Microsoft

A look at some Microsoft Windows 8.1 highlights

Windows 8.1 released on October 17, 2013, and we take a look at some of the highlights you need to know about.

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As of October 17, 2013, Microsoft Windows 8.1 is available as a downloadable update for Windows 8 users. The retail box version of the operating system hit the market on October 18, 2013. For those of us using Windows 8, the new features and subtle changes of 8.1 are very welcome. I can say unequivocally, if you have a computer running Windows 8, you want to upgrade to 8.1.

This article is also available as a TechRepublic Screenshot Gallery.

Before you begin your download

I know you will be tempted to start your Windows 8.1 download right away, but there are few things to do in preparation before you begin the process:

  • Make sure you have updated your copy of Windows 8 by running Windows Update.
  • Make sure you are logged in as the account administrator.
  • Make sure you have allocated a couple of hours to the project - it will likely take less time than that, but you can never be sure.
  • Just to be safe, you might have you activation code for Windows 8 close by.

Note: After you install Windows 8.1, you will be asked to sign in to a Microsoft Live account. There will be no apparent way to move past that screen if your intention is to only have a local account. Here is the trick: Click the Create New Account link and then at the bottom of that next screen you will see a link that will let you cancel the process. You will then login using your local account.

Downloading

If you have a retail version of Windows 8, you can update to 8.1 by going to the Store from the Start Screen - the first item you should see is a large Windows 8.1 download icon (Figure A).

Figure A

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Windows Store

The next page (Figure B) is where you will actually click the download button. This is also where you can get some explanation of what changes are available with 8.1.

Figure B

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Download

The download took a long time (Figure C), but I am thinking some of the increased time was because of the number of requests coming in on the first day of availability.

Figure C

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A slow download

Subtle but welcome changes

Once you have completed the download an installation process, the Start Screen of Windows 8.1 looks much like Windows 8 always has (Figure D).

Figure D

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Windows 8.1 Start Screen

One of the prominent complaints against Windows 8 was the steep learning curve. In my opinion, much of the problem was that Microsoft did a terrible job explaining how things work in Windows 8 - especially with regard to the Start Screen.

Windows 8.1 includes a Help + tips tile (Figure E) that explains many of the navigation features users should be familiar with when they are using the Start Screen. There is also an explanation of some of the new 8.1 features.

Figure E

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Help + tips

Figure F shows you some of the new features of Windows 8.1. For me, some of the more noteworthy changes include the better Search, multiple applications on one screen, and more personalization choices.

Figure F

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What's new

Figure G shows you a few more of the new features, including the additional integration of SkyDrive. This is an important change - the default saving folders are now all on SkyDrive. You will have to specify a different saving path if you want to save on your local hard drive, for example.

Figure G

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More What's new

You have many more settings options (Figure H) with 8.1 and you can now display two modern interface apps side by side.

Figure H

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Applications side by side

There are also more options flowing off of the Personalize settings screen (Figure I). In a business setting, this may not be as important, but for individuals falling under the BYOD mode of operation it is often very important.

Figure I

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More personalization

Corners and edges play a major role for touch screen users and the settings for those navigation aspects are included in the Personalize settings menu. (Figure J)

Figure J

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Corners and edges

As a desktop user, I am more excited by having more features and choices available from the Windows Desktop. Figure K shows you the options you get when you right-click the Start button in the bottom left corner.

Figure K

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More right-click options

As you can see in Figure L, an additional menu off of the right-click menu gives you all of your Shut down options.

Figure L

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Shut down options

The Start button right-click menu also gives you direct access to the familiar all-encompassing Control Panel. (Figure M)

Figure M

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Control Panel

Another new feature in 8.1 that desktop users have been looking for is the ability to login directly to the Desktop. The setting for this feature can be found in the Taskbar and Navigation properties screen, shown in Figure N. You get to this screen by right-clicking the Taskbar and clicking the Properties menu item.

Figure N

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Taskbar and Navigation properties screen

Another personalization feature is the ability to set a background image for the Start Screen. (Figure O)

Figure O

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Background changes

As mentioned earlier, the Search feature in 8.1 now searches everywhere (Figure P), which eliminates the need to specify apps over settings etc.

Figure P

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Search everywhere

The Windows Store has also received a facelift with 8.1. (Figure Q)

Figure Q

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The new Windows Store

Windows 8.1

As I said originally, if you use Windows 8 you will want to upgrade to Windows 8.1. There are new features and subtle changes that address many of the issues user complained about when Windows 8 was released. And you get these better features for free - that's tough to complain about.

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

31 comments
fredphoesh
fredphoesh

Hi Mark,

IMO 8.1 is a colossal disappointment, and some things, like search are very much less functional... the search in Wn 8.1 is much slower and you cannot navigate properly with a keyboard, so if you enter text info, you have to wait a long time sometimes, and also sometimes have to mouse about wasting more time... see a you tube video I just made to show how slow and clunky it is. http://youtu.be/RMzu1w_Is0c 

davidjbell
davidjbell

I did a clean install using a download ISO disc from Microsoft Licensing. The file size is 2.7GB and the MS Download Manager has a small problem; it doesn't manage downloads (!) but the Browser download option worked fine. The install is very fast and a big change from XP days. Pity it ignored my OK to format the drive. I agree with some of the other posters about needing to enter a Microsoft Live domain name and not offering to skip this until the next screen; sheer bad design and probably deliberate to get you to have a Live email address. I found the whole thing about the MS Store and whatever to be blatant MS marketing and distracting when you're trying to setup the OS. I found the equivalent of Network Places in XP to be missing. It's bad enough in Win 7 but a nightmare in Win 8/8.1. How on earth do you get workgroup PCs to be visible to one another without going on a training course. I could go on but the good news is that the 8.1 OS installed on an old Vostro 200 and ALL the drivers were in place even for an add-on PCI NIC card. In summary give me XP any day. I can live with Win 7 and it's bugs and design issues but I can do without Win 8 or 8.1 and I do have a Win 8 user. BTW Win 8.1 isn't available as a download yet for an existing Win 8 PC despite news to the contrary

jimweimar
jimweimar

The very first step is to determine if your Hardware and drivets and apps are compatible and operable with 8.0 /8.1. Run the upgrade advisor and pay attention to what it tells. The free upgrade is a generic introduction to the new OS. I have done twice xp and vista systems. The only glitsch.learning and understanding User Accounts and what they do. If you use a MS Account you are opting into Sky Drive. I now use it on my PC and 2 Android devices and love it no more lost data.

bregnholm
bregnholm

Hi - Is there  any way to roll-back the 8.0 - 8.1 upgrade, my computer won¨t start, after the upgrade. the upgrade went smooth appr. 3 hours. But now i cant start my computer. Please help The Dane

chuck
chuck

does anyone know if we can go back to 8.0 in system restore from windows 8.1

chuck
chuck

I loaded 8.1 on my Samsung Tablet and it really slows everything down. It took 7 hours.  I have to reload apps to get them to work. I tried to do the 28 apps update and I get error code 0x8024402x. My IE 11 does not work I just get the circle. I did do the check before the update and it said my tablet was OK. 

Photogenic Memory
Photogenic Memory

I upgraded Windows 8.0 to 8.1. Overall the process went without a hitch; however, the ms account creation option caught me by surprise. I was able to get past it by failing intentionally with a bogus email account and password. It finally let me get to my local account. Afterwards I was confronted my an orange desktop and a more functional start screen. The large arrows are obnoxious! The new start button is extremely basic. Since I mostly use the desktop and the regular control panel; the majority of this OS is bloated with fluff. I'm a gamer and decided to run a game after the upgrade. I launched EA's origin to play ME3 and got a distorted video screen. It literally broke the 3D rendering stating "some objects render at wrong depth". I had to research online and ended up reinstalling my nvidia drivers. Solution provided. Overall, everything seems to be okay but the update is pretty worthless. Why didn't they just allow a feature to toggle on desktop mode versus tablet mode? Microsoft NEEDS to listen better to it's customers.

hrosita
hrosita

Have not upgraded yet but the first step in a major upgrade is to backup your system.

If the upgrade is messed up, you always can go back to where you were. With USB 3.0 external hard drives, I can to a full restore of 100 GB (full partition) is less than 20 minutes. I wonder if I can restore my Win 8 system to another partition and upgrade it so that I have a dual boot.

yoopwhip
yoopwhip

Took more than 7 hours from start to finish. Was automatic and smooth. Unfortunately, I started at 7 PM so didn't finish until 2:45 AM. Otherwise, it was great. Like the finished product.

eoschlotz
eoschlotz

It's not really the Start button, so don't get too excited. It's more just "favorites". Win 8.1 (and 8.0) make your powerful computer into a tablet. It imposes the limitations and use model restrictions of a small relatively low capability device onto your 8 core machine. Don't be fooled.

khiatt
khiatt

Wait, did I just read "Start Button" ! ?

One of the most controversial changes from 7 to 8 was the removal of the start button. Now it's back and you just gloss over it by only pointing out the right-click?  What happens if you Left-click? Do we get our menus back, or does it just take you to the start screen?

epiph
epiph

Hi,

 What about figure N?

Zorched
Zorched

Wait, default save folders set to SkyDrive? So now I have to navigate to local folders every time I want to save something or else it disappears into the "cloud"?
Please tell me that there's a place to change the default save folders...

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin moderator

I made a discovery this morning when I was updating one of my personal PCs.

Note: After you install Windows 8.1, you will be asked to sign in to a Microsoft Live account. There will be no apparent way to move past that screen if your intention is to only have a local account. Here is the trick: Click the Create New Account link and then at the bottom of that next screen you will see a link that will let you cancel the process. You will then login using your local account.

wsalomon
wsalomon

WARNING - if you are upgrading from 8.0 using the Windows Store...

The instructions say this is a 3.5 GB download, and it is.  BUT... this is a download and install; THERE IS NO CHOICE TO SAVE THIS AS AN .ISO for a "clean" installation.

In Microsoft's Community forum it has been stated by two MVP moderators that for "General Users", there either will be no downloadable .ISO at all, or one at a future date.  The only user getting an .ISO are MSDN/TechNet subscribers.  This has been asked and answered multiple times.

I discovered this AFTER my settings were trashed from an install I did not want to immediately (the underlying 8.0 was getting corrupted, so I wanted a "clean" install here.)

Those who upgraded from XP remember there was a download option to install or save - not here.

If a clean install of 8.1, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

pmoverfield
pmoverfield

Thanks for the help ~ most welcome. Is it any different for we who have an OEM installation? After my experiences with unreliable XP installations, I'm reluctant to risk (my wife's) laptop if there's any uncertainty about the procedure.

saedshaar
saedshaar

Give me a break, why people attack Win 8?? I am using it since the preview versions, I admit there are few things that I didn't like, but the overall experience was great, specially when it comes to the clean interface and the concentration on the contents.

You should move on, if MS keeps on doing the same things over and over for sure you will say there are no innovation.

tomi01
tomi01

Did I just read that right?  Documents are saved to their cloud by default instead of your hard drive?   Are they nuts?  WTF?   This just goes to show that MS has learned NOTHING from this Windows 8 debacle.   Nothing!!!

Nobody with any common sense who is tech savy wants to log into MS poncie store to get updates or create an identity to MS or be forced to frame applications (not apps you morons..) but powerful applications into their window constrictions.  Where do they think the future is going?  Some walled garden where everyone is dumbed down on MS kool-aid and praising their pixels because "God would know..."  

Unbelievable.   MS should keep Windows XP Pro supported with a subscription for a revenue stream and maximise that segment of their market instead of forcing crap like this into their user base.   It stinks and its not the future for anyone with serious work to do on their own computer.   Let alone an enterprise situation.   But for serious tech savy people who want to be self empowered, this is an abomination. Period.

Mr. Slippery
Mr. Slippery

Well, Ok, I thought, lets try Windows 8.1
One of my kids is using 8.0 and is happy enough, so I get myself 8.1 pro and do a fresh install.
Whoops! Where is media centre? Well, its gone away in 8.1 and they'd like you to buy it for another 10 bucks. Seriously??? If you don't have 8.1 pro (as most new pc's with 8.1 won't), then you gotta cough up 100 bucks for the "pro pack". I don't think so.  That's one hell of a "highlight".

ParNeverhood
ParNeverhood

I upgraded my Surface Rt and my 7 year old desktop, both upgraded without a hitch!

dale303
dale303

Uggh! 

Just upgraded. 3 hours later and I'm still trying to get everything to work. It left my PC in right mess.

If you previously had Windows 8 setup with a 'local account'. WATCH OUT! 

There's no obvious way of upgrading without a MS Live Account. Not realising, I added my Live details and now my old local account has been replaces with a Live one. 

I've now got to wade through a load of network settings reapplying password to my WHS, my media player and everything else as my old username/password no longer exists. I've tried recreating a local account but that's loads more effort undoing fingerprint recognition settings, and copying favorites, desktop, documents etc, etc, over.  

Even more laughable is that I now have huge 'help' arrows instructing me to 'swipe from the edge' etc., when I don't even have a touch screen. There's doesn't even seem to be a way to switch them off and the won't work with mouse settings.

Maybe there's a way of installing without migrating your old local account over but I didn't spot it.

Fuming!


Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin moderator

Have you downloaded Windows 8.1 yet? Have you tried but run into problems?

seanferd
seanferd

@jimweimar 

Perhaps I'm misreading you, but are you suggesting that MS provided an update (8.1) which may not be entirely compatible with a computing device on which 8.0 is already installed (and functioning normally, fully compatible)?

lizziloi
lizziloi

@chuck what kind of tablet do you have and has this been fixed by this date 12-4-2013?

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin moderator

@epiph Hmm - it was there at one time. I'll jump in the CMS and see what's going on. Should be fixed shortly.


Thanks.

epiph
epiph

Figure N is not shown in article.

tech_reseller
tech_reseller

@dale303 They have cleverly hidden the link to use current account. When the installation prompts you to log in with a microsoft account, you have to select Create a New Account, click Next. On the next screen is where you would create the "new account", but if you look at the very bottom, there is an option / link to Use Current Account. Selecting that allows you to keep your account, apps, and settings.

katerit729
katerit729

Yes I have downloaded 8.1,  one problem  ,  can not find my account.  I see 2 accounts that I can use...  but the one with all of my photos and settings is no longer an option.  when I go to the control panel,  i see it is there,  jsut not accesable???

midlantic
midlantic

@Mark W. Kaelin Just upgraded...went smooth as peanut butter (no chunks). ;0) I was a little surprised about the length of time for the installation. I think there were 6 or 8 re-boots and long time between each one as it did it's thing. Not a complaint, obviously it was "being careful" with my stuff. Came back up at the end with all working fine, files all there, programs (er...excuse me...applications/apps) all working fine. Enjoying the polish/improvements, even better than the preview was. Happy camper...