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4/18/2014
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Windows 8.1 Update: 8 Tips To Avoid Headaches

Windows 8.1 Update offers the best blend of legacy and Modern apps yet -- but only if your device is properly configured.

As its bland name might suggest, the newly released Windows 8.1 Update offers fewer new features than Windows 8.1 did when it launched last fall. Don't let that discourage you. Despite the smaller scale, the newest iteration offers the best Windows 8 experience yet, especially if you use a non-touch PC.

Like its predecessors, however, Windows 8.1 Update might baffle the uninitiated. Microsoft tweaked the UI to help longtime PC users feel more at home among Live Tiles, Windows Store apps, and charms. But depending on your hardware, some of the tweaks might be inactive by default. Moreover, even if they're turned on, you might want to disable some of the changes. Windows 8.1 Update is meant to be personalized, but that means the out-of-box settings aren't going to please everyone.

[Why are so many people still using Windows XP? Read Windows XP Holdouts: 6 Top Excuses.]

Still, once you’ve learned your way around, Windows 8.1 Update is more cohesive and productive than earlier versions, particularly if you prefer the desktop to the Start screen. Here are eight tips and tricks to help you get the most out of Windows 8.1 Update.

1. Start by tweaking the UI.
Windows 8.1 Update installs differently on different machines. If you're using a tablet, it will still boot by default to the Start screen, but laptops and PCs now power up to the desktop UI. If your system isn't configured to your preferences, the UI can still be disorienting, and some of the new features might appear absent. It's best to personalize your settings right away.

There are several ways to do so. From the Start screen, you can use the new PC Settings Live Tile, or activate the Charms menu (swipe from the right of a touchscreen, or mouse to the top-right hot corner) and choose "Change PC Settings." Once in the PC Settings, choose "PC and devices,” which includes a broad range of personalization controls.

Many users will want to check out "Corners and edges,” which includes one of the update’s marquee new features-- the ablity to choose whether Windows Store apps can be pinned to the desktop taskbar.

Windows 8.1 Update offers the best blend yet of desktop and Modern apps, but you might have to enable some new features.
Windows 8.1 Update offers the best blend yet of desktop and Modern apps, but you might have to enable some new features.

You'll also want to check out the PC Settings "Search and apps" menu. Its "Defaults" sub-menu lets you choose which programs deal with given file types. Previously, if you opened a jpeg from the desktop, you might have been thrust into the Modern-style Photos app. Windows 8.1 Update is designed to be smarter about file associations. Non-touch hardware should launch jpegs in Windows Photo Viewer instead of the Photos app, for example. Ideally, the update will make the same decisions you would-- but if not, this menu lets you sort things out.

You can also modify PC Settings from the desktop, either via the Charms menu or the Control Panel (right-click or press-hold the Windows button in the bottom left), or by right-clicking the taskbar and selecting

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Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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cetude
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cetude,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/18/2014 | 11:49:30 AM
Windows 8 is a flop
I have a better tip: Don't buy it until Windows 9 comes out.  Windows 8 is a flop. 
PaulS681
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PaulS681,
User Rank: Ninja
4/20/2014 | 6:17:35 PM
Re: Windows 8 is a flop

That was my first reaction to Windows 8 but I have changed my mind. Windows ME was a flop. 8 is nowhere close to that. MS is finally fixing issues and I give them credit. I think people are hung up on the fact that these issues shouldn't have been issues if MS just listened to its users in the first place. The fact is they are listening now. I'm curious how many people that trash windows 8 have actually tried it.

Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
4/21/2014 | 4:43:57 PM
Re: Windows 8 is a flop
"I'm curious how many people that trash windows 8 have actually tried it."

I think this is a big challenge for Microsoft. There's a ton of bad karma out there. Some of it is due to Windows 8, some of it is Ballmer resentment that just accumulated over the years among certain customer segments, some of it is resentment over what many people perceive as recent-strong arm tactics (e.g. you can buy a really expensive standalone Office license, or you can subscribe to Office 365).

For me, the issue with Windows is how many people have tried Windows 8.1 Update, specifically, not just Windows 8.

I think a lot of people who have never tried Windows 8 trash it because public perception is so poor; they're just repeating the consensus. Within this group, some people are only aware that there are a bunch of tiles and no Start menu (both things that remain true even after 8.1 and Update). Until at least one of those things changes, I'm not sure Microsoft can win those customers back.But I think some other people tried the original Windows 8 (which was admittedly pretty bad), and then just gave up on the entire Win 8 franchise. Windows 8.1 Update is meaningfully different than Windows 8, and much better. I wouldn't say it's perfect or amazing, and I like OS X (which also has flaws) more overall-- but I've found Windows 8.1 Update to be perfectly usable and productive.

I can appreciate that some people have a philosophical opposition to Microsoft's Windows strategy-- and if you're in that camp, more power to you. There's still power to voting with your wallet.

But if you were scared off by Windows 8's initial usability problems, that's a different story. There's still a learning curve, but we're talking a few minutes, at most-- and the majority of that learning curve involves configuring preferences like those listed in this article.
PaulS681
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PaulS681,
User Rank: Ninja
4/21/2014 | 5:13:20 PM
Re: Windows 8 is a flop

I too can appreciate the fact that there are people who have that "philosophical opposition" to MS. That is a different story than trashing Windows 8.1. I haven't installed the update yet but plan to soon. I didn't give Windows 8 a try until 8.1. I have it acting pretty much like windows 7, which is how I like it. So far I am pleased with it. I think I said this before but pushing the latest version of IE is a mistake. There is a work around for that though. Use a different browser.

Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
4/21/2014 | 5:21:12 PM
Re: Windows 8 is a flop
Out of curiosity-- why the opposition to the new version of IE? I've found it to be better than earlier versions of IE, though I still find myself using Chrome a lot. I know some people have apps written for earlier versions of IE, but the new compatibility mode should help address that, at least for commercial users.
PaulS681
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PaulS681,
User Rank: Ninja
4/21/2014 | 5:26:07 PM
Re: Windows 8 is a flop
All web apps can't keep up with these new versions of IE. I'm just opposed to the way they are forcing them out there. Windows 8 can't run anything under IE10 and 8.1 IE11.

We have an ERP application that is not validated on IE11 yet so Windows 8.1 is out if the question right now for that reason. Unfortunately it doesn't run on any other browsers yet.

The compatibility mode isn't good enough when we are talking about a system that runs the company.

dpbsmith
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dpbsmith,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/24/2014 | 8:08:01 PM
Re: Windows 8 is a flop
My wife is neither a technophobe nor a technophile. She doesn't have ideological opinions about Microsoft. She is the kind of user who shrugs, mostly accepts default settings out of the box, and just goes ahead and learns how to use her computer. She liked MS-DOS, Windows 95 SE, and Windows XP.

She went into Windows 8 consciously--choosing not to attempt an upgrade, choosing to buy a new machine with Windows 8 preinstalled, and choosing it IN PREFERENCE TO Windows 7 machines (which at that time were still available). She knew the UI was different. She shrugged and said, "Well, I'll learn it." She went to a Microsoft store and (in my opinion unfortunately) did not insist on doing personal hands-on, but she did spend ten minutes having someone in the store show her Windows 8, so she was aware just how new the UI was.

She hates it. She tells all her friends how badly she hates it. When the 8.1 upgrade came out, she installed it, and still hates it. She says that Windows 8.1 changed a lot of things without making anything better. She says all Windows 8.1 did for her was make a few things she had finally learned stop working--and remove the one thing she actually enjoyed in Windows 8, namely having the Bing Picture of the Day for her wallpaper.* 

Her beef it "it's different' or "there's no start button." It is: a) having to memorize key combinations; b) not being able to find invisible controls unless you already know where they are; c) having a bunch of device settings, preferences, etc. that can only be accessed through the Charms bar and another bunch that can only be accessed through the Desktop screen; d) mostly being unable to open more than one window at a time--there's a special-case trick which I think works on some applications but not all that lets you open exactly two; e) being forced to deal with a mix of Metro and Desktop applications, with different user interfaces, _even if all you do is use Microsoft's own applications._ I haven't quite figured this out myself but listening to her it sounds as if Microsoft has actually included two different pieces of software called "Internet Explorer," one Metro and one Desktop, and some websites only work properly with one and some only work properly with the other. I may have that all wrong, but that's what it sounds like.

When she complains about it, if any of the people she is talking to have used Windows 8 they, so far, have already agreed--they hate it, too. And they've all had a lot of time to get used to it and figure out where the Charms Bar is.

I've never seen such a disaster in term of user dissatisfaction among ordinary users. My wife feels completely betrayed by Microsoft.

*About a month later she figured out how to get it back. It's necessary to find and reinstall what is now an optional Windows 8.1 component. But why on earth did they just unilaterally delete it? Why wasn't there a dialog box in the upgrade installer saying "We see you have chosen to have the Bing Picture of the Day as your wallpaper. Do you still want this in Windows 8.1? [ ] yes [ ] no." What is so hard about "don't undo or wipe out any choices you know the user made intentionally?"

 
Mark532010
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Mark532010,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/21/2014 | 11:28:30 AM
Re: Windows 8 is a flop
Having gone through the effort of pruning my start screen to the point where it is useful, I don't mind it. The changes are enough for me to take a look at metro apps again. I haven't seen any that looked better than existing desktop apps but at least I now feel good enough about the ease-of-use that I can try some metro apps.

My question: Do the Metro apps still uninstall only for the current user and when a new user logs in every one of them is there? or was that fixed in 8.1U1?
MiltinSB
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MiltinSB,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/18/2014 | 1:25:10 PM
Does Microsoft have a clue?
Seriously? How many iterations is it going to take for Microsoft to stabilize Windows 8?

Somebody at Microsoft must think it's a good idea to keep changing the UI for the whole W8 user base, as if users have nothing better to do but follow along like sheep.  

Do they really expect the user community to keep screwing around with their incremental fixes to a flawed concept?
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
4/18/2014 | 2:38:57 PM
Re: Does Microsoft have a clue?
I stand by the assertion that Windows 8.1 Update is the best version of Windows 8-- but I admit, I toyed with a paragraph along these lines: "Windows 8.1 Update offers the best blend yet of Windows Store and legacy apps, but to the OS's critics, that might not mean much; Windows 8 set the bar pretty low." I didn't end up including the passage, but it seems from the comments so far that concept resonates with some of our readers.

To be fair, I think Windows 8.1 Update is fine. It could be better-- and I think Microsoft showed at Build that it will be, whether in another 8.x update or Windows 9. But I find the update very usable. It's definitely made me more productive than I was with Windows 8.1, and it's miles ahead of Windows 8, which I found to be more trouble than it was worth. If money were no object, I'd probably still buy a MacBook Pro instead of a new Windows PC, and then just deal with a separate tablet if I wanted to touch. And if money were a definite object, I'd have to think long and hard about the merits of Chromebooks versus cheaper Windows devices. But I think it's obvious by now that all major computing platforms have merits and disadvantages. Windows 8 was a mess, and Microsoft is still cleaning it up, but by and large, Windows 8.1 Update is pretty good.

But for a lot of people, Windows 8.1 Update's improved usability might not mean much. A lot of people consider Windows XP usable, as you point out. Microsoft reportedly had to dramatically reduce the cost of extended XP service for some larger enterprise customers, so I think the current Microsoft leadership appreciates that a lot of customers simply haven't felt incentivized to upgrade.

Satya Nadella and Microsoft have been riding a hot streak the last few weeks. But they'll face challenges over the next couple. First, they'll announce earnings, and even though revenue will surely be massive, analysts will pay attention to several potential weak spots-- Surface sales, Windows revenue (especially commercial revenue, which will speak to post-XP retention), enterprise and cloud revenue (which will surely grow-- but now that Microsoft is giving away a lot of its Windows licenses, will Azure, MySQL, Office 365 et al grow fast enough?); etc. And then we'll get the OS market share reports around May 1, which will further speak to post-XP fallout, as well as Windows 8.1 Update adoption. So for those who are annoyed with Microsoft, the company will have to answer some tough questions soon.
MiltinSB
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MiltinSB,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/18/2014 | 3:09:39 PM
Re: Does Microsoft have a clue?
I'm not questioning that W8.1 Update is a big improvement.  My comment addressed the volatility of the UI.  Microsoft seems to think that the W8 user base has nothing better to do than keep relearning how to use its product, and probably with no end in sight.

Sheer arrogance heaped upon the incompetence of their initial design decisions.
heatlesssun
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heatlesssun,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/18/2014 | 3:56:49 PM
Re: Does Microsoft have a clue?
The majority of the changes that have been introduced since 8.0 RTM have been additive mostly in the form of new configuration options or naturally occurring behavioral changes based on the input type. In fact most of the changes introduced have been for the specific purpose of NOT having to relearn anything for keyboard and mouse users while keeping touch behavrior the same. Modern apps in the task, a title bar with close and minimize buttons, defaulting to desktop apps instead of modern apps for mouse driven devices, all of these a major changes in this update that require zero relearning, they are simply making things more consistent for desktop users in a fashion that they've see for decades.

 

DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
4/18/2014 | 3:29:21 PM
Re: Does Microsoft have a clue?
It is getting better, but nothing in the Win8.1Update makes me want to give up Win7 on the desktop.  Still too much of a learning curve for the existing Win7 customer base and I'm sure most corporations feel the same.  Most will be glad they skipped Win8 just as most were glad they skipped Vista.  Bandaids don't help when the wound needs surgery to fix.  Plus I'm not so sure a "kinder and gentler" Nadella-Myerson duo is going to do better but at the same time they've got to try very hard to do worse.
heatlesssun
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heatlesssun,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/18/2014 | 4:05:38 PM
Re: Does Microsoft have a clue?
I'd say this is a very logical and fair assessment of this update. 8.1 Update is clearly better for keyboard and mouse users accustomed to the nearly 20 year old UI introduced in Windows 95. And while not the most elegant OS, the level of flexibility and capability is through the roof. 8.1 Update can effectively run on a mobile device with the same level of hardware a base iPad all to the fastest and most powerful desktops around. Adding back the Start Menu will only increase the incredible about of functionality. You speak of having lots of money and buying separate devices. And there you have hit to purpose of Windows 8. Why not spend less money for one device that can do what otherwise would require two devices?
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
4/19/2014 | 12:00:54 PM
Re: Does Microsoft have a clue?
Whether or not you like Windows 8x or even Microsoft, this newest update, with its obvious shift back in the direction of non-touch, demonstrates that they are listening to customer feedback. From some of the comments, it sounds like some folks might be happier if they left the broken / fragmented original version of Windows 8 intact rather than put efforts into building in customer feedback.

I've only been a Windows 8.1 and 8.1 Update user for about a week. I was waiting until that first major update came out. For the naysayers, Vista with SP 1 was a very solid product. Feedback was received and incorporated. From my limited use of Windows 8.1 so far, I can say that the touch features are handy on my new Dell Precision notebook with a touch screen. It also boots about 20 times faster than Windows 7 on the same machine. I'll give Microsoft solid marks for recognizing the issue and addressing some of the concerns and complaints from its customers.
PaulS681
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PaulS681,
User Rank: Ninja
4/20/2014 | 6:10:42 PM
slowly but surely

MS is finally listening to users. They could have avoided a lot of criticism from the start by just getting all of this in the first release of windows 8. The main point is that they are finally making "improvements". One thing I don't understand is why they are forcing the latest version of IE. They are forcing users to find another browser.

 

Brian Keegan
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Brian Keegan,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/22/2014 | 11:00:45 AM
RE: Windows 8 is a flop
My problem with the evolution of the Windows OS is that it's getting closer to os-x. The apple interface is designed for 'users' and makes life difficult for the rest of us. Too many layers of "helpful" stuff overlaid on the base OS. So, the ways to vote with the wallet are to go to Chromebook or Linux. They are nice but they do limit the software you can run.

So MS can add all kinds of tiles, metros, charms, etc. for the basic user but please leave more direct access available to the OS for the rest of us that don't want so many "helpful" features that make it harder to do what we want to do.
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