I’ve been playing with Windows 8.1 build 9471 for a few hours now and I’ve got a few thoughts to share. This build is almost the final version and offers a bevy of features designed to make the transition from previous versions of Windows as easy as possible. Microsoft has made significant improvements in usability and has included several integrated tutorials to help users become conversant with Windows 8.1.
Here are the top changes:
Easy Application Bar Access
Do you see those three horizontal white dots in the bottom right corner of the Mail App? When you mouseover, it shows a little tooltip that says you can press the Windows Key + z or right click on the screen to bring it up. Alternatively, you can simply click the three dots to slide up the options bar.
Here’s the options bar. You can also see that clicking the More circle produces even more options such as Sync and Print.
Help and Tips
Microsoft sagaciously decided to include a beautiful Help and Tips app to ameliorate the fear of using Windows 8.1
These are short bite sized nuggets of wisdom that show you how to use the Start Screen, navigate the OS, perform basic actions, synchronize your stuff, adjust settings and generally become familiar with all the new features.
Some of the tips are pure text others are short icon based videos demonstrating a task. For example, clicking Getting Around opens an App that explains how to use the new Start Screen and there’s a 10 second video animation that demonstrates the task.
On the one hand this is a huge win for Microsoft and I think it’s imperative to include these tutorials since Windows 8 and 8.1 are so alien to most users; however, on the other hand, Microsoft should have designed Windows so that such tutorials weren’t necessary. When I pick up my iPad I instantly know what to do without ever touching a manual… unfortunately Microsoft doesn’t have this magical element yet.
Skydrive and Skype
Other additions include baked in SkyDrive support and Skype is installed by default which replaces the Messaging App
The Skype App really is beautiful. Since I sign into Windows with my Microsoft account, Skype never prompted me to login with new credentials. After I clicked the Skype App it used my Microsoft account to automatically (and seamlessly) sign into Skype.
New File Explorer
File Explorer now puts SkyDrive on stage.
In Windows 8 you had to install a separate SkyDrive App; however, in Windows 8.1 SkyDrive is there ready to spring into action without any silly setup software.
You can see it in the left pane below.
On a side note: I do find it a little annoying that the Libraries folder is gone.
Obviously, Microsoft wants everyone to embrace Skydrive and for what it’s worth I agree cloud storage is the future; however, it would still be nice to have my lovely Libraries folder looking back at me when I open File Explorer.
To get it back you have to take a circuitous route to the View tab, then the Navigation pane icon in the far left and finally Show libraries.
Parallax Scrolling Wallpapers
Motion desktops are fun little additions to Windows.
As you scroll left and right in the Start Screen, different parts of the background animate. It doesn’t really have much utilitarian value but it does make the Start Screen more interesting. I spent about 30 seconds just scrolling back and forth marveling at the animation, in fact, the graphic below is an (Animated PNG) APNG file so if you’re using Firefox you can see the motion in action. I don’t think IE or Opera will display the animations though.
The Bottom Line
My gut wants to hate Windows. I want it to fail because I want Microsoft to wake up and hear the people and make things right. But to be honest, I think Windows 8.1 actually get’s it right. The OS is fluid, responsive and more intuitive thanks to the Help and Tips App and various on-screen tool-tips.
What do you think of the latest build, do you think Windows 8.1 will ultimately be a success?