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Windows 8.1 review

Verdict

Microsoft's latest update brings the worlds of touch and desktop together more successfully than before, although there's still plenty of work to do

Review Date: 27 Jun 2013

Reviewed By: Barry Collins

Price when reviewed:

This is our preliminary verdict on the Windows 8.1 Preview released in late June 2013

When Steve Ballmer introduced Windows 8.1 at Microsoft’s Build conference, he used the word "blend" so often that you wondered whether this was an operating system or a new brand of coffee.

Clearly stung by the criticism that Windows 8 focused on tablets at the expense of non-touch PCs, Microsoft has attempted to make the new Modern interface and the old-fashioned desktop "blend" more cohesively. It's also worked hard to shrink Windows 8 for the hot devices of the moment: compact tablets.

Have these two, seemingly contradictory, goals been achieved? Or is Windows 8.1 still the awkward hybrid of tablet and desktop OS that its predecessor was? Here's our initial verdict on the Windows 8.1 Preview.

Touch tweaks

Changes to the Windows 8.1 UI are apparent right from the moment you install the Preview. The Start screen has been given a considerable revamp. There are two new tile sizes: "small", which is a quarter of the size of the previous square tiles, and "large", which doubles the size of the previous large tiles.

Windows 8.1

The new large tiles aren't only easier to strike on a touchscreen – especially 8in tablets – but deliver more Live Tile information. Switch the Weather app to "large", for example, and you get tomorrow's forecast in addition to today's; the revamped Mail app will deliver three message previews instead of only one.

It's also much easier to keep the Start screen tidy and manageable in Windows 8.1. Apps are no longer installed on the Start screen by default; instead, they’re sent straight to the All Apps menu, which can now be accessed simply by swiping upwards on the Start screen. From there, you can decide to pin newly installed apps on the Start screen. It's a much neater way of giving you quick access to a directory of everything installed on the device, leaving the Start screen for essential apps, or those that deliver extra value via their Live Tiles.

Windows 8.1

App handling has also been much improved. Windows 8 only allowed users to open two apps at a time, and imposed the bizarre restriction that one of them had to squeeze into a sliver down one side of the screen. With Windows 8.1, users can resize apps to whatever width they prefer, allowing you to devote half the screen to Internet Explorer, say, and the other half to a video you’re watching. It’s even possible to have two windows of the same app running side by side.

Sometimes the split-screen mode is invoked automatically. Click on a link in an email, for example, and the OS automatically opens a browser window on the right-hand side of the screen, meaning you’re not rudely thrown out of your inbox as you were previously.

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User comments

Andy

So is it now possible for users to avoid Metro altogether?

By Shampoo4brains on 29 Jun 2013

No

By TimoGunt on 29 Jun 2013

At this rate, Windows 8 might be okay in 5 years or so

The ability to see several apps at once (albeit just in vertical stripes) is an improvement. If they could now give the Modern UI a list of all the applications I have open, so I can change to another window with a single click (a bit like the Taskbar in desktop mode) then it could slowly start creeping towards being a usable environment.

By ChrisH on 29 Jun 2013

Libraries

I've found you can add the Libraries folder back in to Explorer. Click the 'Alt' key then choose 'View' > 'Options' and under the 'General' tab click the 'Show Libraries' to reinstate them.

GD

By GhillieDhu on 30 Jun 2013

Can UK users install the preview yet?

Does anybody have any idea when UK users will be able to install the preview from the Updates section in Windows 8? I believe its only US users at present, or you need to re-install from an ISO image.

By beroscoe on 1 Jul 2013

Not the Start Button

>>Clicking it merely opens the Windows 8 Start screen
So it is not the Start Button at all. Actually I like Metro day-to-day, but for serious work on the desktop, the XP start button gave a much more comprehensive set of options. And I can get to the Start Screen pressing the Windows key, so for me this new button is just unwanted clutter.
Have they sorted out the woefully under-functioned Mail app?

By Merry_Man on 1 Jul 2013

@Merry_Man

The Mail App, and certain others are definitely getting a re-working for 8.1, but these are not in the preview.
Various Windows fan-sites around the Interweb have 'leaked' screenshots and write-ups, so a Bing search would probably track these down ....

By wittgenfrog on 1 Jul 2013

@Andy

Practically, yes. With Classic Shell!

http://www.classicshell.net/

By bet1001 on 1 Jul 2013

No start menu, just the button!
And NO revised explorer.exe that fully supports file paths longer than 255 characters.
AND it still lies about storage units! For instance, a 1TB drive is labelled as 931GiB when really it is 1000GB. Confuses consumers.

By danwat1234 on 4 Jul 2013

Previous comment has a typo

Previous comment has a typo, should say 931GB not GiB, because Explorere is wrong.

By danwat1234 on 4 Jul 2013

In desktop mode I find it annoying that you have to right-click the Start button to stay in that mode to access the menus. Often found myself in Metro mode unintentionally. In Metro mode no quick way to exit an app & lack of any sort of menus frustrating but then I have to remember it's not really designed for a hardcore desktop user. If you are using a mouse you find yourself often doing a right-click only to find theres no function. Having said all this there is a lot to like about the OS especially in desktop mode. Like the minimal look you can achieve & it does seem fast. I have it loaded on an old Dell Optiplex core Duo and it's very responsive. Not needing metro, part of me thinks I would be paying for something not needed even if I do find ways not to accidently stumble into it! Am warming to it but slowly but don't see myself updating anytime soon.

By gippeswyc on 4 Jul 2013

+For Business

I trust there'll be a policy template for remote desktop admins to manage their users' experience on a 2012 terminal server? No? Psshhhh.

By redziller on 4 Jul 2013

Balmer's Barrel scraping...

The irony of this whole accountancy driven process Ballmer is championing: Microsoft are trying to cull piracy and maximise return on product, whilst at the same time transitioning from strong product with high margin, to weaker product offered at giveaway pricing.

Exit Ballmer, roll on Windows X.

By Gindylow on 4 Jul 2013

Windows what

YYYYaaaaawwwwwwwnn

By linux1943 on 29 Aug 2013

What about text size?

As most of us already know, if you have a high DPI / small, high resolution (e.g. 1080p 13" or smaller) screen text is INSANELY small. So we are forced to increase text DPI size (e.g. to 150% or more). The problem is that this breaks the layout on many websites and many applications. e.g. Text becomes too big for boxes... Submit buttons become cut off or even invisible. etc etc.

Rumor has it that Win8.1 has a fix for this.

By ship69 on 19 Sep 2013

What about text size?

As most of us already know, if you have a high DPI / small, high resolution (e.g. 1080p 13" or smaller) screen text is INSANELY small. So we are forced to increase text DPI size (e.g. to 150% or more). The problem is that this breaks the layout on many websites and many applications. e.g. Text becomes too big for boxes... Submit buttons become cut off or even invisible. etc etc.

Rumor has it that Win8.1 has a fix for this.

By ship69 on 19 Sep 2013

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