Home Your IT Home IT Windows 8.1 – first looks
Windows 8.1 – first looks Featured

The internet in Sydney was very slow this morning (18 October) – whether that is due to global Windows 8.1 downloads is not yet known.

What is known is that the total download was 2.6GB and update process took nearly three hours on a recent i7 (3rd generation), 4GB RAM, 32-bit Windows Pro, HP EliteBook - that seems a bit steep.

Once done the system rebooted and looked very similar to Windows 8 – as it should. Office 365, Skype, Outlook, and other programs all seemed unaffected. This PC suffered no ill effects and feels slightly faster to boot and load programs.

The only issue was that the free LastPass password manager was disabled – incompatible with 8.1’s Enhanced Protection Mode. A quick search revealed a workaround until LastPass issues an update.

I was anxiously anticipating the return of the start button. Yes, there is a Windows icon in the task bar and it swaps between the traditional desktop and the Metro interface. No,  it does not bring up all your programs - it is not what I hoped for.

Right click on the Windows button and you get a listing of common system shortcuts and some control panel items – better than a kick in the face I suppose.

When will Microsoft learn? NON-TOUCH, DESKTOP USERS ABHOR THE METRO INTERFACE. DAMN YOU TO HELL MICROSOFT!

Metro is great for touch on tablets where opening multiple screens and programs is not a necessity. Thankfully, the free Classic Shell gives all the functionality I need – hold on while I install it now … Windows Start Button gone in sixty seconds - do not forget to change its Settings to Replace Start Button and Skip Metro Screen – and you can chose Windows 7 or XP look and feel too. That is better – I can work again.

TOUCH USERS LOVE METRO – THANK YOU MICROSOFT

I will delay a review of Metro and any new touch features until I upgrade a tablet and have time to play.

Looking around the control panel, I noticed that the Windows Experience Index is missing from the System tab. No big deal – I can install other benchmark software but it was handy having a built in baseline indicator on every Windows device I test.

Bing is now firmly ensconced in IE11 as the default if you search from its Address Bar – it also searches your PC, mail, local files and SkyDrive. That is OK too and you can change to other search providers.

SkyDrive is now the default location to save Photos, System Settings and more – when installing 8.1 make sure you turn this option off if you want to use local storage and not use data every time you save something. Again, this is OK but it is aimed at mobile, not desktop users.

I was looking for a ‘Notification screen’ on the lock screen similar to Windows Phone but have not found one - would have been nice.

Internet Explorer 11 looks similar to 10 – but it is perceptibly faster. You can now open 100 tabs (was 10), and it pre-loads adjacent pages as well so if using touch you can swipe forward or back.

Opinion

Wise in hindsight – 8.1 is more what Windows 8 should have been.

It is not perfect in the way people liked Windows XP or even 7 - but if you want to use Windows on a non-touch PC/notebook/tablet it is all you have - it now does a more creditable job than 8.

Its strengths remain its desktop mode – support for legacy x86 programs, multi-monitors, and keyboard/mouse for power users. It will continue to gain momentum in PC gaming as well.

Its weaknesses are few, especially for touch users – scalability, portability, and compatibility – the latter being a key feature in accessing printers and USB peripherals that you simply cannot easily do on iOS or Android. And it runs Office.

This is the beginning of the next major generational change – say over 5 years. Whether we like it or not touch is the future interface.

From here on in Windows will subtly change via updates and patches – you probably will not buy another version for the life of your current PC – I suspect we will see a subscription model like Office 365 for Windows sooner rather than later.

If you have Windows 8 I recommend you proceed with the update but do not rush it – find time to spend a few hours in front of the device.

If you have Windows 7 there are no compelling reasons to upgrade unless you have a touch based device – you will also have to purchase the full product but you can do an update instead of a clean install.

If you have XP – buy a new device – seriously easier path to doing a clean install. I would look at the new Toshiba Encore 8” tablet for under $400 – or similar Atom Bay Trail or Haswell Core devices from Asus, Dell, HP etc., – these are powerful Windows computers in a convenient tablet format. See iTWire review here.

Late News: If you do not see Windows 8.1 update at the Windows Store it may be due to your device being on an Enterprise or volume licence – requiring a system administrator to do the update.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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