Hands-on with Windows 8.1 Preview

This story was first published by our friends at Ars Technica. You can read the original version of it here.

Late last month, Microsoft announced a raft of interface changes that Windows 8.1 would introduce. We’ve been giving them a spin.

As you might guess from the name, Windows 8.1 is an update to (and improvement on) Windows 8. The new user interface introduced in that operating system—the Start screen, touch-friendly “Modern” apps, the charms bar—is retained in Windows 8.1. What we see is a refinement and streamlining of these concepts.

The new Start screen is a pleasing evolution of the old one.

The differences are visible as soon as you log in. In 8.1, the Start screen offers a lot more flexibility over layout and tile sizing. By default, the Weather tile takes advantage of this, using a new double-height tile size to show the forecasts for both today and tomorrow, in addition to the current conditions.

Support for this largest size is optional, and at the moment most apps don’t support it. Future updates to built-in apps will extend large tile support; for example, an update to the Mail app will allow it to show a preview of your latest two or three mails. That update isn’t included in this preview release.

The default Start screen also includes a bunch of small tiles for Music, Video, Games, and the Camera app.

The combination of the two new tile sizes serves both to make the Start screen a lot more customizable and a lot denser. Even at modest screen resolutions, you’ll be able to pack much more information onto the screen, giving quick access to many more apps. This is particularly welcome for desktop apps, which unfortunately still don’t support live tiles.

There are a bunch of new background options for the Start screen. Unlike the static abstract images offered in Windows 8, the backgrounds in 8.1 include a number of subtle animations.

For example, the default background, a stylized betta fish (a motif that Microsoft has used for the last few Windows betas) has a number of bubbles coming from the fish’s mouth (and yes, this is accurate; although most fish do not produce bubbles since they breathe using gills, betta fish do in fact make bubbles). The bubbles animate slowly. Other backgrounds that Microsoft has demonstrated (but which don’t appear to be in this preview) include a dragon that swooshes around as you scroll through the Start screen and robots with whirring cogs.

There are more color combinations allowed for the Start screen, plus new backgrounds.

The backgrounds all have a parallax scrolling effect, putting them some distance “behind” the layer of tiles.

If you don’t want any of those background images, there’s a new option to use the desktop wallpaper behind the Start screen. The desktop wallpaper is typically very different from the other background images; they remain stylized and abstract, just as in Windows 8. Desktop wallpaper, on the other hand, is often photographic (especially if using the default wallpaper, which loads a daily photograph from Bing).

The effect this has on the Start screen is peculiar. To me, it makes the Start screen feel much less separate from the desktop, providing a sort of visual continuity that doesn’t otherwise exist. This is true even if the desktop itself is covered by a window, as it means that at least the coloring is consistent between the two.

I wish that Microsoft had included this option in Windows 8, perhaps even going so far as to make it the default. While it’s only a small change, it does something that Windows 8 has thus far struggled to do: it bridges the worlds of the desktop and the Metro environment.

Who owns the Start screen?

The other major change to the Start screen is not something you’ll see, but rather something you won’t see. In Windows 8, I noted that the question of ownership of the Start screen was odd. Although the tile layout is meant to be personal, installing any new app, whether desktop or Metro, would just dump additional icons onto the screen. This undermined the notion that the Start screen was your tiles, laid out the way you want.

All apps, using the desktop background. Notice the “new” flags.

That’s no longer the case in 8.1. Install a new app and its icon will be stuck in All Apps view. It will only appear on the Start screen itself if you explicitly pin it.

Getting to All Apps has changed to be consistent with Windows Phone; in that (primarily portrait mode) operating system, you swipe from right to left in the tile view to see the listing of all your apps. In Windows 8.1, you swipe from bottom to top to do the same. New apps get flagged to advertise their presence, and there is a set of sorting options if you want something other than an alphabetical view.

One consequence of this swipe action is that the way of interacting with tiles on the Start screen has changed. To customize a tile in Windows 8, you nudged it up or down, and that selected it and let you change its size, unpin it, uninstall it, and so on. That nudge gesture is now gone, with “edit” mode now invoked by the more traditional long press.

While I understand the rationale, some of the fluency of the interface is now lost. Long presses make you stop what you’re doing and wait for the operating system to recognize your input. At least they are familiar, as other touch operating systems also use them, so that’s a point in their favor.

Improvements to search

One of our biggest criticisms of Windows 8—and far and away the most annoying aspect of it in my own day-to-day usage—is that its search feature broke the usage model that I’d depended on since Windows Vista: hit the Windows key and then start typing. Although Windows 8 does support this style of search, it presented results in an annoying, segregated way, with different sections for programs, files, and settings. Combined with the inconsistent division between these categories, the result was a reduction in usability.

Search in 8.1 has undergone a major revision. First of all, basic search results are now unified, reinstating the convenience of Windows Vista and Windows 7. Starting a search (whether using the charm or the keyboard) no longer covers the screen, either; it just shows a search bar down the right hand side of the screen.

If the results in the list aren’t what you want, hit return and you’ll get a full-screen results set that culls data from a range of sources. The search provides semi-structured results. Search for a person, for example, and you’ll see some brief biographical information, along with a link to the relevant part of the Wikipedia app. Scroll right and you’ll get image results, Web hits with previews of the pages, related searches, and so on. Microsoft calls these things “search heroes.”

Search heroes in action.

I am old-school with my Web searching. I do it from the browser, and in fact, I visit the homepage of the search engines I use first, not even searching directly from the address bar. As such, I’m not sure whether I’ll use this new search feature all that much. But it seems to work well and it looks good. I can see how it would be useful, just as long as it can provide structured search hero results for a wide range of searches.

One further consequence of this is that the top-level Search feature is no longer the preferred approach for contextual, in-app search. Instead, apps should use a magnifying glass icon or similar to support their own search features. I’ve hated the use of the top-level search for in-app search since day one, so this is a very welcome improvement.

Another major sticking point with Windows 8 was its Metro-style settings app. It was woefully incomplete, forcing touch users to use the desktop to configure various options.

The new settings app, which we took pictures of in our gallery, is a great deal more complete. It’s not exhaustive—there are still settings that require the use of the desktop Control Panel—but it now covers a much, much larger proportion of common configuration tasks.

Together, these changes conspire to make Windows 8.1 a better, more consistent operating system. I would argue it’s how the OS should have shipped. Except for the Start screen background, none of the stuff I’ve described so far will do much to excite dedicated desktop users who prefer Windows 7 to 8. Windows 8.1 does bring some improvements for those users. I’ll be looking at them later today.

Comments closed
    • gamerguy23099
    • 6 years ago
    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 6 years ago

    windows phones getting a similar update?

    • Ashbringer
    • 6 years ago

    No such thing as Windows 8 done right.


      • sschaem
      • 6 years ago

      This carton indeed reflect perfectly what 8.1 is and what MS as done.

    • njsutorius
    • 6 years ago

    The changes actually make it usable. I actually took the time to setup the start screen. I know it sounds dumb but the start screen background showing through makes it feel like one is finnaly. Still plenty of stuff that doesn’t mix.

    • marraco
    • 6 years ago

    I downloaded, installed, and tried it:

    -During install, it demanded to create an online email account to log the system. No offline option was provided. I was forced to switch back some steps and start disabling lots of “on/off” choices set by default, obscurely related to online requirements, and it allowed me, just as a coup of luck, to install without creating a Microsoft account. But lots of people will be cheated by MS into his big brother “I spy you” manipulation.

    -First thing I made after installation: I removed all the clutter from Metro, err, I mean “modern UI”. I don’t need the weather of Paris (wrong hemisphere, and I checked the localization settings), don’t need the crappy MS mail, don’t need buying crapps from MS, don’t need Skydrive spyware, don’t need “news” picked by Microsoft… ONLY the DESKTOP ICON remains!. It sucks big time. Former versions of Windows didn’t bundled addware. There is nothing useful on Metro..

    -Well, I tried to add a few applications to Metro. No way, there is an edit button, but then nothing can be done. There is no way to click, right click, drag an drop, edit, or anything, to add things to Metro… or it is only available over an obscure, hidden and non intuitive secret way, which requires an initiation ceremony.

    -Then I tweaked it to boot to desktop. That’s no way intuitive and required a web search (hint: look on taskbar properties).

    -It did not recognized my ultra ordinary and common Samsung monitor. Resolution was 1024×768 until I downloaded the latest nvidia driver. W7 did far better.

    -Even with the latest nVidia driver, Win 8.1 failed to enlarge the default font size (it is unreadable), I meant fonts are awfully blurred. Blue hyperlinks look like if they were printed on a wet paper, which spread the blue ink all around. So I looked all over the web for a fix, and there is none. I was forced to return to default, minuscule font, and zoom Firefox. But that’s not a fix, because not many applications allow zoom so easy as Firefox.
    Why Micropoop did choose a font so small? It is even smaller on the smaller tablets?, or is made for an eye at 10 cm of the screen? probably is the last, which means that MS didn’t even care about the most basic and important features of his main product, UI basics, even after the first Service Pack, err I mean “blue” fail.

    -The mouse is broken. I do ever set his movements to maximum sensibility, so I don’t need to move my wrists too much to reach anywhere on the screen, but on W8.1, it moves by quantized jumps. It’s awful, unbearable. I was forced to reduce the sensibility, and it is annoying.

    -The cake is a lie: There is no return of start button. It only leads to Metro again, where only the desktop can be clicked, because is the only thing that serves some purpose, which is getting out of Metro.

    -Oh, wait! right click on the button, there is an interesting menu here!. Lots of things back!
    What is that “Powershell”? Looks interesting, so I start it in administrator mode.
    It is just a command line window. Ok. I close it, and FULL CRASH!.
    I never had a full OS crash on W7 64b. But W8.1 is warranted to crash just by closing the powershell started as Administrator… And is not just an application crash, no. No a “your application stoped working”, no. The full OS goes berserk, and resets the machine.
    Awful. It is just awful. A command line window closing crashes the OS?????

    MOFG! Closing a command line window CRASHES THE OS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    -No, there is not a free, working way to restore the Start Button and menu, and I will not pay even 5 dollars for an OS I’m testing. but even the paid fixes do not support 8.1, and they have just a month of free trial.

    -It failed to install a good bunch of applications which worked on W7. Most Java applications are broken, and not even install, not even in compatibility mode.

    -Failed to share printers over the home network. It requires a router with support for ipv6, which my IP provider refuses to allow. So, no Homegroup.
    On Windows 7, that was not a problem. I just shared the printer for any network access with an username and password, but it is impossible to share the printer to any network account with W8.1, and there is no help anywhere on the web..
    Also sharing folders with a network account failed. Intercommunication between W8.1 and W7 is broken.

    -Restarting the PC and booting from the older W7 (on his own HD), detected the new W8 HD as needing of HD check. It was Ok before installing W8.1.
    The check ended, but after rebooting from W8.1, it crashed at boot, and was necessary to reboot again. There is nothing wrong with the HD, it is a file-system incompatibility between W7 and W8.1.

    Note: W7 required 100Mb for boot partition. W8.1 eats 350Mb! Enough for an entire OS, just to boot.
    Next Windows probably would eat 1 Gb. I hope SSD real state gets cheaper then, but maybe I will not even care about what MS does…

    -Even when I do not use Metro, I find annoying that to scroll it is necessary to drag and drop a scroll bar instead of using the wheel. It feels so 1890,and not in a good way.

    Well, that’s a rant! … Just after first looks.

    • trek205
    • 6 years ago

    its just so damn ugly to me and I would not want to look at that every day.

      • Pville_Piper
      • 6 years ago

      It is not that bad, particularly when you change the start screen to your desktop wallpaper. The navigation is much better now and they have pretty much fixed my complaint list.

    • WaltC
    • 6 years ago

    I’ve been using Win8Pro x64 since January when I purchased it from Microsoft for $39.99 along with Media Center (gratis), although I’m liking VLC more and more (also gratis.) (My personal opinion is that anyone who passed that deal up needs to see his lobotomist for a follow up–might as well get the other half removed.) At first I upgraded in-place from Win7 HP x64 (btw, the “Pro” version of Win8 is the highest version available–equivalent to Win7 Ultimate–except for the $39.99 price versus Win7’s U’s ~$200 entry fee.)

    There are a lot of myths about Win8 but by far I think the biggest whopper is the one that indicates you have to a) have a touchscreen or b) use the RT UI in order to run the OS. That’s because of all of the articles written by folks who *like* the RT UI and who *like* touchscreens–I loathe both equally–articles like Peter’s above (and I like Bright’s writing just fine.) The stuff Peter screenshots here isn’t even visible in my Win8 installation…who’d a thunk it, right? I mean, if I *worked at it* I could get to those screens, but what for??? Ugh.

    I use Classic Shell for the start-menu function *only*–and the rest of my entire Win8 install runs on the Explorer UI just like Win7–only Win8 is faster, leaner, and has some features not available in Win7–like the automounting of iso files by the OS–no more hacks like Daemon tools are needed as the OS does it all and more–if you have an iso you don’t even need a physical DVD drive in Win8 (but of course I have one because I still use disks for some very handy things.) Storage Spaces and File History are neat features Win7 doesn’t offer–and even Bitlocker was included in my $39.99 version of WIn8Prox64–not so in my $90 copy of Win7x64 Home Premium.

    I was running Win7 in a separate partition until yesterday when I decided to wipe it and install the 8.1 beta there. Haven’t used Win7 in months, and honestly it feels really clunky right now–not at all the svelte, smooth, dynamo I thought it was for a few years. Win8Pro just beats it pretty good. Yea, the people who understand that touchscreen pointing devices are in no danger of obsoleting mice and keyboards are completely right–it’s not gonna’ happen. But then, Win8Pro *doesn’t require* a touchscreen and it doesn’t even require that you use the RT gui (the ugly gui that Peter’s screen-shot for us here.)

    But how many people *really* know this? Not close to enough of them, I’d say. And I think that’s 100% Microsoft’s fault so far. I’ll be checking out 8.1 on that separate partition, but I’m not actually installing 8.1 to my working partitions until 8.1 is ready for prime time–in about three months, according to Microsoft.

    Follow up:

    Installed the 8.1 .iso version to a separate partition as said above and am now dual-booting 8.1/8.0 with 8.0 being my default. I think it’s a big improvement over 8.0–however, even though the start screen is a lot improved over 8.0–it is is still no start menu. You can put the desktop application environment first, which is nice, and now your program icons are grouped under separate headings–which is demanded at the very least…;) But, I still prefer the start menu to the start page because

    a) I don’t have to leave the desktop to view my files

    b) I don’t have to worry about side-scrolling (which I loathe)

    c) I don’t have to see any of the files I don’t want to see until I have a need to see them. That’s the magic of “folders”–you tuck stuff away in them and don’t look at that stuff again until you want to or need to. In even this improved start screen, all your files are always there staring you in the face whether you want to see them or you don’t. IMO, that’s a poor design decision whether you are using a touchscreen pointing device (your fingertip) or a mouse cursor.

    d) Start button without a start menu is a non-starter (pardon the pun.) Unlike the Win7 and earlier start button with start menu attached–you know, the leg-bone connected to thigh-bone, the thigh-bone…etc…;) The 8.1 is just there–and if you right-click it you are treated to the “power menu” instead of the start menu, which brings me to

    e) Unlike with the start menu, the so-called “power menu” appears to be static and inflexible and is not customizable–it’s there the way it is and you cannot change it. The start menu was festooned with options, comparatively.

    Some good news: To my pleasant surprise, Classic Shell works perfectly with 8.1. As I mentioned, the only program I use in Classic Shell is the Start Menu program (& start button, of course), and in 8.1 not only do you get the regular customizable start menu–again–by left clicking the button, you also get the 8.x “power-menu” by right-clicking the button. What’s not to like? Highly recommended.

    I like Windows 8–the explorer UI is the same as found in Win7 if not better in a few spots, and with free programs like Classic Shell you can make up for Microsoft’s peripheral blindness, because other than the start button/menu issue, I like Win8Pro much better than Win7. I cannot tolerate the RT ui, however (it really is horrid)–but as I said earlier the cool thing about that is that *you never have to look at it if you’d rather not.* And I would rather not–ever…;)

      • HisDivineOrder
      • 6 years ago

      I mostly agree with you. Especially on loathing sidescrolling (it’s just ridiculous they refuse to give us up/down as an optional checkbox to choose over right/left) and on the reasons the Start Menu is superior to the Start Screen or All Apps Screen. I don’t like my 30″ 2560×1600 being swallowed up in a swollen-font-sized sea of things I don’t want to be looking at.

      That said, I’ve been using Windows 8 since the day it launched mostly due to the insane deals you referenced for Pro versions of Windows 8 with Media Center. I figured MS would work on the OS and probably correct many of the missteps in time and I’m fairly adaptable.

      I’ve adapted mostly to the Start Screen, though I certainly don’t like it as much as the Menu. I almost bought Start8 (and still might), but I absolutely bought ModernMix, which I have found to be the best way to use Windows 8 apps. ModernMix turns Windows apps into regular applications with min/max/restore and you can set them into their own little windows, snap them to the side of the screen in the regular way and even shortcut them on your taskbar. Oh, and it also enables apps that don’t support it to run audio in the background when they aren’t the focus. It’s insanely basic functionality that should have been at least an option if not outright the default choice in Windows 8 and that they ignored it for 8.1, too, is really getting sad.

      I’m still considering Start8 because Stardock continues to add functionality to it, including adding the Start Button/Menu (the full version) to the Metro UI. What I’d love to see is someone change the default behavior of the entire OS to make the Metro UI your background with the start button, start menu, and taskbar at the bottom. That way, I could have my tiles sitting in the background, possibly somewhat to the side of my icons (of which I have always kept bare minimum on my desktop as I don’t like the clutter of insane amounts of icons). In this way, I could use the POTENTIALLY useful promise of the LiveTiles without having to go back and forth into an UI I don’t really like. Imagine if I could have my tiles sit translucent over my background sufficiently resized to make a 30″ 2560×1600 display show a lot of them. Instead of vaguely useful tiny, small, medium, huge or whatever, I should just have the option to input a number and the thing resizes itself.

      In my version, if I want, I can click them like they’re new age icons with updates or if I want I can just use my taskbar. You could also disable them entirely. My Start Button then stops trying to throw me into the Start Screen. Instead, MS offers the options to go back to either giving me the Start Menu (that I like) or the All Apps Screen (for others who may or may not like that) with the Start Button. I’d make that a check box that you choose at the first installation with graphical guide and text description. I’d probably term it choosing between “Classic” and “Modern.”

      This also solves the rather ridiculous, “I can’t tell what time it is from my PC/tablet at a quick glance” problem that Windows 8.1 carries forward. Neither Android nor iOS took their UI’s in any direction that prevents people from knowing what time it is at the quickest of glances when in any part of the OS’s UI. Why would MS think that’s something that should be done?

      Moving on from missed opportunities, I like that they incorporated one of the chief complaints about Windows 8 into 8.1, the inconsistent UI. By adding the “start tip” (instead of calling it what it is which is the Start Button 2.0 (or .5 depending on how you look at it)), they’ve somewhat (vaguely) addressed the matter of the UI not being visible to the user to offer options and suggestions, which is ostensibly what a UI should do. So it’s better. Using the “new” (though it’s highly reminiscent of the oldest Windows icon when Windows was barely Windows at all without Windows overlay) Windows icon for the Start Button like the option Stardock added when Windows 8 initially launched is probably wise. Also, adding the down arrow circle to pull up the All Apps is a decent idea for users with a mouse/kb and more ideas like that would have made 8 more palatable to more users, but I think they continue to ignore the fact that most users using Windows 8 are not going to have a touchscreen when they make considerations about the UI.

      I think putting more of the Control Panel into the Metro UI is good for helping tablet users get more out of the OS. I think improving Skydrive as an experience in Metro is good for tablet users. I still think the core News app is downright the single best Windows app I’ve found in their trove and the fact that I had to buy ModernMix to use it properly is really sad. I also like the Weather.com Windows app, again now that I can treat it like any other application with ModernMix. (Damn it, MS. You’re making me into a shill for a $5 add-on program because your OS lacks the most basic functionality that it absolutely SHOULD have built-in.) I think they need to improve the default Mail app and the Skype app desperately needs to incorporate all the functionality of the Messenger app (or the Messenger app needs to be switched to use Skype since they’ve pretty much sounded the death knell on the Messenger service). I use no app without ModernMixing it into a regular Windows application unless I’m on my HTPC. The Netflix Windows app is pretty hot there.

      Start to Desktop is a nice feature, but it’d be unnecessary if I could turn the Metro UI into an option to sit on top of my background (without their stupid and wasted Metro backgrounds) next to my regular icons. In time, Metro UI could use resizable tiles to replace icons altogether if they designed it this way.

      DirectX 11.2 requiring Windows 8/8.1 (since all 8 will go to 8.1 through the Windows Update/Windows Store when it launches), effectively shutting out Windows 7 users. This is about as smart as when MS ignored all those XP users with DirectX 11 requiring Vista and retarded the acceptance of the standard for YEARS. It’s only relatively recently (since Windows 7 finally got most to upgrade) that we have DX11 games at any consistent rate. And now MS wants to do it all over again? Just backport DX11.2 to Windows 7, MS. Convince those users to upgrade to Windows 8/8.1 another way.

      8.1 is generally in the right direction. Windows 8, for but a few truly poor design decisions, would have been the best Windows yet. I don’t even fault MS for Metro so much as for ignoring the long history of Windows that included options to go back to older ways of doing things and essentially telling everyone that they were going to do things the new way and they were either going to like it or lump it.

      This is stupid. If MS would just give users the option to choose, eventually they could probably be convinced the new way is better with some more iterations of the design that fully integrated Metro into the desktop instead of making them opposed to one another. It doesn’t even have to be a choice between them. MS seems hellbent on making everything as horrible as possible.

      It’s not like it’s without precedent (ie., Windows Phone, Windows RT, Surface, Surface Pro, Xbone), but it’s like watching that guy you really, really want to succeed because he’s been with you through a lot of crap and maybe you didn’t always like him all that much, but he was always trying to do right by you. Then when he’s the closest to truly being your best bud, suddenly he gets demanding and annoying.

      And you wonder why you even bother with him. That reminds you that you don’t have any other options–a sad fact most of us ignore–and suddenly you’re annoyed you don’t have any options for Windows gaming other than just dealing with MS’s crap or sticking with older releases. Nobody likes to be reminded they are reliant upon a company that gave up on PC gaming for the OS to use for PC gaming.

      That’s probably why we need Steam to revitalize Linux gaming in a big way.

        • WaltC
        • 6 years ago

        I think we are in basic agreement, although I’m scratching my head over why some folks gave me a down vote for being honest here, while other folks who simply said they hated Win8 got + votes galore. Go figure! I think it was because I had the temerity to say that I liked 8 more than I like 7, who knows? No sleep lost, though…;)

        I just really don’t like the RT ui. To me it’s ooooooogly! The colors are garish, the text is too big by far, and the functionality has been dumbed down to such an extent that the OS has to revert to the explorer ui to get anything done. It’s almost as if Microsoft has two OSes merged. One of them for experienced people who use the Explorer ui, and another for n00bs with touchscreens who use the RT ui because it’s all they can understand–no more will fit into their tiny little craniums (maybe that’s a *little* unfair.) I used to think Microsoft OSes stood out because (unlike with OS X, or Mac OS, for instance) they don’t assume ignorance on the part of their customers, but rather give them credit for having both sense and experience. As a result, Windows has been festooned with customer choices in stark opposition to Apple, the anti consumer-choice OS king. With the Win8 RT ui, however, I’ve had to eat those words. The RT ui seems perfectly tailored to finger-painting kindergarteners. I’m gratified that I can fully utilize Win8 without having to resort to the RT ui for anything–that and the fact that the OS is simply tighter and leaner and quicker than Win7, and has some nice features Win7 does not, is what saves Win8’s bacon, imo.

        Like me, you seem puzzled by Microsoft. I am, without a doubt. It seems they’ve turned everything over to a bunch of PR n00bs who think Windows 7 is for some reason “too hard” for the average Joe. I think that Win7, though, was Microsoft’s most popular OS to date, exceeding even WinXP’s popularity, if not longevity, by now. The RT ui is what comes of substituting Public Relations and Marketing *Gibberish* for solid sales data. Win7 did not achieve its stellar market penetration because it was “too hard” for the masses. Quite the contrary. (Precisely the reason Microsoft botched the xb1 launch as catastrophically as it did–Microsoft was listening to the *wrong people* again–ie, it wasn’t listening to its customers until *after* it made its mistakes–the bassackwards way of doing things.)

        Opining here…I have difficulty these days doing the long-winded posting I used to do (no doubt a massive relief to many people!)…;) I still like words and writing a great deal, of course, and I like the interchange of ideas that comes with reading forums of all kinds, especially computer-related technical forums (except political–which I try and avoid at all costs. And religious forums on the Internet? Forget it–people don’t know how to have civilized discussions and disagreements any more. Such a shame.) With the TR-report, which I’ve been reading since it began, I am *so pleased* to see the topics returning to computer technology in the main–for awhile there this wonderful site seemed mired in cell-phone and tablet-device la-la land…;) Borrrrrring! I’m not sure why I’m relating all of these things, except that you seem almost as long winded as I used to be…;) (Keep it up!…;))

        One last thing about Win8 that I like–the game compatibility is really excellent. I’m running all the old games in Win8/8.1 that I ran in Win7–which is to say all of the old games that I have–which is a considerable trove. DOSbox works identically well in Win8 as it did in Win7. Basically, I’ve yet to meet the game I cannot run under Win8. Some of them are fun and challenging to setup properly, but I’ve yet to meet the game I cannot get to run under 8 (although I’m sure they exist somewhere.) Right now on my 8.1 partition, I’ve installed and am running Rune (1.07), a windows game–not requiring DOSbox, a thirteen year-old, DX7 game that frankly never looked better than it does running on 8.1 and on my 2GB HD 7850! I mean that when I say the game never looked and played better than it does right now! Wooops–almost forgot–anyone who wants to do this needs to also get Kentie’s D3d10 renderer for the unreal-engine games (most of them)! It’s great! Follow the directions and make sure you update Win8.1 with the latest DX(D3d) runtime files–which Kentie provides a link to–and you are off and running.

        Anyway–I said all of the above because people should take the Microsoft marketing about “Win 8.1–which isn’t even finalized and won’t be for two-three months!–Required” with a huge grain of salt…;) The stuff about “resource tiling” is pretty dumb, actually, because game developers have been doing it already for years in their game engines. All it is is a standardized way to move textures in and out of vram from system ram when needed–DX11.2 simply gives developers a single method for doing that which is now supported by the API–that’s all. IMO, it will not have *any* effect on gaming which will be noticeable by the game-playing customer. It very much reminds me ( a little bit) of when Vista was shipped and people got the wrong idea and thought Microsoft was trying to pull a fast one and restrict Dx10 to Vista and above just to move people off of WinXP. It was never that–it was because of the fact that Microsoft drastically changed the *driver model* for D3d devices with Vista and dx10, and the new models were incompatible with WinXP and earlier. Even that was a sort of silly distinction to draw, because when I first bought Vista I had a DX9-specific 3d card and all of my games were DX9 and earlier–and everything worked fine on Vista. Backwards compatibility has always been one Windows’ strong suits. Should Microsoft throw that away along with the explorer ui, I really think the company could put its head between its legs and kiss its *ss goodbye, as far as having any mainstream OS future goes! I’m amazed that I’d even suggest that Microsoft might be in danger of losing its corporate mind like that–but, hey, the Win8 RT ui is very real. I *hope* that smarter, cooler heads prevail at Microsoft–but these days–hey–the country is going bananas so fast that any amount of degradation and decline seems possible.

          • chuckula
          • 6 years ago

          OMG! WaltC and HDO are having a conversation thread!


    • someuid
    • 6 years ago

    TechReport guys, if this is the kind of articles ArsTechnica is going to share with you, you should re-evaluate your arrangement with them. This article stinks to high heaven.

    The blabbering about fish bubbles and dragons – delete.

    The whole section on who Owns the Start Screen just seems like pointless blabbering. I’m still not sure what exactly changed or didn’t change and don’t feel like wading through all that boring text to figure it out.

    Pictures of Holly whoever the hell she is – don’t care. I’m married and happy. Don’t try and dangle this kind of sexual attraction crap in front of me.

    The sooner you can bury this article the better.

      • JohnC
      • 6 years ago

      This. I’d rather see Scott hire a good editor to write articles about OSes and other software than see this unhelpful “kindergarden” joke. Or get a “sharing agreement” with The Verge/Engadged or any similar respectable blog. Anything would be better than ArsTechnica’s garbage “content”.

    • ronch
    • 6 years ago

    Don’t like.

    • DavidC1
    • 6 years ago

    Who actually thinks Windows 8’s fault is due to being “Touch optimized”?

    They could have implemented the Hybrid part a LOT better but they decided not to. Windows 8 actually sucks as a Tablet OS as well.

    Really. Think of using the Metro interface on a Phone or Tablet. They are not that good there either. Hell, they could have copied iOS/Android to a tee and have a better Hybrid OS that serves both functions well.

    Again, imagine iOS/Android UI but full compatibility with your applications. The reason its better is because it doesn’t make you switch between two OSes like a schizophrenic, multiple personality disorder, ADD kids that are born nowadays.

    • Wirko
    • 6 years ago

    Microsoft Touch Mouse/Apple Magic Mouse. These are [i<]the[/i<] devices to put Metro on, if only they had a curved OLED touchsreen all over the surface. The giant pink and green programmable buttons are just what I'd like to see on a mouse, in addition to main buttons, of course. They would be easy to locate even with peripheral vision. Does any company already make something like that?

      • Diplomacy42
      • 6 years ago

      switchblade UI anybody?

    • uni-mitation
    • 6 years ago

    Who actually thinks that real people do real work with touchscreens?

    If you do, I humbly request that you get a reality check. Go to a real office, and see what real people do. Do you really think that real people have the time to be learning this chimera of an operating system that belongs on a phone, and not on a desktop?

    Am i the only thinking that real people do real work on a keyboard? Have the world gone to utter madness? Can’t wait for microsoft to go to utter oblivion and take their bastard child with them.

      • slowriot
      • 6 years ago

      Sigh. People do “real” work on touchscreens every day. Touchscreens are not the problem. Those who force touchscreen-focused interfaces on desktop form factors are the problem. There’s a lot of instances where devices like smartphones and tablets make much more sense than a laptop or desktop, but not always. That goes the other way around too (obviously). So, shouldn’t the goal be to design interfaceS that take advantage of those form factors? I think so.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 6 years ago

        Yeah, just go to Subway they’re all using touchscreens.

          • HisDivineOrder
          • 6 years ago

          Ramsey on Kitchen Nightmares likes to give people POS systems with touchscreens, often based on iPod Touch’s for the servers. Touchscreens work well for some scenarios.

          It’s just trying to make them the premier form of interaction across all devices is pretty stupid.

    • canoli
    • 6 years ago

    Windows 8 done right? You have to be kidding me; that’s an impossibility when a mobile UI has been shoved onto a desktop – it cannot be “done right” ever it can only be made less annoying.

    So we’re getting closer to One OS For All but why is that a good thing? So my desktop resembles my phone and my tablet – and that helps me … how? Prior to Win 8 were we all having trouble with 2 different UIs? Were we swiping at our monitors and searching for our cellphone’s mouse?

    Sorry but this whole concept is idiotic for us end users. I’m sure it has potential for MS share holders and the capital markets in general but for users it’s just dumb.

    • rwburnham
    • 6 years ago

    I do like how the background of the Start screen can be the same as your desktop. It doesn’t change the functionality, but it removes that feeling of the Start screen competing with the desktop.

    • jossie
    • 6 years ago

    I tried it for a few hours before it stopped recognizing my mouse and keyboard. It was a good improvement up until that point.

      • Deanjo
      • 6 years ago

      Done by design. They assumed that a couple of hours was all it would take to get you to go out and buy a touchscreen.

        • HisDivineOrder
        • 6 years ago

        Or perhaps they designed it that way because they figured after that point you were going to join a forum and start talking about how much you hated it, so they wanted to go on and disable your keyboard to keep you from doing that before fully testing it.

        Of course, they accidentally also disabled your mouse, but haha, that’s MS. What a kidder.

    • DavidC1
    • 6 years ago

    I’ll tell you what MS should have done to make Windows 8 good rather than this joke of an update called 8.1.

    See this?: [url<]http://cdn.briefmobile.com/images/articles/2012/10/image42.png[/url<] A whole bunch of single button clickable icons all in one space? That would be your Desktop, but with Start button. Let me explain further. See where it says "Apps and Widgets".You'd have "Desktop" and "Apps". Just like the option of Windows 7 Start Menu showing most recently used(and pinned) applications, the "Desktop" config will have the most recently used appplications. You can pin them to the "Desktop" if you want to. Apps option will show all your applications. You still have your Start Menu, but have another option to navigate with. Touch optimization: -Have all the hardware accelerated Touch optimization tha Windows 8 has. -The unique swipe from left to right in Windows 8 OS is there, except you can switch between every application, whether its an "app" or a full-fledged program. -Multi-point Touch optimized UI. For example, one finger swipe from left to right would just go from one Tab in Browser to another. But two finger swipe switches between full programs. And in Control Panel, you'd have an option to even use multi-point touch as hotkeys. You want 3 finger gestures to represent a shortcut to represent a key on a keyboard? You can. -To look at an information about an open application, you'd do just like Windows 8. For example, swipe from bottom to top -Desktop and App icons are all single click. It can be organized into categories(rename and rearrange them as well). -And at last: Have an option to use Classic shell

    • axeman
    • 6 years ago

    Holly Willoughby


    Would bang.

      • uni-mitation
      • 6 years ago

      Do you have the audacity to be picky?

      We are in a tech site, and you are actually thinking that she would bang you?

        • BiggieShady
        • 6 years ago

        The fact that you think being in a tech site makes you unbangable is the reason why no one would bang you, including her.

          • axeman
          • 6 years ago

          Plus the fact I was trying to make a joke about nerds objectifying women, I failed there.

            • someuid
            • 6 years ago

            You need to go to joke school as badly as Microsoft needs to go to UI design school.

            • axeman
            • 6 years ago

            Now *that’s* funny. 😀

            • BIF
            • 6 years ago

            I don’t know a damned single one of you people talking about this on a site where people of all ages might show up.

            Who the hell are you and did you come over from ARS?

          • rwburnham
          • 6 years ago

          I know some pretty sexy people who appreciate computer technology.

      • chµck
      • 6 years ago

      haha because of the 4chan tile!

    • Glix
    • 6 years ago

    ~hmmm Holly~

    Oh this is an article about Windows?

    • destroy.all.monsters
    • 6 years ago

    Nothing about either the articles or screen shots tells me why this would be of the remotest use for work (and by work I mean both for business and personal productivity).

    The screenshot of “the hero” in particular shows that Windows, formerly known as the more business-oriented OS now comes across as just another social media style time waster.

    As much as I love Ars, this is a puff piece that isn’t exactly asking any of the tough questions.

      • JohnC
      • 6 years ago

      I agree – a “fluff” article made to just write “something” about the subject, not to be actually informative or helpful to other readers… Would be more fitting at CNN’s or Wall Street Journal’s web sites 😉

    • indeego
    • 6 years ago

    [quote<]"That's no longer the case in 8.1. Install a new app and its icon will be stuck in All Apps view. It will only appear on the Start screen itself if you explicitly pin it."[/quote<] no. No no no no no!

    • DeadOfKnight
    • 6 years ago

    I’ll stick with Windows 7, thanks.

    • alternety
    • 6 years ago

    It still needs the “real” start menu.

    Historically I believe “previews” could not be upgraded to the final version. Does the 8.1 preview block or allow upgrading to the final version. Given that it is free, they should not care.

    Never mind about updates.


      • HisDivineOrder
      • 6 years ago

      This has “historically” felt like laziness on their part to me.

    • rxc6
    • 6 years ago

    It looks like a good update. I have been using W8 on my non-touchscreen laptop and W7 on my desktop. There are some things that I actually like about W8. The start screen with live tiles works better for me than any type of widgets I ever found on windows or linux. There are still a lot of annoyances, like opening attachments in the email app and settings were really badly done so far. Another problem is the bad scaling. Fonts fail to look good in the metro environment or the desktop.

    I will check if this pass the usability tests on my desktop virtual machine. I hope that MS makes good use of screen real state.

      • indeego
      • 6 years ago

      “I hope that MS makes good use of screen real state.”

      It doesn’t. It cannot.

      If they designed two systems, one for fingers, and one for mouse/KB, this thing would fly off the shelf. Nobody is complaining about anything except the changes made to the core of the desktop OS, [b<]and how they are forced down your throat[/b<]. And I don't think anyone is really complaining about how Microsoft tablets are a new market Microsoft really wants (actually they just want people on skydrive, it's the heart now of Microsoft ecosystem. If I were Microsoft I'd give 50G free to skydrive with a new account.) It's the lack of choice, and both markets suffer. I'm not going to a Tablet OS from a manufacturer that abandoned the desktop. It means they don't care about me, the customer, so much. Fool me once... Really, they abandoned Windows Mobile in 2007 for 3 years! The very birth of the iPhone, and Microsoft sat back! I posted this a while back, the solution is simple: Every new Microsoft OS should provide a new GUI as default (then they keep their gee-whiz people interested), [b<]and[/b<] the option to have the old previous GUI (this keeps people who need the way an OS works to be somewhat consistent between versions.) As for screen real estate, metro is slower to find what you need due to inconsistency for new apps/applications/files/settings/scrolling/whitespace/coloring, how it blocks off your work in a jarring way by going full screen. It's a step backwards. Even with 8.1, as we read above.

    • JohnC
    • 6 years ago

    Still far from being “done right”.
    B.t.w, you guys should write your own articles, without copying whole thing from “friends” :-/

      • pmonti80
      • 6 years ago

      They have some kind of agreement with Ars Technica where Ars respublishes some TechReport articles and viceversa. I have seen a few T.R. articles on Ars first time I’ve seen the reverse though.

        • JohnC
        • 6 years ago

        Maybe they do, but I don’t really see what’s the point… I mean, I can just click on Ars’ link and read it there… Plus it’s always interesting to read about more individual experience.

          • indeego
          • 6 years ago

          They are going for casual readers of one or the other sites. It brings cross-eyeballs and markets to each of their respective pages. Scott and Ken know each other (Scott used to co-write at ars.)

          This is only a win/win for both sites. Readers of both just skip the duplicity.

            • Yan
            • 6 years ago

            If Ars Technica keeps posting trashy articles about Snowden, I think fewer people will be seeing these articles on both sites.

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