my take on Windows 8.1 Pro – Review

Took me around three hours, but I finally updated to Windows 8.1. The following few hours were about knowing what has changed in this widely used operating system. Initial thought – nothing so interesting but definitely in the right direction.

Fruit for nine years

I was an avid OS X fan for a long time. Until June of last year I loved my MacBook. It had all kinds of small tools and tweaks that made my desktop/laptop experience easier. Most of my digital time involves reading internet articles, some email work, and image and video manipulation. These days I use APTANA experience with Notepad++ and Firefox. I don’t have a fix browser preferences, but I loved reading list function of Safari until last year, but now Chrome/Firefox are suffice. I do not use web browser based email and usually prefer an offline experience. Mail app in OS X was great for me, but since Windows 8, I use the default Mail for Windows.

On the social front I am more tuned with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Twitter being the least of my favorite, because I have yet to find a decent app that can handle tweets for me. I use Picasa for basic Image manipulation and sorting, and Adobe 5.5 for anything bigger. Together it lets me forget iPhoto from Apple world. I have tried using Windows Media Player and Music app from Windows 8.1, but can’t leave iTunes. What I desperately need is a free video making software, like the iMovie for OS X. I however, increasingly am using Calendar and People Applications in Windows 8 these days.

I have a heavy cloud presence, with most of my documents scattered in Box, Dropbox, Drive and SkyDrive. For documents, presentation and spreadsheet – I use LibreOffice 4.1 and KingSoft office suite. Each have definite purpose. So with these basic use, I went on to test the new OS.

Windows 8.1 - Start Screen

Installation

I do not have any pictures to share during of install process. Early morning, my Windows 8.0 Store suggested that I get the free upgrade, so I pushed the button without any preparation. It took about an hour to download and then two more hours to install, during which time, it rebooted twice. When I was done, there was a File Folder name [Windows.old] occupying around 3 GB worth space. My genuine Windows 8.0 product key worked, and so did the Media Player Codec and Media Center Additional pack keys.

What’s new – Interface

  • With the new Tile/Metro Interface tweaks, I can finally put the Classic Windows Program in Small Tiles and not make it look stupid with wide boarders. I finally put Chrome and Firefox shortcuts without making it look weird.
  • There is finally an option to share desktop background. I love it.
  • There is also a Windows Start Button – not a big fan of it. It was quite easy to get into the new start menu viz. – press a windows button in the keyboard.

My Classic Desktop - on Windows 8.1

  • Personally I do not like the two line approach when the taskbar buttons are large. When I do make them small, there is no one line solution to date and clock, even in Windows 8.1.

Taskbar buttons

  • Lock Screen now has screen saver like function. I can assign a folder and in turn pictures within it is shown – single or in collage. Something good, but it should have been there in 8.0 not in 8.1. I am unable to take a screen shot of the lock screen, which I think is something Microsoft should make it available for 8.2 (or whatever next).
  • The “My Computer” windows now has a very useful shortcuts added to it. The Folders. But I very much wish it were Smart Folders (or Libraries) instead of plain folders representation. I have assorted drive as folders, a habit I developed from the virus prone days of Windows XP. It was easy to format and reformat this way, with no need to back up constantly. Lastly, the moniker “My Computer” is now changed to “This PC”. Fresh Ideas?

My Computer

  • Snap Views now lets me fix the size of the applications. Sadly, my screen size is limited to only two applications opening at a time, but now I can open it up in 50% real state for both applications.

Applications – New

There are few applications that come with the new coat. All of them are in the new Tile/Metro Interface and few looks promising.

  1. ALARMS – This is the Alarm, Timer and Stopwatch Application without any advertisements. I had used another Timer app for USMLE step 2 CS examinations preparations – with a 15 minute time limit. This looks better.
  2. CALCULATOR – It is touch friendly and has the Standard as well as Scientific Calculator along with Converter. Life saving application, and there is a lot of simple arithmetic calculation I need these days – mainly for groceries and cooking. Well the new and learning chef needs to be precise. Sadly, there is no currency converter and I still have to rely on third party apps with advertisement.
  3. SCAN, READING LIST, MOVIE MOMENTS, LIFECAM DASHBOARD – Few applications that do not require my attention right now, but in time, I definitely think they might be handy.
  4. BING APPLICATIONS – FOOD & DRINKS  and HEALTH & FITNESS. Don’t know how can I do with these back in Nepal, but since I am in USA with better internet speed these are good applications. Both application help me with my new interest on cooking.
  5. FACEBOOK app – Well not actually built by Microsoft – but then this comes out with 8.1 and not available for 8.0. Its basically a webpage slapped into a basic container.

Applications – old but renovated

  • MAIL, CALENDAR, and PEOPLE – This by far has the greatest number of improvements. Ars Technica has put it very graciously (here). Along with SKYPE this package is wonderful.

Mail App - ScreenshotMail application has finally upgraded to something workable. Attachments are better handled and IMAP functions are up to date. Google, Yahoo and Hotmail are all in one place. I am still syncing the Favorite folder, there is a Flag feature, and most of my emails are backed up and available.

People application has been face lifted and now I can assign images to individual contacts. Its more responsive but there is still no way I can create a group as in Windows Phone. There is permanent search bar present in the right upper corner.

People

  • CONTROL PANEL – The traditional control panel is still there, but the METRO control panel with its touch friendly interface is pretty impressive. All Microsoft has to do now is kick out the old one.

Control Panel

  • MAPS, WEATHER and IE – There are few changes here, in a good manner. IE has a reading view now, and the tabs are now in bottom instead of the top as in 8.0. The IE 11, has an option to pin any website into METRO Tab thing, with their RSS feed constantly updating it. Now, this is truly peek-a-boo News flash for me.
  • MUSIC – Least of my favorite. It does not let me play my own library without going online. It has a good face lift but its still worthless. Every time I try selecting an audio file, it tells me to pay up. And these are from my own library.

Xbox Music

SkyDrive and Bing

I am very skeptical about these two updated technologies in Windows 8.1. Both if implemented correctly can be very profitable for Microsoft. But for users of Windows operating system it represents that thin red line between good and bad.

Bing has come a long way, and its integration in Windows 8.1 is fabulous. However, things are still far from over, and the current OS level integration is not enough. I think it still needs some tweak up, and the results it provides are not in par with google search. I remember few years ago, Google had this desktop search program which was awesome. Its folded now. Similar is the concept of OS X spotlight. One stop for search. Smart Search is progressive, but my search of “Kathmandu” “prashant khatiwada” and “Durbar Marg” gave mixed results. The combine search results is nifty but I need Bing to do more.

SkyDrive is future – only if done right. SkyDrive integration is seamless, and its online/offline concept of file/document saving is wonderful, and many if not all can benefit this. I am particularly fan of Dropbox because, everyone I know uses this. Imagine what will happen if Windows 8.1 is able to penetrate the “Everyone I know” group. That said, I have yet to use the full potential of this SkyDrive Integration, and probably would require a Windows Phone also. As of today, I only use it to store handful backup copies of my personal documents,.

What is still missing

Here are few things that I think requires some (if not all) attention from Microsoft when they are working with Windows 8.2 (or the next version).

  • Photo Application – Make it stronger. Apple did it with iPhotos, Linux (and the likes) have it free; why can’t Windows have a built in one. Thinking of Picasa like program from Microsoft with added sharing capabilities to (say) Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, 500px etc. Aviary and other third party applications are getting there, but not there quite.
  • Music Application – Why can’t I get a simple music player with minimum online presence, a built in podcast player, a great play list maker in METRO.
  • Video Making Application – Again Apple did it with iMovie a decade ago. Why isn’t Microsoft making it. The new movie making app is a start, and I hope they built upon it. Windows Movie Maker 2012 was a disaster and it hanged/froze every five minutes in Windows 8.
  • Notification/s – The Windows 8.1 notification is still a far cry from good. Apple OS X has some basic one, but for 2013, we need more like iOS and Android like notification with one touch (or combination key press) panel appearing that has weather, calendar, to dos and emails.
  • STORE and Marketplace – I need a proper Facebook application, as well as LinkedIn, and few more social network applications. Store app has improved a lot, but without applications, its a long shot.

Good Improvements

  1. Skype Calls now work in Lock screen as well.
  2. Automatic Application updates for Modern UI applications
  3. Easy access of applications when you swipe downwards or press a small button on lower left corner.
  4. Boot to desktop – although not a big fan.. but would definitely like it..
  5. AMD Drivers – well 8.1 would easily run on my Lenovo U400 Windows 8 drivers and no new additional software was required.
  6. For the Unknown, there is a New App titled – Helps and Tips
  7. The Combination [Win+X] has a new menu items, including the shutdown/restart menu.

APPLICATION – Write ++

I often wonder why Microsoft didn’t come up with this. They still have the Word Pad version for Classic Windows Interface, what is stopping them from creating a METRO (or the new interface) version? I know that there is a OneNote app, but it has few offline limitations, that is not so good rural Nepal. The Application, for limited time is a free offer.

Verdict

still a promising start, hope to see more

I was with Mac OS X 10.1 all the way up till 10.8; and have seen a fair share of Ubuntu from 4 (Warty Warthog) to 13.04 six months back. Both follow an incremental release cycle, improving upon bits and pieces. OS X improved upon the foundation laid out a decade ago, and now is as solid as ever. Ubuntu is still making its foundation with 14.04 anticipated to be the ground work. Microsoft started a year ago with its ground work, and is building upon it slow. It needs to cover up fast and pace it self if it wants to stay ahead. Windows 8.1 is a little ahead in terms of unified search and cloud integration, what it lacks are fundamentals like a photo and video app. I am no enterprise customer, so my perspective here is limited to personal use.

What would make a better Windows OS 8.1 for me would be an addition of iLife like suite for Windows, a basic note taking application, and a to do applications all linked up to SkyDrive (or given permission with any other cloud services).

Limitations

Mine is a personal laptop, 17 months old. No touch screen, limited i3 intel processor, and a mere 4GB RAM, coupled with 5400 rmp Hard Drive. I do not use Bit Locker, and neither does my machine have that always on (InstaGo or something like that) feature. I have yet to use many features of Windows 8.1, but this post gives the first 24 hours scenario. I do not do Homegroups and haven’t played any games in Windows 8.1, yet.

I installed it on October 17, as an upgrade to Windows 8. NOT A CLEAN INSTALL.

Interesting bits

  • I upgraded to Windows 8.1. Upon the first booth, when I checked my Programs Installed (Inside Control Panel) almost all my applications were then re-installed dated to October 17. Weird..
  • I do not use the Media Center Package as much at all. I just upgraded it, because Microsoft was giving it out free, late last year. To be honest, it should have been bundled not be an add-on package.
  • The Nepali Language integration in Windows 8.1 has no updates. Nepal and Nepali related application in Windows Store is still anemic, and the available applications have the worst possible icon art, with advertisements. Not COOL.
  • Windows 8.1 still freezes applications, and starts again. Though the system is snappy, there is still that app freeze and reloading of it. THIS IS CRAP.

One thought on “my take on Windows 8.1 Pro – Review

  1. Shital Bhandary 24/10/2013 / 6:57 am

    Thanks for this review, it really helps. Well it took me 24 hours to download the update with the ADSL in my Dell Vostro. It restarted my computer 3 times! However, I found the OS much faster than before after the update. Windows + X is a nice shortcut. I still have two unknown devices and going to try the new app “Help and Tips”. Broadcom Bluetooth seems to the incompatible again! Share more ..

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