In the backward direction, we have lamentable changes related to Smart Search, Libraries, and SkyDrive. Smart Search is plenty smart for Microsoft and its advertising ambitions, but for Windows customers, it's the worst privacy intrusion in the history of Windows. Libraries, introduced in Windows 7 and extended in Windows 8, have been decapitated — although several Microsoft apps use them. I guess somebody on the Metro apps team didn't get the memo. And SkyDrive? Baking SkyDrive into Windows is long overdue, but the intrusive way it's implemented by default makes SkyDrive work more like a straitjacket and less like an option.
Improvements to Metro
Figure 1: Windows 8.1 adds new live tile sizes and a down-arrow to the All Apps list.
Microsoft added a few don't-shoot-yourself-in-the-foot improvements to the Metro Start screen, primarily imposing a Customize mode that keeps you from dragging or deleting a tile unless you really want to. Tiles now come in four sizes: The two sizes in Windows 8, regular square and double-wide, are now augmented by a tiny quarter-size and a big four-times size. Not all tiles can appear in all sizes.
Figure 2: The All Apps list, loosely organized like the Windows 7 Start Menu, remains stalwartly and sprawlingly two-dimensional.
Hover your mouse in the lower-left corner, or tap, and you see a down arrow that leads to the All Apps list. The All Apps list is an unwieldy collection of "dead" tiles, organized in a way that mimics the way Windows 7 puts programs in the Start menu. If you install a legacy Windows 7 desktop program in Windows 8.1, this is where its tile appears. The All Apps collection is strictly two-dimensional — there are no cascading groups — so the tiles keep going and going.
Microsoft ships some new colors and wallpaper for use on the Metro Start screen, as well as the ability to run a slideshow on your Lock screen (based on pictures in a local folder of your choosing, or on SkyDrive). Note that the wallpaper customization happens on the Metro Start screen's Settings > Personalize menu, while Start screen customization sits in the Settings > Metro PC Settings > PC and Settings > Lock screen section — no idea why.
With the right setting in Metro PC Settings, you can also get to the computer's camera from the Lock screen without any intervening steps.
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