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Windows 8.1 deep-dive review: Well, it's a start

Preston Gralla | July 3, 2013
The preview of Windows 8.1 brings more cohesion, less frustration and a direct login to the desktop. But is it enough to save the OS?

If you're a dedicated tweaker like I am, you'll still need to head to the Control Panel to change things such as whether to show hidden files in File Explorer. But otherwise, you may be able to make most or all of your changes from the new Settings screen.

Other changes
There have been plenty of other changes. SkyDrive, Microsoft's cloudstorage service, is now more deeply ingrained into Windows. You can set it up so that by default all your files are saved to SkyDrive. You can also configure it to have all the photos you take with your mobile device automatically saved to SkyDrive.

The Windows Store has also been given a revamp, with a more pleasing graphical look and features that make it easier to browse and find apps. For example, when you've viewing an app and you scroll or swipe over to the right, you'll see a list of related apps, a feature that is old hat by now in other places, but is now finally making its way to the Windows Store.

Also, if you drag or swipe from the top of the screen you'll see a listing of all the categories in the store. Again, pretty much every other app store already has this, so the feature isn't new. More than anything, when it comes to the Windows Store, Microsoft is playing catch-up.

There is also more comprehensive support for portrait mode, such as in the News app. Unfortunately, not all apps are capable of portrait mode yet. Why should you care about this? Today, you likely don't. But a generation of Windows 8 and Windows RT mini tablets is on the way, and portrait mode is well suited for those devices.

File Explorer (called Windows Explorer in previous Windows versions) has been given some minor tweaks as well. The Computer view is now called This PC. And if you're looking for your file libraries, you won't find them. Instead, you'll see folders for Documents, Music, Pictures and so on, as well as a SkyDrive folder. This is just the latest iteration of Microsoft's long, winding, and confusing road of default organization for your files, which seems to change every several years.

The bottom line
Some reviewers tell you that this version of Windows 8 is the one that Microsoft should have shipped in the first place. They're only partially right.

It's true that the new features — such as the ability to log in straight to the desktop and easier access to desktop apps — should have been baked into Windows 8 right from the beginning. And overall, the new features have improved Windows 8.1 considerably, especially for die-hard desktop users and those who don't have touch screens.

 

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