by November 14, 2013 0 comments

Windows 8 has been received with a lot of scepticism. For one, it takes some time to get used to the OS thanks to its refreshed user interface, which is not easy for seasoned users since they are so accustomed to the ‘Start’ button, an essential which has been missed in Windows 8 RTM. Moreover, the tiled layout gave more of a tabletlike feel, something which desktop users did not really cherish. To assuage such a community of users, Microsoft made available a preview of the upgrade, Windows 8.1 for
the Enterprise edition earlier this year. As of the time of writing this piece, Windows 8.1, a free update to Windows 8, has been released globally, nearly one year after the launch of Windows 8 RTM. Here are 5 of the biggest changes that Windows 8.1 brings to the table.

1. Search is more comprehensive and at-a-glance
A single search now brings you results from your PC, your apps, and the web. This applies for music and videos too. This might be a move to encourage users to use Bing whenever they want to search for something, from anywhere in the operating system.

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2. Redesigned Windows Store and enhanced pre-installed apps
The redesigning of the Windows Store is aimed at making it easier to discover apps through better organization and layout. There are new apps such as ‘Reading List’, which is meant to act as a device-independent list of articles that you `share’ for later reading, and existing apps such as
`Photos’ that have been made easier to use.

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3. Greater personalization
Windows 8.1 allows you to set up a slide show on your lock screen. There are also more tile sizes, more colors, and more backgrounds including animated backgrounds.

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4. Tighter SkyDrive integration
SkyDrive is now the default location for saving documents. However, in order for this to work, it is necessary that a Microsoft account be set up for user authentication on the PC. Even while setting up the same, the user is given an option to turn off this setting. In the absence of a Microsoft
account, the default location for saving documents continues to remain the `Documents’ library.

5. Internet Explorer 11
When you get Windows 8.1, you also get the new Internet Explorer that includes side-by-side browsing of your sites and real-time info delivered on your Start screen through live tiles for your favorite sites.

Bottomline
Windows 8.1 can be either obtained as a free update for existing Windows 8 users or as a paid upgrade for earlier Windows versions. However, it is not the typical service pack that one would expect about a year after a Windows OS releases. Many of the changes (such as the Start button which merely brings up the Start screen instead of the familiar Start menu seen in earlier versions of Windows) are aimed at making things more convenient/integrated for usage rather than providing additional functionality. As such, apart from Internet Explorer 11, there doesn’t really
seem to be a compelling reason for going for the update. Changes made such as boot-to-desktop are seen to be part of a strategy to compel users to switch to the new OS without having to bother with the tiled layout, a  known sore spot for seasoned Windows users finding it difficult to come to terms with the new OS. In fact, from an IT management perspective, probably the biggest dissimilarity between a typical service pack and the 8.1 RTM update is that the update is not delivered via Windows Update but via a link that is made available in the Windows Store instead as shown in the figure (which has its own screen resolution requirements). The  download is indeed nearly as heavy as the complete OS itself (more than 2.5 GB). However, since the OS won’t automatically update to 8.1, this means that businesses not wanting to upgrade right away do not need to be bothered with deploying blocker toolkits that are meant to prevent automatic installation of certain updates (as is the case with service packs in earlier versions of Windows). And as always, the update brings with itself the usual checklist of determining hardware and application compatibility
before you proceed. Hence, it can be concluded that Windows 8.1 makes
sense for two groups of users: (1) Those Windows 8 users who want to make use of newer features such as Internet Explorer 11 without having to pay anything and (2) Earlier Windows’ users who were set back by the lack of familiar convenience features such as booting straight to the desktop, Start button, etc. but still desire to take advantage of the new features available in Windows 8 as a whole. In either case, compatibility must be ascertained beforehand. If compatibility with your existing hardware / applications turns out to be a point of concern, it probably isn’t worth going for this update.

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