Windows 8.1

Last month, I mentioned that the latest release of Windows 8 (Windows 8.1) appeared to cause problems sometimes

– see this previous blog post on Windows 8.1

Not having heard any more discouraging tales, I bit the bullet earlier this week and started the download. If you have been receiving nags from Microsoft that 8.1 is available now and that they recommend that you go for it, then be warned – it’s a big download and then it takes forever to install. I didn’t time it as I wasn’t expecting time to be an issue, but I think it must have been about three hours in all. Admittedly, it doesn’t need much intervention, so you don’t have to attend to it all the time, but don’t start the process when you’ll need the computer in a few minutes.

Should you bother upgrading to 8.1?

The rather modest new Start button
The rather modest new Start button
It does seem to me that there are improvements as to how you move around and find things. What may be more important is that the security is better than in Windows 8. I don’t pretend to be a computer security expert and I certainly don’t have the inclination to research just what security improvements have taken place in Windows 8.1. It’s enough for me to follow the common sense notion that it’s worth keeping vulnerable software up to date (eg browsers, emails programs, operating systems) wherever possible and wherever there is no reason not to. Yes, it is a bit of a hassle being without your computer for hours and having to keep checking on it to see if it’s finished the update or is waiting for some input from you.

Windows needs to be secure. We don't want to let just anyone in.
Windows needs to be secure. We don’t want to let just anyone in.
As I’ve said before, though, there are some things about computers that we just have to accept as being part of the nature of the beast. Computers and the internet give us instant access to information and people all around the world. That’s absolutely marvellous and would have been almost inconceivable longer ago than just one generation. The flipside of that same coin is that all the scumbags, ne’er-do-wells, hucksters, cheats, and slimeballs also have the same access and also see huge opportunities in all this global access and global connection.

We can’t have one without the other. Therefore, we just have to accept that security is important and that we really should take reasonable steps to keep it current. In my opinion, running the latest version of the operating system, and keeping it updated as much as possible, is a large part of the task of “taking reasonable steps”. So, as long as Windows 8.1 isn’t going to break anything or cause any other major problems, I’d recommend going for it.

What did I find on updating to 8.1?

The first thing I noticed when it had finished was that everything seemed so s—–l—–o—–w—-. Booting up, opening everyday programs such as Firefox and Outlook – it was all a pain. And then my Outlook broke. The calendar synch with Gmail (and thence to Macs and iPads, but that’s another story) stopped working and even send/receive wouldn’t work. Falling back on the timeless advice of both Douglas Adams and Corporal Jones (“Don’t Panic”), I just re-booted the machine two or three times. It definitely started getting back to normal as far as the speed was concerned. Outlook send/receive eventually came back (phheww) but the calendar synch is still broken. Maybe it’s a coincidence. I haven’t investigated yet.

So, what’s new?

Figure 1. Right-clicking on the new Start button brings up a useful menu.
Figure 1. Right-clicking on the new Start button brings up a useful menu.
Well, as promised, they’ve brought back a Start button. All it seems to do at first, though, is toggle between either the last start screen app used and the start screen itself, or between the desktop and the start screen (depending upon whether or not you’ve just been using a start screen app). As far as I can see, it’s exactly the same as the Windows key has always behaved in Windows 8. That doesn’t make it any less confusing: just no more useful. Anyway, I think the usefulness of the Start button is apparent when you right-click on it. This brings up the menu as displayed in figure 1. As you can see, a lot of these options have been brought back from the “old” start button menu – including the options to switch off. I won’t go through all these options now, except to point out that they’ve also included some of the more useful options that have always been present, but buried deep in the Control Panel – such as Power Options, Event Viewer, and System. To my mind, this Start Menu is a useful improvement.

Booting into the desktop instead of the Start Screen

If you don’t use the “Start Screen”, with all its bells and whistles and animations and stuff, and just want to go straight to the familiar territory of the desktop whenever you boot up, this is now possible with a little tweak:

  • Right-click on any empty part of the desktop taskbar (the line at the bottom of the screen that includes icons for open and “pinned” applications etc)
  • Left-click on “Properties”
  • Left-click on the “Navigation” tab
  • Tick the box next to “When I sign in… go to the desktop instead of Start” (see figure 2)
Figure 2. Tick the box to avoid the Start Screen when you boot up in future.
Figure 2. Tick the box to avoid the Start Screen when you boot up in future.

Maybe I’ve whetted your appetite – in which case, look out for the second part of this review of Windows 8.1 next week.