Windows 8.1 follows Windows 8 in typical Microsoft "version 2.0" fashion, changing a bit of eye candy and dangling several worthwhile improvements — but hardly solving the underlying problem. Touch-loving tablet users are still saddled with a touch-hostile Windows desktop, while point-and-clickers who live and breathe the Windows desktop still can't make Metro go away.
Windows 8.1 also installs the worst privacy-busting feature Windows has ever seen, and it nukes several key Windows 7 features in its headlong pursuit of SkyDrive profits. The best improvements for desktop users dismantle Windows 8's pushy ways — a fact that speaks volumes. The best improvements for developers sweep away some infantile restrictions. And the only reasonable way to use the old-fashioned desktop still requires a third-party Start menu utility.
This review covers Windows 8.1 as we see it right now — with the official bits available, as of yesterday, on TechNet and MSDN. You can bet your bottom dollar that the Microsoft devs are working overtime to zap a few outstanding bugs (I've hit a few) and to spiff up the still-laggardly Metro apps. What will happen between now and General Availability on Oct. 18 is anybody's guess, but it's likely that several of the Microsoft-written Metro apps will sprout much-needed features. We'll review the new Microsoft-originated Metro apps as they become available.
Think of Windows 8.1 as a few steps forward and a few steps back. In the forward direction we have a little more flexibility in Metro with live tiles, more "discoverability" for inscrutable settings and actions, and a Metro Photos app that largely eliminates the need for a free photo editing package. Yowza. On the old-fashioned desktop, we have the ersatz Start button that merely dumps you back into Metro, the ability to boot to the desktop, and a way to disable all the infuriating and intrusive hot corners inherited from Metro.
Experienced Windows users who like to run on the Metro side — all 10 of you — will also appreciate the migration of settings and options from the legacy Control Panel over to the full-screen Metro PC Settings window. Alas, that migration is not yet complete.
Test Center Scorecard