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
Skype is now baked in to Windows 8.1, replacing the tired, old Messenger app that's been hanging around Windows like a sick dog since the supremacy of MSN last century. While the Metro Skype app doesn't have anywhere near the functionality of Internet-based Skype, it isn't bad. It's one of the few Metro apps I use from time to time.
If you sign on to Windows with a Microsoft account, SkyDrive comes along for the ride. In many situations, as long as your needs are simple, SkyDrive is a reasonable alternative to Dropbox, Box, Mega, Mozy, Google Drive, Amazon Cloud, SpiderOak, SugarSync, and a dozen others -- all of which have good and bad points. What I don't like is the way SkyDrive now locks into your system.
The bad news
Two months ago, I complained long and hard about a new Windows 8.1 "feature" called Smart Search. Microsoft didn't listen to me. This RTM version of Windows 8.1 continues to turn on Smart Search by default. Microsoft uses Smart Search as an excuse to track your local searches -- searches you make on your computer or your network -- and gathers your local search terms to sell you things. It's the ultimate desktop Scroogle.
Smart Search is smart for advertisers. For you, it's another unjustified invasion of your privacy -- and one that's not adequately explained, as it's buried in the default settings. Here's how Microsoft puts it:
Bing Ads will be an integral part of the new Windows 8.1 Smart Search experience. Now, with a single campaign setup, advertisers can connect with consumers across Bing, Yahoo, and the new Windows Search with highly relevant ads for their search queries. In addition, Bing Ads will include Web previews of websites and the latest features like site links, location, and call extensions, making it easier for consumers to complete tasks and for advertisers to drive qualified leads.
To turn off Smart Search, from the Settings Charm, choose Change PC Settings, then Search and Apps, and Search, and move the "Get search suggestions and Web results from Bing" slider to Off.
Perhaps sanity will prevail and Smart Search will be turned off by the time Windows 8.1 hits General Availability.
In another slap at experienced Windows users, Windows 8.1 starts to dismantle Libraries. Where Windows 7 and Windows 8 both ship with fully functional Libraries (the Documents Library, for example, contains the \<user>\Documents folder and the \Public\Documents folder), the Documents Library in Windows 8.1 only contains \<user>\Documents. The Music, Pictures, and Videos Libraries don't get the Public folders, either.
If you sign on with a Microsoft account, Windows 8.1 activates SkyDrive, the SkyDrive folder gets added to the Documents Library, and it's pegged as the default folder in the Library. Thus, if you save a new file in Word, WordPad, or any other word processor that wants to save to the Documents Library, your new file will go into SkyDrive -- where you get to pay for the privilege if you use enough space.
To make matters worse, where Libraries figured prominently in Windows 7's Windows Explorer and Windows 8's File Explorer, in Windows 8.1 they're hidden. You have to go through the View tab in Explorer to bring them back. And heaven help you if you need to explain to a novice how to find their Public folders.