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10/17/2013
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Windows 8.1: 10 Essential Upgrade Facts

Microsoft hopes to improve on Windows 8's lackluster first year with Windows 8.1. But is Microsoft's new OS right for you?

 Microsoft Surface: 10 Best And Worst Changes
Microsoft Surface: 10 Best And Worst Changes
(click image for larger view)
Since debuting last fall, Windows 8 has attracted criticism arguably faster than it's accrued market share. Microsoft, now a year older and wiser, hopes to right its course with Windows 8.1, which began rolling out to current Win 8 users as an optional download at 7 a.m. Eastern time Thursday.

The protests against Windows 8 are legion. Some say it alienated desktop users with its Live Tile Start screen and redesigned UI. Others contend it bored desktop users with uninspired core apps and a weak library of third-party titles. It was also criticized for forcing a tablet OS and a desktop OS into one package, and for failing to revitalize the flagging PC market. And that's not to mention the implications of Microsoft's Surface tablets, an inextricable extension of the Win 8 strategy that has not only cost the company millions but also soured relationships with some of its partners.

Retiring Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in June that Windows 8.1 would offer a "refined blend" of the original Win 8 vision, but given the original version's struggles, many commentators have questioned whether iterative enhancements will be enough. Should you upgrade to Microsoft's newest OS? Here are 10 things you need to know.

[ Will Windows 8.1 make the difference for laggards? See Windows XP Holdouts Hold On. ]

1. Windows 8.1 won't become available to all customers at the same time.

Microsoft began a staged rollout to current Win 8 users Thursday morning, which means Windows 8.1 is already available to many via the Windows Store. For some current Win 8 users, though, the update might not appear until later in the day. The update is optional, but Microsoft will stop supporting Windows 8 with security patches in two years, which should push stragglers along.

For those using an older version of Windows, the retail version of Windows 8 will become available Friday. The core version is $119.99 and Windows 8.1 Pro is $199.99.

2. Windows 8.1 should offer a better desktop experience.

With a boot-to-desktop mode, the ability to disable hot corners, a reintegrated Start button and other features that allow users to banish Live Tiles from their workflow, Windows 8.1 might offer enough to appease disenchanted desktop users. After changing a few settings, the OS can be treated largely like an updated version of Windows 7. There is one significant exception, however. Read on.

3. The Start button doesn't have a Start menu.

Unlike Windows 7's Start button, the Windows 8.1 version doesn't summon a Start menu; instead, it takes users to an "All Apps" view.

This issue has made many Win 8 critics skeptical of the upgrade's prospects. Nonetheless, the new Start button still preserves many Start menu-like functions. If users right-click the Start button, or hold down on it when using a touchscreen, a list of additional options will appear. They include access to programs, settings, files and the Task Manager, as well as the ability to power down or restart the device.

4. Windows 8.1 is an update to both Windows 8 and Windows RT.

Microsoft has downplayed the RT branding lately; the company dropped the RT designation with the Surface 2, and Microsoft Surface product manager Jack Cowett admitted in a recent interview with ARN that the company's original marketing confused consumers.

Nonetheless, Microsoft remains committed to Windows RT in spirit, if not in name; Windows 8.1 updates both Win 8 and Win RT. The upcoming Surface 2 will run the 8.1 version of RT, which adds support for Microsoft Exchange, as well as many of the other Modern UI tweaks that will debut in the full version of Windows 8.1.

What remains to be seen: Will any manufacturer other than Microsoft make an RT device?

5. Windows 8.1 should offer a more cohesive user experience.

Moving between the desktop and the Modern UI could be smoother in Windows 8.1 thanks to a variety of new features. Users can set the same background for both interfaces, for example, which should make it less jarring to jump back and forth. Microsoft has also integrated a tutorial app to help users learn how the OS works, which should help speed up whatever remains of the original Win 8's infamous learning curve.

Windows 8.1 should also be more cohesive for users who prefer to stick with one UI or the other. Those who opt for Live Tiles can now access more settings and controls in the Modern UI's settings menu, eliminating the need to pop over to the desktop. Those who prefer the desktop, meanwhile, can essentially lock off the Modern UI, as mentioned above.

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wht
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wht,
User Rank: Strategist
10/21/2013 | 4:04:05 PM
re: Windows 8.1: 10 Essential Upgrade Facts
Don't use the mouse, just use the keyboard.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
10/21/2013 | 2:52:26 PM
re: Windows 8.1: 10 Essential Upgrade Facts
Upgraded to Windows 8.1 Thursday evening. The next morning I discovered my employer's Citrix web desktop page was a big black nothing. (The page was literally a black, blank page. Black Screen of Death?)

After an hour of frantic searching, I finally discovered a month-old tip someone shared while running the preview edition. Turn on "In Private" browsing and add the site into the "compatibility" mode list. Problem solved. Another poster resolved it by using the Chrome browser.

Win8.1 also downgraded my touch pad driver and I lost some gesture support until I upgraded the driver I was running under Win8. I tried to go into my nVidia control panel app and it told me I wasn't using an nVidia chip.

At this point I'd like to do a "clean install" of WIn8.1 but I'm not sure that's possible. I might have to restore Win8 and then upgrade again. I subscribe to Office 365 so I guess before I do that I'll have to "remove" Office from my computer to reduce the installed count. Otherwise I'm guessing the second install will count against the five I'm allowed.

Needless to say, I'm not very pleased with my upgrade experience. Over the years, every time I've upgraded IE it breaks stuff on which I rely. I expect new versions to break old stuff. However, AFAIK multiple versions of IE are impossible without resorting to virtual machines. That means IE is special and it should have better backward compatibility. If that means it runs slow, then it runs slow.

Tip for Microsoft -- from a legal perspective, it no longer matters if the browser is "integrated" with the OS and inseparable. Isn't it time to make IE just another application and allow folks to run multiple versions? If I had that choice, I could have tried my corporate desktop portal with IE10 and it would have worked. Problem solved.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Same old Microsoft. I've never seen a company that likes to blow off its own feet as much as Microsoft.
DennisF222
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DennisF222,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/21/2013 | 12:37:22 PM
re: Windows 8.1: 10 Essential Upgrade Facts
i am sorry but at any time i can have up to 10 or more files open. any limitations on this is a non starter.
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
10/19/2013 | 9:00:25 PM
re: Windows 8.1: 10 Essential Upgrade Facts
GǪwe can run now four apps side by side on Metro? Why only four?
Because Microsoft says so. I wish we could go back to DOS.
99.99% of desktops don't do touch and won't do in the future
I guess you never heard of Star Trek
Neither will they do voice commands
See above
GǪthink of an office where everyone is babbling into their microphones and potentially controls their coworkers PC instead
Sounds fun
...widespread use of gesture control
There are a lot of gestures in offices, especially with that finger when you turn your back.
Think of the cat jumping in front of the monitor causing the recipients to get switched for a half finished email that then gets sent.
IGm allergic to cats. Many folks out there too. Not really an excuse to send or not send half finished emails
Yes, mouse and keyboard using well laid out menu structures is so 80s, but back then many bright minds spent a long time...
DonGt get me started with the 80s. Too many hippies and pot, ah no wait, wrong decade. Still , the cars from that time were awesome, good on gas too.
So why the heck do desktop users have to suffer from the incredible shortcomings of touch optimized UIs?
Touch optimized UIs are primarily for left-handed people, who are force to use the mouse with the right hand and have nothing to do with the left.
As if the utterly dysfunctional ribbon wasn't already bad enough!
Ribbon has its merits. When you wrapping a gift, for instance.

I mean no disrespect.
PaulS681
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PaulS681,
User Rank: Ninja
10/19/2013 | 7:48:52 PM
re: Windows 8.1: 10 Essential Upgrade Facts
I believe this as well. The next Windows will hopefully be the next "windows 7".
AustinIT
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AustinIT,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/19/2013 | 1:12:48 PM
re: Windows 8.1: 10 Essential Upgrade Facts
You do realize that you can customize the UI in an infinite number of ways... till the cows come home... right?
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
10/19/2013 | 12:19:24 PM
re: Windows 8.1: 10 Essential Upgrade Facts
But for that you need to let go of the mouse and use the keyboard and now how the desired app is named. You honestly believe that this is easier and faster than a well-designed menu layout? UX research suggests the opposite!
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
10/19/2013 | 12:17:26 PM
re: Windows 8.1: 10 Essential Upgrade Facts
I think it takes way longer to master the unintuitive UI that has zero hierarchical organization. Apps that get rarely used are shown with the same prominence as apps that are often used. That makes absolutely no sense and requires a lot of scrolling and swiping. Yes, I know you can start typing an app name and get a much smaller list, but that requires letting go of the mouse and knowing exactly how the app name starts. That takes way much more time and includes more distraction than navigating a menu structure that can have as many main and sub categories as the user desires.
Only stubborn / naive users subject themselves to a clearly inferior UI design just because Microsoft said so. Metro UI is a piece of crap! And ClassicShell is the better solution not only because it costs less than Start8.
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
10/19/2013 | 12:12:04 PM
re: Windows 8.1: 10 Essential Upgrade Facts
Oh wow, we can run now four apps side by side on Metro? Why only four? The desktop can run dozens of apps side by side. Shows again that Metro is really nothing but a crippled UI with absolutely no benefit to desktop users. Maybe on low powered tablets that may be impressive, but 99.99% of desktops don't do touch and won't do in the future. Neither will they do voice commands - think of an office where everyone is babbling into their microphones and potentially controls their coworkers PC instead - nor will there be widespread used of gesture control - think of the cat jumping in front of the monitor causing the recipients to get switched for a half finished email that then gets sent.
Yes, mouse and keyboard using well laid out menu structures is so 80s, but back then many bright minds spent a long time to come up with the optimal design for cramming a lot of stuff into a very small space while keeping it quickly available. None of that changed. So why the heck do desktop users have to suffer from the incredible shortcomings of touch optimized UIs? As if the utterly dysfunctional ribbon wasn't already bad enough!
Tronman
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Tronman,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/18/2013 | 12:34:07 PM
re: Windows 8.1: 10 Essential Upgrade Facts
Stupid comment. It has nothing to do with stubbornness in learning new technology. It has to do with Microsoft pissing off their customers with ridiculous technological decisions just to try and keep up with the Joneses.
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