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Windows 8.1 isn't just an OS, it's a lesson in course correction

Mark Hachman | July 3, 2013
Microsoft demonstrated a renewed willingness to listen to its customers, delivering a ton of new features. That's worth cheering for.

Within Windows 8.1, clicking the desktop's taskbar, selecting Properties, and then choosing the Navigation tab opens an equally useful list of options: boot to desktop, default to Apps view in the Start screen, and list desktop apps first in the Apps view. These are all options that make Windows 8.1 your operating system, as opposed to a system that strictly conforms to Microsoft's design.

If Microsoft made any mistake here, it's that these new "power" features are what the average user wants, too. Microsoft missed an opportunity for a home run by not highlighting these options elsewhere, such as in the PC Settings menu. And, yes, burying them in their current menu can be seen as a bit passive-aggressive. Nevertheless, Microsoft's decision to do so allows sites like PCWorld to include them in a list of Windows 8.1's "hidden features."

Redefining a weakness as a strength
I have never liked how much space is wasted in Windows 8 modern apps. And I have always thought that the original "snap" feature in Windows 8 is poorly implemented. But now Microsoft scores points by allowing us to snap multiple Internet Explorer windows, side by side, all in the modern Windows 8.1 interface, as shown below.

While I suspect many users have been trained to Alt-Tab from one application to the next, quickly breaking context to move between programs, the ability to snap four apps next to one another should prove useful. I'm a committed desktop user, and I still believe that multitasking among various apps allows me to be most productive. Still, I can see that snapping a Twitter app next to Internet Explorer next to a future Major League Baseball app might be a fun way to watch the game.


JARED NEWMAN. Snapping screens maximizes useful desktop space, quickly and easily

App momentum
While it's fair to say that many Windows 8 apps still fall squarely in the junk category, Microsoft is nearing the 100,000-app mark, and more developers appear to be jumping back onto the Windows 8 bandwagon. Even Facebook and Twitter have climbed aboard, just in time for an announcement at Build 2013.

Microsoft has also committed itself to its own app development, basically rewriting most of its first-party apps within Windows 8.1. The company has added apps such as Reading List, which basically acts as Instapaper for Windows 8 and lets you send articles to yourself for later viewing, sans ads.

I'm also unreasonably excited about the upcoming Mail refresh, which segments social-networking updates and newsletters into their own folders. (Gmail does the same thing via tabs, but the capability is easy to forget about; click the Settings tab and select Configure inbox to do it within Gmail.) Jared Newman, one of PCWorld's contributors, notes that what Windows 8.1 really does is underscore just how dysfunctional various apps were in Windows 8.

 

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