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Windows 8.1: New version, same mess

Woody Leonhard | Sept. 11, 2013
If you're stuck with Windows 8, the Windows 8.1 upgrade is a no-brainer, but the fundamental flaws remain.

Metro Snap no longer confines the snapped pane to a fixed 320-pixel stripe. You can now adjust the width of each snapped pane individually, although the panes tend to disappear when they get too narrow. Instead of limiting the number of panes to two, you can fit as many panes on the display as you like, with the maximum number of panes calculated by dividing the horizontal resolution of the screen by 500. Thus, a 1,920-pixel-wide screen can hold three panes. Metro Snap still doesn't have the overlapping/stacking window capability we've known since, oh, Windows 2.0.

The Metro PC Settings app has bulked up considerably. For example, you can actually add a new user to your PC while staying on the Metro side. But Metro PC Settings still lacks the ability to make the new user an administrator.

The Charms bar has the same old Charms, with a few new tricks. For example, the Devices charm now includes options to Play, Print, and Project (on a projector). Unfortunately, if you click on the Play icon, you invariably get the notice that you can only Play from apps. And when you're in a Metro app that should be able to Play, you may find that the app isn't smart enough to connect to the Charm and will use its own Play button. The Charms themselves do almost nothing on the old-fashioned desktop. For example, choosing Devices > Print while in legacy Word doesn't do a thing.

Improvements to the desktop
I still get ill every time I read reviews about the Windows 8.1 ersatz Start button. "It's back where it belongs on the left side of the taskbar!" Well, yes, there's a Start button on the left side of the taskbar, but it doesn't do anything other than swing you back to the Metro Start screen— just as you can click in the lower-left corner of the current Windows 8 desktop and get rocketed back to the future. The only difference is the icon.

That said, there are some improvements on the desktop side of the fence — and they have more to do with getting Metro to back off than any long-sought old-fashioned features. All the significant improvements to the desktop appear in a solitary dialog box.

Windows 8.1 review: New version, same mess

Figure 3. The only Windows 8.1 improvements to the desktop appear in this hard-to-find screen.

To bring up the Taskbar and Navigation Properties dialog box, right-click an empty spot on the desktop Taskbar (or tap and hold), choose Properties, then click or tap the Navigation tab. Here's what the settings actually do:

 

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