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6/28/2013
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Windows 8.1: 8 Essential Facts

The Windows 8.1 preview has landed. Is it enough to jumpstart adoption? Consider these eight facts.

10 Hidden Benefits of Windows 8.1
10 Hidden Benefits of Windows 8.1
(click image for larger view)
Microsoft last week released a preview edition of Windows 8.1 in conjunction with its developer-oriented Build conference in San Francisco. With the update, the final version of which will arrive later this year, Microsoft hopes to rewrite the Win8 narrative, turning what has been perceived as a failure into the foundation for a more diverse Windows landscape.

CEO Steve Ballmer touted the variety of devices that run a version of his company's new OS, from smartphones to PCs to the Xbox to tablets. He emphasized that Windows 8 devices leverage the cloud to connect to and enhance one another -- that is, to form not just products, but an ecosystem.

Even Win8.1's detractors agree that the update is an improvement over the original version. A number of analysts, meanwhile, believe Microsoft has made the necessary adjustments to get back in the race.

With corporate deployments still many months -- or years -- away, Win8's fortunes currently rely on consumers and BYOD. It remains to be seen if Microsoft has truly turned a corner with the mass market, or if its flagship product will continue to flounder.

Will Win8.1 convert those who've so far resisted? Here are eight facts about Microsoft's effort to make its new OS better.

1. You can basically turn off the Modern UI.

Technically, those who despise the Modern UI won't be able to fully purge the hated Live Tiles from their Win8.1 experience. The Start button is back, but rather than summoning Windows 7's Start Menu, the Win8.1 version redirects to an "All Apps" screen -- a compromise that Microsoft hopes will mollify perturbed desktop users while keeping its Modern apps from falling out of view.

Whether this tactic works remains to be seen. Certainly, the ability to share backgrounds between the Modern UI and the desktop adds some cohesion to the dual-OS experience. But even if users aren't fully satisfied with the revamped Start button, Microsoft has still added a number of tools to essentially turn Windows 8.1 into a faster, more modern version of Windows 7.

The features include a boot-to-desktop mode and the ability to disable hot corner functions, such as the Charms menu. System controls have also been redistributed such that users no longer have to jump between UIs to access certain tools. And though the Start button might not have been what everyone wanted, it includes the ability to restart or shut down the machine. This feature was absent from the original release, leading to user confusion about the simple task of turning off a device.

2. Microsoft will release updates more frequently, and they will install automatically.

If one theme united the various keynotes at Build, it was Microsoft's accelerated release schedule. Traditionally, the company has launched major products every few years, with substantial changes arriving in large chunks. But Ballmer argued last week that the pace of innovation has changed, and that improvements need to be pushed to users on a near-perpetual basis.

Given that Win 8.1 represents a lot of work in a very short amount of time, Microsoft has clearly begun to execute Ballmer's plan. Whether customers are persuaded by all the changes is still unknown. But the fact that Microsoft made so many adjustments so quickly speaks to the company's agility.

The speedy update schedule means that improvements will reach users more quickly, and could eventually include concurrent release cycles across all Windows platforms. Future updates will also install automatically. It's a good strategy, and one that Windows 8.1 advances.

3. Windows 8.1 is more customizable, includes more user-centric features and hooks more deeply into the cloud.

Windows 8.1 includes a number of new interface controls, including the ability to resize Live Tiles, to share backgrounds between the desktop and the Modern UI and to generally customize how content is displayed. Taken alone, none of the tweaks are revolutionary. But even if most of them are simple Version 2 enhancements, they nonetheless make the UI more attractive and user friendly.

Indeed, at Build, Windows VP Julie Larson-Green emphasized that Microsoft has designed Win 8.1 with the end user in mind. Over the last few years, user-centricism has been Apple's calling card, with Microsoft seen as more concerned with IT admins and business needs. But Larson-Green demonstrated a useful feature in which users can choose auto-fill selections without moving their hand from the onscreen keyboard. Other platforms, such as iOS, require the user to lift his or her hand, which disrupts the continuity of composing a message. Windows 8.1 addresses this problem, and if other features in Win 8.1 keep to the same philosophy, more users will find the update not only useful but also enjoyable.

Windows 8.1 will also include built-in SkyDrive support, a feature that, like the auto-fill function, seeks to add cohesion to the user experience. Ballmer described a new landscape in which users spread work and play across multiple devices. He's not alone in this vision, as cloud services such as iCloud and Google Docs already demonstrate. But Microsoft's cross-device synching is already competitive, and the company is making rapid gains in the cloud. The new version will include, for example, a method by which large, multi-gigabyte files can be accessed on mobile devices without overwhelming those devices' generally limited storage capacities.

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iminmessaging
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iminmessaging,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/10/2013 | 11:43:28 AM
re: Windows 8.1: 8 Essential Facts
Well, Windows 8.1 is the latest release from Microsoft and clearly not everyone is familiar with it. It is way advanced as compared with Windows 7. This post is really very helpful for people like me who are not very much familiar with Windows 8.1. Thanks for sharing this post with us.
AsokAsus
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AsokAsus,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/5/2013 | 10:10:09 PM
re: Windows 8.1: 8 Essential Facts
Uh, bringing back the Start Button that does nothing more than provide yet one more means to take one back to the hated, productivity-killing, single-window, no-taskbar, touchy-feely, flashy-blinky Metro UI screen instead of actually restoring the Start Menu is hardly addressing the issue. It's more like a spit in the face to Microsoft's remaining PC users.

Furthermore, if Microsoft was sincere in honoring the wishes of users who choose to boot to desktop in 8.1, they would also automatically alter ALL of the file associations that they ordinarily default to Metro back to any desktop programs that support those file associations. They would also restore the Start Menu.

Of course, by not doing any of the above, the boot to desktop option is merely a hollow sop whereby Microsoft can pretend they are "listening" to their users and pretend they're still interested in the enterprise and SMB PC markets, because without the file association changes, one still mysteriously and automagically ends up back in the execrable Metro over and over again, creating chaotic confusion for most users who don't have a clue as to what is going on, where they went to, how they got there, and even worse, how to get OUT of Metro UI!

Bottom line, Windows 8.xxxxxxx still doesn't have a snowball's chance in Hades of being adopted by the enterprise and SMB. That well has already poisoned, not to mention the fact that IT folks at these places aren't fooled by nonsense like Ballmer's "refined blend", which sounds like it was lifted from a bad 1970's TV ad for instant coffee crystals or a "premium" motor oil.

The "refinded blend" of Windows 8.1 is akin to Coke "refining" New Coke by "blending" half original Coke and half New Coke and putting it in new cans and telling their customers that they were "listening" to them! Microsoft's users can tell the difference between a kick in the teeth and actually being listened to. This "refined blend" is being NOT listened to and it is NOT going to go well at all for Microsoft.

The enterprise and SMB are still going to skip Windows 8.xxxx just like they did with Vista and hope Microsoft comes to their senses with Windows 9 after Ballmer is fired. And if Microsoft still insists on shoveling out cell-phone operating systems on the PC after Windows 8.xxx, then the enterprise and SMB will start to seriously look at non-Microsoft alternatives.
Palpatine
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Palpatine,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/2/2013 | 6:22:06 AM
re: Windows 8.1: 8 Essential Facts
Another lackluster release. MS clock is running out of time to stay in business, even their top manager prefers working with Zynga...
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
7/1/2013 | 6:58:38 PM
re: Windows 8.1: 8 Essential Facts
Great point-- you can run it on a virtual machine. But the point about installation was basically that the preview is for tech savvy people. Though mass market familiarity with VMs is increasing, I think such a solution still supports the article's caution.
ANON1246375404037
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ANON1246375404037,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/1/2013 | 5:56:33 PM
re: Windows 8.1: 8 Essential Facts
Why not load the beta as a VM -no mention of this in article
NPCO
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NPCO,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/1/2013 | 4:50:36 PM
re: Windows 8.1: 8 Essential Facts
"The Start button is back, but rather than summoning Windows 7's Start Menu, the Win8.1 version redirects to an "All Apps" screen"

That's great, now if they could just shrink the start screen down, maybe have it display in a little window so as not obscure everything I'm working on, and maybe add folder organization, it'd be perfect.

Wait...

Didn't we already have that?
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