'Almost finished' build of Windows 8.1 still a mess

Now that Windows 8.1 Build 9471 is widely available, it's time to take another look at the painful changes in Windows 8 'Blue'

A little over a month ago I wrote about the problems I'd encountered with the Milestone Preview version of Windows 8.1. Since that time we've been treated to a very-nearly-finished version of Windows 8.1, Build 9471, and I've been pounding on it pretty hard. It looks like many of the problems I described earlier aren't going to get fixed. Worse, I've encountered several additional disappointments.

Microsoft Account problems -- something old, something new

I wrote last month about difficulties in installing Windows 8.1 without using a Microsoft Account. Although it's possible to install Win 8.1 by using a local account, the means for doing so are not at all obvious. Microsoft insists, on the MS Answers forum, that "the option to create a local account will be made available with the final release of Windows 8.1," but I haven't seen any changes in the installation process from the Milestone Preview.

For those who upgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1 by going through the Microsoft Store, this is not an issue -- you need a Microsoft Account to get into the store in the first place. But I've seen no easy way to upgrade from Windows 7, or install from a download or DVD, without signing up for a Microsoft Account.

Of course, every time you log on to Windows with a Microsoft Account, Microsoft gets a full record of where and when you've logged on. Not everyone wants to use Windows 8.1 with a Microsoft Account.

I've also been following recent reports of problems when using a Microsoft Account on more than five devices -- pretty easy to do if you're running several copies of Windows 8 or 8.1.

No improvements in Smart Search

Microsoft's privacy-busting implementation of tracked local searches -- cynically called "Smart Search" -- continues unabated in Build 9471, precisely as I described last month. Smart Search is turned on by default. To turn it off, you have to be, ahem, smart enough to realize that Microsoft labels the feature "Use Bing to search online / Get search suggestions and Web results from Bing." You also have to be smart enough to find the setting, which is right next to "Get personalized results from Bing that use my location / Personalize my search and other Microsoft experiences by using my search history, some Microsoft account info, and my specific location."

Think of Google, with hooks directly into your PC.

Libraries are being disassembled -- maybe deprecated -- but only in some places

Windows 7 introduced the concept of libraries, collections of folders that can in many ways be treated as one. A logical extension of the old Windows Media Player libraries, some found them confusing, but the folks who stuck with it saw they could be quite powerful. Windows 7 built four libraries from scratch -- Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos -- by mashing together the user's local folder and the Public folder of the same name. For example, my Documents library started out with my \Woody\Documents folder and the \Public\Documents folder.

Windows 8 carried on with the Windows 7 method: The four libraries, properly constructed, appear on the left in File Explorer. But Windows 8.1 has basically dismantled the libraries. They don't appear on the left side of File Explorer, unless you put them there (hint: look at the View tab), and they aren't built the same way. The Documents library, for example, contains the \Woody\Documents folder, and my SkyDrive Documents folder, but it doesn't have the \Public\Documents folder. Music, Pictures, and Videos only have the single, local folder.

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