Back in October of 2012, a lot of hype surrounded the release of Microsoft’s newest operating system, Windows 8. Reviews were mixed. While the performance and security enhancements were well received, there was considerable criticism about the new and redesigned user interface. Many felt it was confusing, difficult to learn, and limited in some areas. Microsoft responded to this criticism with Windows 8.1, the first major update to Windows 8.
Having worked closely with both versions now, I can tell you there are plenty of improvements to satisfy even the harshest of critics.
Here are my 8.1 reasons to check out Windows 8.1:
BitLocker Drive Encryption is not new, but now it’s available in every edition of Windows 8.1, not just the Pro and Enterprise editions, as in the past. You get more administrator control with the Pro and Enterprise editions, but now you can encrypt your drives no matter what edition you’re using, including Standard.
2. Smart search
Windows 8 made searching for apps, settings, and files easy, but search functionality gets a boost to the next-level Windows 8.1 with Bing inclusion. Type in a word from the Start screen and you’ll be searching automatically for files, apps, settings, and even web content like news, weather, and research materials. Very cool.
3. Start button
Windows 8.1 marks the return of the Start button that so many missed when they moved from Windows 7 to Windows 8. At first, it doesn’t seem that impressive. But when you right-click it, you’ll find an exciting amount of easy-to-access tools and options, including the Control Panel, Command Prompt, and Device Manager. In fact, many of these commands found by right-clicking the Start button are now easier to find than they were in Windows 7.
4. Desktop backgrounds
One major complaint about Windows 8 was how disjointed the new Start screen environment and old desktop environments were. Windows 8.1 makes it possible to use the same desktop wallpaper as your Start screen. Now the switch from Start screen to old desktop feels much smoother.
5. Snap function
Another Windows 8 complaint that has been addressed is the Snap function, which allows you to have two modern-style apps open at once. Actually, if your monitor is set to an extremely high resolution, you can have up to four apps open simultaneously. When working with two apps in Windows 8, you were limited to having one app filling 75 percent of the screen, with the other stuck to the last quarter, limiting the usefulness of the feature. In Windows 8.1 (depending on your monitor’s resolution), you can now dynamically adjust the size of snapped windows to your liking.
6. Start screen tile options
In Windows 8, you had limited options for customizing the tiles on your Start screen. Windows 8.1 offers two additional tile sizes to choose from, for a total of four. Tiles can be sized from small to medium, from wide to large, and they can be grouped with ease using a right-click and a drag.
7. Quicker access to more PC settings
Getting at the PC settings is easier in Windows 8.1. Just access Settings, then Change PC Settings at the bottom of the Settings pane to reveal many more options down the left side of your screen. With more options, you’ll spend less time searching and more time doing.
Now that Skype is Microsoft owned, you’ll find it integrated into your Microsoft account and several apps. Want to hold a video chat with one of your contacts? Just go to the People app and you’ll notice Skype is the default technology you’ll be using for the video portion. You can run Skype on its own as well, and you’ll even find a Skype tile on your Start screen.
8.1 Easy startup customization
This last reason to check out Windows 8.1 only gets a .1 designation because it’s really about using Windows 8.1 to work in the old Windows 7 desktop environment.
Yes, there are many diehard users of Windows 7 who will want the power and security of Windows 8.1 while continuing to work in the old desktop environment they’ve come to love. Microsoft knows this, so there are settings in Windows 8.1 for making the 8.1 Start screen less obtrusive while making the older, more familiar, desktop environment the default.
Right-clicking the taskbar in the desktop environment, then choosing Properties, then the Navigation tab, gives you all the options you need to bypass the Start screen when you log in and make it less obtrusive when you’re forced to use it.
You can learn all about these Windows 8.1 features and more in my course Windows 8.1 Essential Training at lynda.com.