A look at the black underbelly of Windows 8.1 'Blue'

Pieces of Windows 8 inexplicably didn't survive jump to Windows 8.1, and new feature allows Microsoft to track your local searches

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That's changing by default in Windows 8.1. The new Win8.1 Smart Search -- invoked by default through the Windows 8.1 Search charm -- not only searches your computer for the string you specify. It also, all by itself, gathers up the terms and runs them through a Bing search. Making this cool new feature all the more lovable, Microsoft has officially announced that advertisers will be able to dish up advertising to your computer, based on the searches you perform on your computer.

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.

Unless you make Smart Search dumb, you not only hand Microsoft a complete history of all of your local computer search terms, you open your machine up to even more lovely ads, doled out on the Search results pane. If you search for "flugelhorn" on your local computer -- not on the Web, mind you, but on your own computer -- the results that Windows 8.1 shows you will include advertisements for flugelhorns on eBay and Amazon (no, I'm not joking -- try it), local flugelhorn manufacturers, flugelhorn party consultants, and no doubt some day flugelhorn addiction services.

You can turn Smart Search off by bringing up the Settings charm, clicking or tapping Change PC Settings, then choosing Search and Apps, and moving the Use Bing to Search Online slider off.

The Windows Experience Index bites the dust -- or does it?

If you look for the Windows Experience Index in the Windows 8.1 "Blue" Preview, you won't find it. While nobody ever took WEI too seriously -- it's a bit preposterous to think that you can distill a PC's performance down to a single number -- I've long used WEIs to quickly compare computers while I'm out shopping. They're also useful to double-check on new drivers, to see if they've boosted or strangled processing speeds.

Nobody knows for sure -- and Microsoft hasn't commented at all -- but it appears the WEI is dead. Nazmus Khandaker on the McAkins Online blog puts it this way:

Microsoft removed the Experience Index from Windows RT but kept it on the original release of Windows 8 in October 2012. However with Windows 8.1, Microsoft has decided to kill off the Experience Index completely. I have tested this on several PCs (touch and nontouch). Before upgrading my PCs, I was able to view the Experience Index on Windows 8.0. After upgrading to Windows 8.1, they were no longer present.

One possible reason for its sudden disappearance: The lofty and expensive Microsoft Surface Pro gets a 5.6 on the WEI scale. That would've been a good score three or four years ago on a middle-of-the-road PC. I have an old single-core i3 machine with a Windows 8 WEI of 7.0.

The Metro Photos app loses its connections

The Windows 8.1 Metro Photos app that's circulating at the moment is a mess. While it sports a few new features -- crop, rotate, auto slideshows, red-eye removal, all the features you would've expected from a photo app 10 years ago -- the current app can't even access photos stored on a network share or on SkyDrive. Clearly, it was rushed out the door.

The reason for the trampled release appears to be Microsoft's canning of its Facebook and Flickr links.

Windows 8 had automatic connections to your local pictures library, network shares, SkyDrive, Facebook, and Flickr; Win8 combines photos from all of those sources and offers them up with one, unified view. The Windows 8.1 "Blue" Preview can only get at local pictures. It uses the cumbersome-but-finger-friendly "file picker" metaphor for selecting files and folders. Barb Bowman, community moderator for Microsoft's Answers forum and a Microsoft MVP, took Microsoft to task:

Photos App in 8.1 loses most of its best features, e.g., Facebook/Flickr support, network/homegroup support. I've just installed the 8.1 Preview on a desktop. The Photos App has changed:

1. No longer includes the ability to show images from Facebook, Flickr, SkyDrive

2. No longer allows images from other computers or the network

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