Windows 8.1 review and thoughts

by Peter Marus

I updated my PC to 8.1, and to be honest it has surprised me. Im surprised how much Microsoft has at least tried to fix the major issues Windows 8 had, though their new philosophy has still made Windows 8 a little annoying.

Obviously, the biggest change is the addition of a Start button. Mind you it isn't a start menu, but a button to bring up the new menu introduced in Windows 8 and Windows Phone OS. By default, the computer boots up into the new, tiled menu that 8 did, but another new addition is the option to boot directly to the desktop. You can make the background of the menu match the desktop so it looks like you are opening it over the desktop, not leaving it as the original menu did. Best way to think of the new menu is the old one but sideways.

One of the pholosophies Microsoft seems to be pushing is that the PC and mobile devices should run the same UI, and they chose the tiles to represent that. What this also leads to is fullscreen apps on a computer monitor. Sure, this works on a smaller, mobile screen, but if you are sitting at a desktop (and for the most part a laptop), this doesn't seem to be productive. On larger screens you have space to have multiple apps/windows/programs open in order to work on multiple things at once, or simply move files around easily. Again, on moble, the idea of a file system accessable to the user is not looked at as useful.

This leads me to another philisophical issue I have with the new Windows setup. A lot of the customization options are still there, but more hidden. Apple has been doing this more and more with their updates to OSX as well. For most people, this is probably a smart idea. For people who know what they are doing or just used to the old way Windows worked, it can be a little annoying. There still is a control panel to access a lot of things that can and need to be adjusted on occasion, but there is also a "PC settings" option on the right side "charm window" (on the sides you can slide out windows with quick options or app switching, depending on what side you do this). "PC settings" is a "dumbed down" control panel, where some of the options are useful but limited. I get the idea, but I wish it could be turned off or at least better unified with the original Control Panel.

I stay in the desktop majority of the time. I'm familiar with it, but I am trying the "newer" way of using windows. I was never a user of the search inside an OS, but I use it a lot with Windows 8, it's easier to find programs or folders, and there are actions/options in the search that make it a little faster to perform what I want. The tile idea is great for a touch system, and to an extent a traditional mouse setup. I still wish the interface for a desktop or laptop without a touchscreen would be more friendly to it, rather than be a compromise of both moble and desktop.

The native apps are okay at best. They are full screen, and really don't add a lot. Again, I use desktop apps more so I can multitask better. The fullscreen apps hava a multitask mechanism-left side window charm-that is like iOS and Android where its a list of open apps you can switch to or close. It works, but more for mobile setups than traditional setups.

I dont hate Windows 8 as much as I did when I first saw it, its either grown on me or I adapted to it, but the unification of moble and desktop doesn't work well. My theory about this trend of Microsoft and Apple is that since most software is going web or cloud based, the OS isnt needed to do as much "heavy lifting" as it used to. That means a desktop, laptop, phone, and tablet could in theory do the same work if the processing is done on a server elsewhere. I don't like this approach since you are relying on an outside computer and an internet connection to both be up all the time. One needs local access and backup for the simple security of not losing your files.

Maybe the trends will shift and the next couple updates will move back to local necessity over dependency on a server far, far, away. It would be nice.