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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.

Turn off the annoying behavior where, if you hover in the upper-right corner of the screen (you know, where the "X" icon is on any full screen window), Windows 8 decides you want to see the Charms. Pro tip: Use Win-C if you absolutely must see the Charms.

Turn off the annoying behavior where, if you hover in the upper-right corner of the screen (say, near Word's File menu), you suddenly see currently running programs. Pro tip: Use Alt-Tab, the "Coolswitch" that's worked for more than a decade.

For PowerShell junkies only; see the next section.

Boot to desktop.

Some people find it less jarring to put the desktop wallpaper on the Metro Start screen. I prefer to leave them different. (Details in a forthcoming article on adapting Windows 8.1.)

Multimonitor folks only. Debatable.

Apps View (see Figure 2) isn't anything at all like the Windows Start menu, but it's the closest substitute available. I let Windows 8.1 search everywhere and have it show the desktop apps first.

Improvements overall
The Win-X menu — the one that appears when you right-click on the new Start button, either on the desktop or on the Metro Start screen — now has the ability to log off, shut down, or restart the machine. I have no idea why Microsoft makes you choose between the Windows PowerShell and the Command Prompt entries on the Win-X menu (see Figure 3). I guess the programmers ran out of time. They only had a year.

Searching through the Search Charm used to be completely unpredictable. Some Metro apps supported it, all desktop apps ignored it, and when you ran a search through the Search charm, you had no idea what you'd get back. In Windows 8.1, most apps now have their own Search functions.

Skype is now baked in to Windows 8.1, replacing the tired, old Messenger app that's been hanging around Windows like a sick dog since the supremacy of MSN last century. While the Metro Skype app doesn't have anywhere near the functionality of Internet-based Skype, it isn't bad. It's one of the few Metro apps I use from time to time.

If you sign on to Windows with a Microsoft account, SkyDrive comes along for the ride. In many situations, as long as your needs are simple, SkyDrive is a reasonable alternative to Dropbox, Box, Mega, Mozy, Google Drive, Amazon Cloud, SpiderOak, SugarSync, and a dozen others — all of which have good and bad points. What I don't like is the way SkyDrive now locks into your system.

The bad news
Two months ago, I complained long and hard about a new Windows 8.1 "feature" called Smart Search. Microsoft didn't listen to me. This RTM version of Windows 8.1 continues to turn on Smart Search by default. Microsoft uses Smart Search as an excuse to track your local searches — searches you make on your computer or your network — and gathers your local search terms to sell you things. It's the ultimate desktop Scroogle.


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