Windows 8.1 Preview highlights

Windows has changed from a graphic user interface based, X86, operating system overlaid on DOS (i.e. using a mouse) to an ecosystem - one that must become second nature or you may not survive the modern world.

What it is not

It is no longer about:

  • An operating system – it is about how it helps you navigate through the world.
  • Having to right click or use Word to produce a document – it about learning, anticipating your needs, providing the right tools and being intuitive (it, not you).
  • Beige boxes that sit under the desk - it is about the same experience on every device from your phone to the TV.
  • Sitting at a computer – it is about computing devices being integrated into your daily life making their use in almost every work, home or play situation simply natural. So much so, you could not live without it.

So what is it about?

Windows is now an ecosystem that you embrace fully or go to Apple’s ecosystem and live within an iOS/OS X world, or perhaps head off to Google’s ecosystem and presently compromise with Android and Chrome. While there may be some interoperability, there will be a very definite divide between what each can do.

Ecosystem means that you live in it as part of it – like breathing air. Windows 8.x is by far the most comprehensive, all encompassing, and life changing experience, if you let it.

For the paranoid, the ecosystem tsunami is here. For most, it is inescapable and with it comes the collateral damage issues like privacy, freedom of choice and becoming subjugated to the machine a.k.a. Orwell’s 1984.

No intent to be flippant – either accept the fact that you will have to give up certain freedoms in order to use the ecosystem of your choice and trust that you will not be exploited or become a tin hat and consider the Amish lifestyle. The Digital divide will soon be an abyss and the world will delineate between those who embrace technology and those that do not.

Things have changed – most of us have not.

Once you read a book - now you e-read.

Once you wrote letters to friends. Later you emailed or SMS’ed -now you interact via social media.

Once you took photos and after they were developed and printed put them in an album - now you instantly share to the web.

Once you bought a record, later you ripped it to CD - now you have access to almost every title and artist in the world.

Once you watched free to air TV – now you decide on what content you want and view it on your phone, tablet, desktop or big screen when you want to.

Gen Y, those masters of instant gratification “I want it now” are responsible for this new compressed lifestyle.

So please – we must stop thinking of operating systems and start thinking of a computer as our invaluable life’s helper.

Windows 8.1

Windows 8 was an epoch making change that was ahead of its time. It introduced Touch and acted as the catalyst for a new range of computing devices. While I give Apple all the credit for popularising Tablets and smartphones Microsoft has gone way, way beyond by offering the same experience on all devices from a smartphone to a TV.

Any analysis of Windows 8.x is about what it can do for you and that is a huge task. You can read the full 51-page preview product guide here if you wish.


The most pervasive application is Search. No need to remember where you put a file, photo, music, or whatever anymore – Bing does it for you.

Bing will search local hard disks, cloud drives, internet and more – and if you let it, will machine learn your wants, needs, desires and anticipate your every move with the devotion of a mother.

To do this it needs to know your age, gender, location, occupation, what you like (gained from searches and email analysis), awareness of current trends, what your friends like (social media), what TV shows you like, sports preferences, sexual preferences and terabytes of information it casually gleans while listening to your conversations. OK a little bit of an exaggeration but you get the point.

Bing is no worse than Siri or Google Now. In return it will serve you well and for the most part try to objectively balance advertising supported results with real results.

From Windows 8.1 onwards Bing will gradually become part of every app (as will Siri and Google in other ecosystems).

On the positive side Bing maps, translation, images, and experiences gathered from millions, no billions of users are at your disposal.


Apps are simply programs designed for Windows 8.x. That means they are: totally touch enabled; work on any sized screen; not limited by processor power; have a live tile interface; and use data and interact with the cloud.

Apps can now access all of Bing’s functionality. That means for example, a GPS navigation app can search for spoken business or address, show you images or web sites, direct you to it, translate if the waiter does not understand, allow you to order on line, pay with NFC or credit card, and help the business become part of your extended family.

Legacy programs (now called Desktop programs) built the Windows ecosphere V1.0. Gradually apps will replace these millions of desktop programs.

Apps have one benefit in that Microsoft checks their pedigree and controls the distribution and updating to reduce malware issues.


SkyDrive will become the default storage location because all Windows devices and apps will support it.

Read a document on your phone on the way to work. Edit it on an all-in-one at the office, collaborate with colleagues, proof and send from the phone on the way home, and check for a response on the tablet before bed. That is the always-connected world.

In order to do that local storage must move to the cloud.

SkyDrive is similar to iCloud and Google Cloud.


A key part of Windows and perhaps one of the more compelling reasons is the integration of Skype into every aspect. Skype will be the communications hub that ensures you get the message, SMS, voice, data or whatever, wherever. Skype will take over as your contact manager.

To do this Windows needs to know where you are and that is why you have to log in to a Windows device.


Photos, videos, your three year olds masterpiece, mud maps and more are all part of the Windows ecosystem. Every image can be shared, edited, emailed, or published.


Internet Explorer 11 is a new way to browse, especially when powered by Bing. It will meld information from various sources into live, dynamically created pages all integrated and logically presented. Search is not all about buying something. Bing/IE curates information to present it in different categories so when you search for say Nokia 920 it brings up reviews first, then if you are interested ways to buy and so one.

You will probably never want to see a straight listing of URLs presented like the old search engines did.

With Bing, you will be able to set alerts or do broad searches on things like “Find me a holiday that suits my tastes.”


Office 365 – Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Publisher and Outlook will all meld eventually into a single ‘work processor’ that anticipates and offers the tools you need to create content. With more and more communication becoming visual, it may suggest that this article be a pod cast with graphics and voice over instead and open up an app that captures what I say instead of what I type.

Whatever Office becomes, it will be able to produce a document, send/receive email, schedule appointments, do complex numerical things and so much more. It it will work on a phone to a TV providing enterprise grade security (but do not let those Androids in).


Never having used a PC for play, I am really the wrong person to review this. Play is about movies, TV, games, quizzes, and everything recreational.

Window 8.x is tightly integrated with Xbox (do not think of this as a real Xbox but the whole games, TV, music experience you can get from it). It is designed to serve you content wherever, whatever.

It is designed to find the content you want and serve you a constant stream of new options.


With Windows 8.x the fragmentation between different devices blurs. A tablet of some sort will be in every student’s life. It will be either iOS or Windows – I suspect that Microsoft is well advanced in making Windows indispensable to this market.


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw  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!