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10/17/2013
08:53 AM
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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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Lil5
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Lil5,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/15/2013 | 1:58:31 PM
Microsoft Account Log in
I am in the process of upgrading my main desktop and am at the point where it asks me to sign into my Microsoft Account and it says "The next time you sign into this device, use your Microsoft account." Before I continue the upgrade, can someone tell me if 8.1 Pro will require MS Account log in to access the computer after the upgrade?     I would hope not.  I prefer to choose when I want my computer logged into any account.
midmachine
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midmachine,
User Rank: Strategist
11/22/2013 | 8:22:09 AM
re: Windows 8.1: 10 Essential Upgrade Facts
ALT+TAB - keyboard shortcut that switches between open apps/windows/programs...whatever you want to call them.
wungxing
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wungxing,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/22/2013 | 4:10:11 AM
re: Windows 8.1: 10 Essential Upgrade Facts
Well, to be honest, Windows 8.1 still has some porblem need to fix. Just as this post refers to: http://t.co/X6pZPa2IXK
midmachine
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midmachine,
User Rank: Strategist
10/25/2013 | 4:52:53 PM
re: Windows 8.1: 10 Essential Upgrade Facts
Agree, mouse is not good ergonomically for one and the keyboard is definitely faster, no need to have your hand jumping around the desk.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
10/21/2013 | 11:28:59 PM
re: Windows 8.1: 10 Essential Upgrade Facts
Why is that relevant? Do you have 10' wide display and give a foot to each document? I have a 32" wide monitor at my office and it's convenient to do side-by-side apps but if I have 10 documents open, I certainly don't have enough room to see them at one time, much less four at once. I just don't understand what you are trying to argue. The modern UI could have one document visible at a time and it would be up to the program to make it easy for you to switch between them with a gesture. What's your point?
PaulS681
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PaulS681,
User Rank: Ninja
10/21/2013 | 5:14:32 PM
re: Windows 8.1: 10 Essential Upgrade Facts
I strongly disagree with this statement and I believe the sales numbers for Windows 8 back me up. Windows 7 is alive and kicking in most organizations. Windows Xp, although risky, is still out there in good numbers as well.
wht
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wht,
User Rank: Strategist
10/21/2013 | 4:12:56 PM
re: Windows 8.1: 10 Essential Upgrade Facts
With 8.1 the Start function does take you to an all apps view. Right click and you will get a more traditional pull down menu, that includes a shutdown or reboot option.
wht
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wht,
User Rank: Strategist
10/21/2013 | 4:10:51 PM
re: Windows 8.1: 10 Essential Upgrade Facts
Bing and Microsoft are not Google and their search software. Same for Gmail and MS Outlook. Google is like a private NSA in the way they use our data, MS is no where as intrusive.
wht
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50%
wht,
User Rank: Strategist
10/21/2013 | 4:09:10 PM
re: Windows 8.1: 10 Essential Upgrade Facts
Windows 7 and all prior to it are on their last legs, and are not coming back. There is nothing wrong with Windows 8 or 8.1.
wht
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wht,
User Rank: Strategist
10/21/2013 | 4:08:13 PM
re: Windows 8.1: 10 Essential Upgrade Facts
And you are the new 3rd level butthead. Windows 8 puts ME to shame, and there was nothing wrong with Vista in my experiences. Maybe you need to refresh your attitude, and with an open mind you will find Windows 8 and now 8.1 are by far the best.
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