What to Expect with Windows 8.1

Service Pack what?

As far as I know, the last Service Pack I got was for Windows 7 and that was in 2010. It was nothing revolutionary, merely a collection of fixes for the otherwise perfect OS. Since then, I had relied on Windows Updates to keep the OS up-to-date, and Service Packs became a thing of the past.

Enter Windows 8. It was very much a radical departure from the previous version and it was for this reason that not everyone were pleased with the end result. Microsoft’s first attempt to define a common UI for desktop and mobile environments is less than spectacular, in particular because it alienated a lot of desktop users.

Wondering what’s gonna happen to the OS, I got the answer around the beginning of June when news of a new Windows is released. Turns out it wasn’t a rewrite, but merely a restructuring of the OS, in order to get desktop users to get closer to the OS.

The preview was made available near the end of June, and unable to contain my excitement, I dived in and downloaded the update. Microsoft explained that it was a free update, pretty much like the service packs of yesteryears. The update is available as an ISO file, so it can be installed stand-alone.

* * *

win8.1fish

I did recall seeing a fish in the preview version of the original Win8, and well, it’s making a comeback in the loading screen.

The not-so-bad news with the new OS is that the Metro Start is here to stay, and with it comes new enhancements. A new tile size is available, making four sizes available: small, medium, wide and large, and the weather tile is shown by default in this size to show more beautiful Live Tiles. There’s a down arrow visible as well, used to go to “All Apps.” It’s cooler if you use touch, because you just have to swipe from the bottom to get there, taking its cue from the right-swipe in Windows Phone 8. The bottom context menu now now only have “Customize.” One of the improvements of this one is it now allows you to select multiple tiles for regrouping, and type a name for each program group.

start customize

Noticeably, there are two new apps from Bing: Food & Drink and Health & Fitness. Sadly, I don’t find them interesting.

food health

store_menuThe Store has also been redesigned to showcase popular apps right directly from Home and avoid scrolling all the way to the end for apps of certain type. The app info also combined all info on one page, and one particularly useful insertion is the section called “other apps by publisher.” How do you get to the section by application type? Through right-click, or in case of touch controls, the bottom context menu.

Wonder how the appearance changed. Wish granted.

 store

 appview

desktopBut probably the most awaited feature in the update is the new features in the Desktop. The Start Menu Button is back, but before you get excited, I will tell you the bad news that it just shows the Metro Start menu. But the good thing about the new version is that there were several options that removes some Windows 8 distractions when working in the desktop. This includes:

  • Booting directly into desktop instead of the Start screen when opening Windows.
  • Setting your desktop background also for the Start screen, giving the illusion of a popping Start menu.
    bg
  • Disabling the upper-right hot corner which is used for the Charms bar. The Charms bar will still appear, however, if you click the lower-right hot corner.
  • Disabling the upper-left hot corner which is used for switching Metro apps.

The “hidden” Start menu has a new entry: a shutdown menu. You can also toggle an option to replace the Command Prompt with PowerShell.

xmenu

dtpBut for all the worth of these settings, it still wouldn’t work if you can’t find out how to activate these settings. It actually took me hours to figure out the location of the settings, and it turns out they’re included in the taskbar setting. To activate them, right-click the taskbar then click “Properties.” On the window that appears, the settings are found in one place at the “Navigate” tab.

Other improvements in the preview includes multiple split Metro apps, which was unsupported previously in my rig because of lower screen resolution. Here’s one showing when using the WP8 sync tool.

split

Not everything worked good in the preview version, however. The Photos app lost SkyDrive, Facebook and Flickr integration. It’s also saddening to know the disappearance of two important stock apps. The first one is messaging, though it’s prolly for the good because of the upcoming integration of Skype with the OS. It’s more heart-rending for me to discover that the Bing Metro app was gone due to its integration with the OS as well. I’ve always liked the app and used it primarily for the factoids and the trending topics, and I can’t even take advantage of the Bing integration presumably due to region unavailability. And for some reason, the Flip Ahead function of IE11 was also missing.

Two of my essential apps doesn’t work with the preview as well: Sandboxie and Comodo Internet Security, though MyDigitalLife has already come up with a temporary fix for it.

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