touch devices can only help.

Tech pundit criticism doesn't  mean that Windows 8.x (and its oddball, dual-interface design) is doomed. However, data points from the field, including declining PC shipments and surging tablet and Chromebook sales, suggest the OS is in serious trouble.

Windows 8.1 Update 1 is a minor upgrade, not something designed to correct the operating system's core flaws. On the plus side, it does manage to make the Modern UI a bit more palatable to mouse-and-keyboard users by blurring the boundaries between the Windows desktop and the tile-oriented Start screen. Are its changes welcome? Yes. Will they be enough to silence Windows 8's critics? Not even close.

But, hey, decide for yourself. Click through the slideshow to see 10 significant changes in Windows 8.1 Update 1.

Jeff Bertolucci is a technology journalist in Los Angeles who writes mostly for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, The Saturday Evening Post, and InformationWeek. View Full Bio

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MyW0r1d
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MyW0r1d,
User Rank: Strategist
3/7/2014 | 5:21:06 PM
Re: Yawn...
I've stopped counting the number of tablets used by restaurant and pub staff to place orders (one place took your drink order and left you an iPad open to the menu).  You selected and sent your order through it, then could use it to browse the news or give it to the kids to play preloaded games while waiting for the order to arrive).  I also cannot count the number of TV news anchors using a tablet in place of or to supplement the monitors.  They respond to tweets and Facebook posts in realtime and during commercial breaks.  Credit card readers with tablets have given POS stations new flexibility.  My insurance agent will not go to an appointment now without his in tow.  Other sales units press their agents to stop saying to the customer "I will fix it as soon as I get back to the office" and want them to conclude the business on the spot.  Tablets enable this without the suitcase which once accompanied them.  Only entertainment consumption - nay, limited to the imagination of the IT staff and ability of IT management to influence the business delivery model IMHO.  As for the subject of the article, sounds like any other Service Pack release and 5-6 months doesn't seem odd.  
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
3/7/2014 | 4:10:26 PM
Re: Yawn...
I think you're bringing up a noteworthy distinction, UberGoober. There are a ton of iPads in the enterprise, but a lot of them are used as secondary devices for information access, as you say. One of the big research firms (Forrester, if I remember) even did a study that drew that conclusion-- that iPads are often used alongside, rather than in place of, traditional PCs.

That said, I'm astonished how often I see people typing on their iPads. At every event I attend, I see journalists and analysts typing away on glass screens. Not just shorthand notes—full paragraphs, often punched out at a surprisingly quick rate. Personally, I still want a physical keyboard in situations like that-- and indeed, conventional laptops (albeit with a higher-than-average MacBook representation) are still far more ubiquitous at those events. But it's clear that people are increasingly using tablets for content creation. I don't think there will be a tipping point where touchscreens takes over for "real work," or that physical keyboards are going away, or anything like that—but I've heard analysts say that more words will be typed this year on glass than on actual keys. I'm not sure if I believe that, but the fact that it's even close tells you that tablets are being used for more than watching videos. (Though I concede a lot of those words will be dedicated to vapid text messages and Facebook status updates on smartphones.)

For productivity tasks that require quick exchanges or that involve moving or slightly modifying information, tablets can actually be preferable to traditional form factors. I'm not going to get rid of my computers any time soon; I need them for substantive writing, spreadsheets, video and photo editing, and other tasks that don't tablets very well. But I think the "content consumption vs. productivity" debate involves a lot of rigid definitions about what constitutes "real work" and what doesn't. There are shades of gray, and tablets occupy lots of them.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
3/7/2014 | 4:01:47 PM
Re: Yawn...
I guess we will have to agree to disagree. Bluetooth keyboards and cases like Zagg with built in keyboard (have you tried? really great) mean you do not have to type on tablet screen. I know lots and lots of sales people who do almost all work on a tablet. Not just sales, either. Varies by industry but even in insurance...lots of tablets. core apps running on tablets. Talk to these CIOs: It is not optional.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
3/7/2014 | 3:55:47 PM
Re: Yawn...
Interesting point, UberGoober. Some of the same people who leaked accurate Update 1 rumors claim that windowed Modern apps will arrive in Windows 9 next year. But by then, too little too late? It seems like a feature that might have been included from the start-- what's the delay? And are there any Modern apps that users are hankering to run in a window on the desktop?
UberGoober
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UberGoober,
User Rank: Strategist
3/7/2014 | 3:52:46 PM
Re: Yawn...
I don't suppose you would care to make a small wager on how most tablets are used, would you?


Yes, many are used essentially as big-screen smart-phones in business, but even then, the vast majority are used for information consumption; very few are used for much besides reading or looking stuff up.  For consuming information they are unquestionabley handy, but for most uses, tablets are terrible for creating it; typing on glass and pointing with a half-inch-wide finger makes for terrible ergonomics.

You can trot out the old bromide about salespeople all you want (people have been doing it for well over a decade), but you can't say with straight face that 20% of tablets are used primarily for business; I'd bet the number is much less than 10%. 


For the C-level meetings, c'mon.  Nobody is more style-obsessed than a high-level corporate guy.  Actual business use is not guaranteed by having an iPad in your hand.

 
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
3/7/2014 | 3:50:53 PM
Re: Yawn...
Agreed, Laurie. I find tablets limiting for certain kinds of productivity, but I think it's inaccurate and myopic to whitewash tablets as consumption devices. We explored various workplace tablet use cases in a magazine article last spring, and just today, Eric Zeman stated most knowledge workers could probably get by with Samsung's new 12-inch tablet.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
3/7/2014 | 3:44:38 PM
Re: all ui and no internal changes?
Oh, PowerShell... There's an industry of Microsoft partners who exist just to make PowerShell less difficult to deal with.

Anyhow, you bring up an interesting point. Microsoft brought a bunch of enterprise capabilities online with Windows 8.1, but some are still missing. But is that really what's keeping enterprises from adopting?
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
3/7/2014 | 3:37:17 PM
Re: Yawn...
I would disagree that tablets are primarily "entertainment-consuming platforms." In all manner of industries, salespeople are using tablets as primary device now -- at home office and in the field. Many knowledge workers can do what they need to on a tablet. Tablets may have started out as "nice to have" but they have become must-have at many enterprises. Also, go to any C-level gathering (board meeting, conference, etc.) and you will see all tablets.
UberGoober
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UberGoober,
User Rank: Strategist
3/7/2014 | 3:27:17 PM
Re: Yawn...
There is no way anything that can be called a 'tweak' will fix Win8.  If M$ wants to keep the 'Modern' UI for real computers (as opposed to tablets, which are primarily entertainment-consuming platforms), it should be in a window inside the traditional desktop.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
3/7/2014 | 3:24:22 PM
Re: Yawn...
Thanks for weighing in. Desktop user frustration coming through loud and clear here. Perhaps the tweaks did not go far enough?
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