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6/28/2013
04:50 PM
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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.

8 Free, Must-Have Windows 8 Apps
8 Free, Must-Have Windows 8 Apps
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
4. Internet Explorer 11 will be fast but it might also be schizophrenic.

Internet Explorer 11 will debut with Windows 8.1, and thanks to its ability to harness a device's GPU, it should provide blazingly fast performance while supporting a host of modern programming languages. Microsoft also claims IE 11 will support up to 100 tabs without putting a strain on battery life.

But like the original version of Windows 8, the update will evidently still include two versions of the Internet browser -- one for the desktop, and one for the Modern UI.

For all the fluidity Microsoft has managed with SkyDrive, the company has struggled to get the two sides of Windows 8 to cohere. In an interview before Build, Forrester analyst Dave Johnson noted to InformationWeek that IE behaves differently in each UI, and that certain defaults, such as the version of IE that will open a link, can be confusing. "It should just be consistent behavior," he said.

Microsoft VP Dean Hachamovich argued at Build that Windows 8 needs two versions of IE because each UI is suited to different use cases and different ways of engaging with content. This is a fair point. But it remains to be seen if users like the way Microsoft has responded to these divergent use cases. If not, the user-centric attitude that Larson-Green described might be tantamount to a good intention executed inconsistently.

5. The Windows Store looks better and will soon include some big-time apps.

Windows 8 launched with a relatively meager selection of mobile apps, and though it now features almost 100,000 titles, the Windows Store is still a long way behind marketplaces for iOS and Android. Worse, according to at least one study, users have been largely indifferent to the Windows 8 apps that are available, many of which cost more than they do on competing platforms.

Nevertheless, things are looking up for Modern apps. At Build, Ballmer said a native Facebook app would soon come to Windows 8, and one keynote also included a preview of PowerPoint for the Modern UI. Slowly but surely, big-name titles are reaching Microsoft's platform.

Users still need to buy these apps, though, and that's where the redesigned Windows Store comes in. It now features a cleaner look that makes better use of space -- an important concept, given that many Modern UI users will rely on tablets with small screens. It also includes a Spotlight section on the front page, as well as areas for recently launched apps, the top paid apps and the top free apps. Personalized recommendations are included, with search functions that now hook into Bing. The Windows Store can also support gift cards.

6. Developers have more tools to build compelling apps for Windows 8.1.

An improved marketplace and the gradual accrual of popular apps should inspire more developers to write for the Modern UI. To provide further encouragement, Microsoft has released a preview version of Visual Studio 2013, a toolkit with which developers can build and test new apps. It also opened Bing as a development platform, including not only search functions but also rich graphics and new ways to display content culled from disparate sources.

Prior to Windows 8.1, the Windows Store was more about catching up to iOS and Android than about cultivating a unique personality. If developers can make the most of Bing, that could change -- and nothing, as the iPad has shown, drives consumer adoption like new and delightful experiences.

7. Windows 8.1 includes hooks to cutting-edge technology, including 3-D printing.

Speaking of new and delightful experiences, Windows 8.1 will include support for a variety of new technologies. At Build, Microsoft executives claimed that users will be able to create 3-D objects on their PCs as easily as they create documents in Word. The keynote included references to low-cost 3-D printers that will soon be available not only at Microsoft's retail stores but also via big-box sellers such as Staples. As these printers creep into the consumer space, Microsoft's enthusiasm for the concept could pay dividends.

Microsoft also showed off a robot built from Lego's Mindstorms EV3 platform. Able to be controlled by a Windows 8 tablet, the robot was composed of the same small bricks most of us used as children, which offers an entirely new way to interact with Windows technology.

8. Installing the Windows 8.1 preview can be tricky.

Microsoft calls Windows 8.1 a "preview," but that's really just a euphemism for "beta." You can download Windows 8.1 right now, in other words, but the update's not finished yet, and to a certain extent, you'll be installing at your own peril. Some apps will work, others won't.

More to the point: Microsoft's FAQ makes clear this update is for tech-savvy users, not curious minds that simply want to take a test drive. The company warns that "uninstalling the preview isn't supported", but that "it may be possible to restore your entire system to its factory condition." If those words mean nothing to you, you probably want to wait for the final release.

If you install the preview on a system running Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7, you'll only be able to get rid of Windows 8.1 by reinstalling the original OS. Windows 8 devices make the process easier, but you'll still probably have to reinstall apps. And if any of the few Windows RT users decides to give the preview a whirl, they will be stuck permanently. WinRT won't allow the preview to be removed; it can only be upgraded to the final version, when it becomes available.

All of the above assumes that you use the Windows Store to install the update. It's also available as an ISO file, but that makes the removal process more complicated, particularly if you use a Windows 8 tablet. If you decide to give Win8.1 an early look, be sure to back up your files first.

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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?
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
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.
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...
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.
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.
speedo1456
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speedo1456,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/21/2014 | 6:55:42 PM
stepping over to win 8.1
I'm very cautious to make the step to that new operating system. Actually I did not even make the step to Windows 8.  Eventually no one escapes from that, but I think that is normal. I will make the step as soon as I buy my Nokia Windows phone that really impressed me.
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