My first attempt at installing Windows 8.1 failed miserably. The virtual machine crashed before it even got the installer loaded so the first lesson here is that you can’t install the 64-bit version of Windows 8.1 on a 32-bit machine. In my defence, my computer is a 64-bit machine, unfortunately I forgot the virtual machine I run is not. Twenty minutes later we have the 32-bit installation downloaded and we’re back in business.
The installation process was just as easy as I remember Windows 8 being, although one thing I didn’t appreciate much was the requirement to offer a valid email address to connect with Microsoft’s services. I can already hear the argument, “Well, Apple and Google do the same thing with their App Store and Google Play respectively”... true, but the key difference is Apple and Google don’t also require you to log into your device with that same email address, which is where my objection comes in. Other than that, the installation was pretty smooth. That said, we’re not here to discuss the installation, so let’s get to the meat of this project, how does Windows 8.1 compare with it’s predecessor?
As I stated in my last article, there are a few things going well for this new Windows. For starters it is faster and smoother. Installation is so simple a novice could walk through the steps and come out OK in the end. It’s definitely pretty, and I think it will work very well for tablets, smartphones, and other touch based devices.
off was a new horizontal scroll bar on the Start Menu. This made it easy to pull things hidden off-screen into view. They also added a little horizontal bar icon in the lower right corner that brings up the hidden menu, which can also be brought up by hovering your mouse over the upper right corner of the screen.This is a slight improvement because there wasn’t any indicator of the menu’s existence before. It isn’t terribly obvious what it is, and I actually discovered it by accident, but the new icon is at least a step in the right direction.
Another nice change Microsoft made was to give users the ability to change the desktop so it looks like the traditional Windows Desktop. You can change the settings so the Desktop App is the default application that comes up when you first start Windows instead of the Start Menu. This gives users a similar look and feel they’re already used to and is a great idea for corporations trying to ease users into the new environment. Once signed in, users see their familiar desktop, complete with Start Menu and Taskbar. Some applications open with the same window layout people are already used to, including the ‘X’ icon in the corner of the window they’re used to using to close out of the application.
All of those things are huge improvements to the user experience, but I’m not convinced it’s enough. It is still hard to find things and I discovered that many apps open in a full screen instead of a windowed mode regardless of being launched from the Desktop app. I never did find any obvious way to close out of those full screen applications, making it very frustrating when I wanted to switch to a new application. Pressing the Windows key on the keyboard or clicking on the Windows icon on the hidden menu brought up the Start Menu, but pressing it a second time just sent you back to your application. Selecting another app from the menu opens the new app, but doesn’t close down the current one. I can see this being phenomenally bad as people start piling up open apps in the background, all of which eat up memory and other system resources while they continue running. There is no obvious way to close them, and I found myself relying on the ALT-F4 keystroke to get out of trouble.Hovering your mouse in the upper left corner brings up a hidden menu to switch between open applications much like ALT-TAB does in earlier versions of Windows, but again, it only switches between the applications, it does not close them down.