Windows 8.1, finally worth the upgrade!

Windows 8 up to this point has proven to be a controversial albeit undeniably innovative upgrade to the Windows legacy. Despite the numerous improvements, power savings, and upgrades, the user experience on a non-touch enabled device was lacking in many ways. All of this changes in Windows 8.1, currently in Preview, with a few laser focused feature changes that make this OS absolutely worth the upgrade on a PC.


First up, the triumphant return of the start button! There were other ways to mitigate this with 3rd-party add-ons the likes of Classic Shell, I used myself, which can still be used if you desire a purely Win7-esque start menu. With the improvements Win8.1 provides plus a few quick tweaks, I no longer find this necessary.

The start button does indeed simply open the start screen which is now incredibly more useful. One of my personal deal breaker complaints about Windows 8 originally was the crippled Start search that broke results into 3 categories that had to be clicked on individually before revealing what you’re looking for. This was a huge step backward from the fully integrated search of Windows 7. This is what it looked like originally:


In Win8.1, integrated search is back, with auto fill, and now the start screen is finally usable to search the PC.

You can optionally reduce the search scope from everywhere to settings or files individually.

Alternatively, you can now use the charms search utility either by using the mouse to reveal the charms or using the Windows Key + Q combination. Previously this just dumped you into the default Start search screen. This option now avoids the start screen completely.


The right-click menu of the Start button is also improved in 8.1 and is much more useful now. The ability to log off is still conspicuously missing but a few useful additional options are now available.

Win8:   Win8.1: 

If your goal is to stay on the desktop side of things, that can now be easily accomplished as well. From the Taskbar properties dialog, you will find a new tab called Navigation. Here there are options to boot Windows directly to the desktop and make the Start screen more desktop oriented.

By selecting the option to change the Start screen to the Apps view then arranging by category, all of the desktop apps will appear first. The Metro apps will appear last with the live tiles disabled. This goes a long way to change this decidedly mobile touch-friendly OS into a more PC friendly experience.


SkyDrive is now fully (and optionally) integrated into the OS which can be used to sync files, settings, apps, photos etc, between PCs or restored to a single PC should it need to be reset or refreshed.

Originally Skydrive gave users 25GB of free space which was trimmed to 7GB. A year ago there was a small window to preserve the 25GB if you acted, sadly, I did not, and did not know about the limit change. Additional storage can be purchased of course.

Skydrive is also now fully integrated into Windows Explorer creating a very comparable experience to Dropbox but with a much higher overall value.

There are a number of additional interesting and new features centered around mobility and security with an available kiosk mode that locks a standard user to a single app. There is a enough that has changed in 8.1 now that I am completely satisfied with this OS to succeed Windows 7 on my primary PC. All of my initial complaints have been addressed or mitigated. We’ll see what else comes in the finished version but the Preview release has me extremely optimistic. If you’re already running Win8, I highly encourage you to take the free upgrade and check out 8.1!

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