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Scott's Column
Windows 8.1 (Almost Fixed)

August 1, 2013
By Scott Lewis

Eight months ago I wrote about Windows 8 and how it was broken. That was when Windows 8 first came out. This fall we are expected to get Windows 8.1 and it is supposed to fix some of the biggest issues with Win 8. Let's see what some of those big changes are... and compare them to what I found to be broken last time.

Return of the Desktop

Some articles have misinformation that Win 8.1 has brought back the Start button. Not exactly. You do have a "logo" in the lower left hand corner of the screen, but that logo has two functions. 1) It takes you to the tile environment (Metro???), or 2) It brings up a menu. This menu is indeed similar to the start menu of old, but not exactly. Mainly, this is just a menu. It does not have the search bar in it, nor a nice expandable list of all your installed apps. It is a typical right-click context sensitive menu. But at least this is a start (no pun intended) to getting back to a usable desktop interface for those with computers on their desks with a mouse and keyboard.

What is truly improved in Win 8.1 for the desktop is the ability to tell Windows to startup in this desktop mode. Previously you had to let Windows startup in the tile interface, even if you were running a computer without a touch interface. In my previous article I said that it would be easy to have Windows know if there was a touch interface available, and default to the appropriate one based on that information, plus give the user the option of which interface to start in... in case the default was unacceptable. Microsoft half listened. They do allow you to choose, but they were lazy and not defaulting based on the hardware.

Multiple Tiles

In Win 8.1 you can run multiple tile apps at once. They are run in "slices." One slice can be the traditional desktop. This is a little bit of an improvement, but far short of my suggestion that tile apps be able to run on the desktop side... in fixed sized "windows" if you will. Again, Microsoft only took half of my idea, by allowing more apps to run. Also, this is resolution dependent, so the higher resolution your monitor, the more slices you can run. And the slices are resizable, which probably wouldn't be necessary if they had just allowed overlapping tiles on the traditional desktop as I suggested.

Conclusion

Microsoft has made some other tweaks here and there, but the biggest are the configurable Metro/Desktop interface changes and the multiple "slices" of apps. Both half-hearted fixes to the things that I reported as broken when Windows 8 first came out.

Hopefully this will give Windows a shot in the arm to help PC sales (laptop & desktop, as well as hybrid tablets). I also hope to see Microsoft put the latest "Haswell" chips in its Surface Pro to get better performance and a huge leap in battery life. Then all they need to do it get a 256 GB version of Surface Pro WITH the keyboard cover to be under $1,000 and I will open my wallet to buy one.

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