Why I love Windows 8.1
Eighth in a series. It feels weird admitting this. Akin to declaring a fondness for Piers Morgan, or dancing in public to One Direction, almost. But I like Windows 8.1. A lot.
I was never a fan of Windows 8. In fact I'd go so far as to say I detested the Modern UI which on my uber-fast desktop system simply got in the way when I was trying to work and slowed me down or tripped me up. Every time I wanted to do something simple like launch a program it insisted on throwing me out of the desktop and into a weird tiled nightmare I couldn't wait to wake up from.
Apps on a tablet are great. On a PC, unless they're providing an at-a-glance notification of something important I don't need them -- and shoving apps in my face in a colorful tiled way annoyed me. I'm all for embracing the future, but not a future which feels like it's been designed by a committee of idiots, as it did in the case of Windows 8. The simple intuitive method of launching a program was replaced by a clumsy, and frankly far worse alternative designed for monkeys with a penchant for pawing at their screens. And tablet users.
It's fair to say, when I first started using Windows 8 I hated it. After a while I grew to tolerate it, and at times liked it quite a lot. But then I switched permanently to Windows 8.1 Preview (with the occasional sojourn into later leaked builds) and instantly we clicked. It was like the good bits of Windows 8 -- and I know a lot of you will shake your heads at the very suggestion that the OS has any good bits -- had been made better, and the bad bits replaced or at the very least made less rubbish.
It was like putting up with a girlfriend because, well, she’s not that bad, but then going out on a date with her sister and realizing she's the one you want to be with. To the point where you're no longer even fantasizing about your ex.
Windows 8.1 isn't the operating system I wanted, nor the operating system I would have designed if someone at Microsoft had taken leave of their senses and told me to reinvent Windows, but it's such a giant leap forward over Windows 8 I can't help liking it. I feel grateful to Windows 8.1 because it isn't the crap fest that Windows 8 was, but there's much more to it than that. Once you get to know it -- give it a proper chance -- you'll find it's a really good operating system.
There's a lot I like about Windows 8.1. For starters, I can boot straight to the desktop now, bypassing the Start screen. The Modern UI is there if I feel a pressing need to be modern, but if all I want to do is get on with work, or catch up on what the web has to offer in a million tabs, then I can.
The Apps screen makes it easier for me to fire up the programs I use, and I can sort them how I want. I just prefer the layout. It’s not a traditional Start menu, but it works. And while I know having the desktop wallpaper behind the Start and Apps screens is all a big con (making you feel you're still, in some way, on the desktop), it's a welcome con nonetheless.
The Start button is far from amazing, but the ability to right-click it and shutdown Windows makes its inclusion a winner as far as I’m concerned. That I can also access Task Manager, Control Panel, File Explorer and other Windows functions there too is a major added bonus.
What else? The improved SkyDrive integration is very welcome, and I like that I can search the web from anywhere. I don't feel a burning need to arrange multiple apps on a single screen because I already have a multi-monitor setup, but I appreciate I could do that if one my displays suddenly went kaput.
The Windows Store doesn't suck any more, which is good, and while I will never use bundled apps like Food & Drink, and Health & Fitness they seem like welcome additions. Well, the icons look decent at least. The inclusion of Skype (in RTM) is great.
The Personal Touch
Ultimately, what I like best about Windows 8.1 is it lets me customize it, and use it how I want to, not in the alien, twisted way Microsoft thinks I should, as was the case with Windows 8. I know the designers at Microsoft would pull their hair out at the paucity of apps I have installed (I regularly install apps, but don't keep many), and the mostly empty Start screen with only a handful of my super favorite apps and programs pinned to it.
I know they'll despair that with all the effort put into improving the lock screen the first thing I did after upgrading to Windows 8.1 was disable that particular feature.
But I don't care. I want to use Windows my way, and with 8.1 I can.
Is it better than Windows 8? By bloody miles. Is it better than Windows 7? Yes, I think it actually is. Admittedly there are some elements I don't like, but I can fire up my programs just as quickly, and the benefits of the new OS far and away outweigh the downsides. Would I recommend everyone upgrade to Windows 8.1? No. Ultimately it's Windows 8 done right, and if you hate everything about Windows 8, and you're not prepared to spend time learning the new system, and equally importantly unlearning the old one, then Windows 8.1 likely won't change your mind.
For me though, Windows 8.1 is a damn fine OS, and I finally feel ready to make the ultimate commitment and wave goodbye to my Windows 7 dual boot…