Windows 8.1 review: New version, same mess
If you're stuck with Windows 8, the Windows 8.1 upgrade is a no-brainer, but the fundamental flaws remainFollow @woodyleonhard
The Charms bar has the same old Charms, with a few new tricks. For example, the Devices charm now includes options to Play, Print, and Project (on a projector). Unfortunately, if you click on the Play icon, you invariably get the notice that you can only Play from apps. And when you're in a Metro app that should be able to Play, you may find that the app isn't smart enough to connect to the Charm and will use its own Play button. The Charms themselves do almost nothing on the old-fashioned desktop. For example, choosing Devices > Print while in legacy Word doesn't do a thing.
Improvements to the desktop
I still get ill every time I read reviews about the Windows 8.1 ersatz Start button. "It's back where it belongs on the left side of the taskbar!" Well, yes, there's a Start button on the left side of the taskbar, but it doesn't do anything other than swing you back to the Metro Start screen -- just as you can click in the lower-left corner of the current Windows 8 desktop and get rocketed back to the future. The only difference is the icon.
That said, there are some improvements on the desktop side of the fence -- and they have more to do with getting Metro to back off than any long-sought old-fashioned features. All the significant improvements to the desktop appear in a solitary dialog box, shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3. The only Windows 8.1 improvements to the desktop appear in this hard-to-find screen.
To bring up the Taskbar and Navigation Properties dialog box, right-click an empty spot on the desktop Taskbar (or tap and hold), choose Properties, then click or tap the Navigation tab. Here's what the settings actually do:
- 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.
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.