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Windows 8.1 'Blue' preview: It beats Windows 8

Woody Leonhard | June 28, 2013
Microsoft's Windows 8.1 Preview does much to improve Metro, but little to make Windows 8 more attractive to either new or longtime Windows users

Metro Snap now snaps. In Windows 8, the Metro Snap feature lets you view two Metro apps running at once by dragging one of them to the side of the screen. However, this view was restricted to very precise dimensions: The snapped app occupied one-third of the screen, and the other app took up the rest of the screen, end of story. With Win8.1, the relative size of each snapped app can be adjusted, within limits, by dragging the vertical bar. In some cases you can have more than two apps side by side (see Figure 4); the number of visible apps is limited by the number of 500-pixel strips that will fit on the screen. Note that there's still no communication between the thin strips. For example, you can't select text in the Metro News app and drag it to a program running on the Desktop. Metro Snap on multiple monitors behaves bizarrely in the Preview.

Windows 8.1 'Blue' preview: It beats Windows 8
Figure 4. Metro Snap in Windows 8.1 lets you view more than two apps. You can also adjust the window sizes.

Smarter lock screen. The new lock screen can play a slideshow, either from the local hard drive or from SkyDrive. You can use the camera or answer a Skype call when its notification appears on the lock screen, without unlocking the computer. I'm not sure if that's a good idea or not.

Greatly increased number of PC Settings. Win8 had a paltry subset of Control Panel settings accessible on the Metro side. Win8.1 brings many -- but far from most -- Control Panel settings to the Metro side. For example, the screen resolution can be fully controlled from the Metro side of Win8.1 (see Figure 5).

Windows 8.1 'Blue' preview: It beats Windows 8
Figure 5. Windows 8.1 brings more settings, including screen resolution, to the PC Settings app.

Better SkyDrive integration. Along with backup to the cloud, Win8.1 adds an automatic photo/video backup option that puts photos from your Bluetooth-connected phone or camera in SkyDrive. Also new is an option that lets you save files to SkyDrive by default.

Arguably more versatile Charms. The Devices charm, which did exactly nothing in Win8, now has options for Play (that is, play music or a video), Print, and Project (on a projector). Unfortunately, the behavior of the new Charms leaves much to be desired. For example, if you use File Explorer to navigate to an MP3 file, then choose Devices/Play, you're admonished that "You can only play from apps." Similarly, Devices/Print won't print a Word document or PDF file. The Share charm, which did nothing when invoked from the Metro Start screen in Win8, now lets you take a screenshot of the entire screen and send it in an email. There doesn't appear to be any way to save the screenshot, aside from emailing it to yourself.

 

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