The sorry state of Windows 8.1 Update 1

If you're hoping for some relief with Windows 8.1 Update 1, you're in for a not-very-pleasant surprise

How bad is Windows 8.1 Update 1? Look at it this way: Windows 8.1 Update 1 is so bad, even Paul Thurrott -- a longtime Windows 8 stalwart -- opines that "it's a mess."

To see how Microsoft's going down a blind alley with Update 1 and why defenders of the Windows faith are bailing out in unprecedented numbers, you need only to look at the latest leaked Windows 8.1 Update 1 (variously called "GDR 1" and the "2014 Update") builds to see that Microsoft's still stuck in the old Windows 8 rut, with nary a clue how to escape it -- at least, not on short notice.

I put the leaked Jan. 14 build of Update 1 under the microscope in last week's missive, "Windows 8.1 Update 1 leaks -- to widespread yawns." Since then, at least two more builds have leaked; one of them, dated Jan. 30 (build 9600.16610), is widely available. Here's a quick look at what awaits in the latest and greatest version of the OS everybody loves to hate:

  • On the Metro Start screen: Power Down (Shut down, Restart, Sleep) and Search tiles at the top right, next to the user name. Right-click context menus for Metro tiles. The context menu allows you to pin a Metro app to the desktop taskbar. The Apps View has a "by name" sorting option.
  • On all Metro (Modern, Store, whatever) apps: New icons in a bar at the top that let you split (snap), minimize, or close the app. The desktop taskbar appears (and disappears) from the bottom of Metro app screens when you slide your mouse to the nether regions. When a Metro app is running, it appears as an icon on the desktop taskbar. Some Metro apps on the desktop taskbar even have right-click Jumplists.
  • Internet Explorer 11 has a new Enterprise Mode, designed to help companies get IE8-dependent apps "unstuck."
  • The Windows 8.1 "boot to desktop" option is enabled when Update 1 is installed fresh on machines without touchscreens. Details remain hazy, but we're only talking about checking one box.
  • "SkyDrive" becomes "OneDrive." Be still my beating heart.

Personally, I don't see anything about Update 1 that warrants a complete reversal of faith; it simply lumbers along in the ill-defined path of its predecessors. Windows 8 is bad, as I've been saying for years, and Windows 8.1 did little to improve the situation. Win 8.1 Update 1 is just more of the same, piled higher and deeper.

Thurrot's absolutely right in that "Windows 8.1 Update 1 again proves that design by committee never works, and that by not strictly adhering to a singular product vision, the solution that is extruded out to customers on the other side is messy, convoluted, and compromised." But that's been Windows 8's problem from the get-go: As Tim Cook noted, it is a fridge and a toaster. The original bifurcated design tried to cater to two disparate classes and failed both, as if it were designed by a committee of one.

That said, I'm still optimistic about Windows 9. If the "Threshhold" version of Windows devolves into three distinct products, destined for three distinct markets -- Metro consumer, traditional consumer, and business -- Microsoft may win me (and, I suspect, many hundreds of million others) back.

Supposedly Windows 9 is due out in spring 2015. Although Microsoft will undoubtedly lose more market share between now and then, a strong "Threshhold," designed to bring keyboard and mouse stalwarts back into the Windows fold, should do well. If nothing else, we need something that will persist beyond Windows 7's end-of-life in 2020.

If it takes more than a year to turn out a great product, so be it. Microsoft needs to bake "Threshhold" thoroughly.

If the 'Softies flub yet again, all bets are off. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...

This story, "The sorry state of Windows 8.1 Update 1," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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