Windows 8.1 is a unique animal.
First Microsoft wowed us with Windows 98. Everyone loved the improved USB support, networking enhancements and performances gains over Windows 95.
Then, after the abysmal release of Windows ME in 2000, Microsoft regained its footing with Windows XP in 2001 and again with Windows 7 in 2009.
XP and 7 were superior to Vista and ME but the first two still had their quirks.
There’s no doubt about it – every iteration of Windows has its share of idiosyncrasies; however, some versions are indisputably better than others.
For many people (including me), Windows 8 felt like a huge leap backwards. Microsoft axed the beloved Start Button and it alienated non-touch screen users with the annoying tablet-centric Start Screen.
That’s why I’m so happy with my version Windows 8.1. Although it isn’t the panacea for our Windows woes, it certainly addresses our biggest concerns and it does it all for free.
To snag the free update, type Windows Update from the Windows 8 Start Screen then download and install the latest updates (I’m trying to see how many times I can use the word update in a single sentence)
You might be asked to reboot; if so – flip the switch, bounce the box and login. Next, click the big green Store tile on the Start Screen and you should see the Windows 8.1 update pop in the store.
The update is over 3GB and can take up to an hour to install so get ready to plan for that.
Windows 8.1 Quick Tips
My purpose in this guide is to get you comfortable with using Windows 8.1.
I want to smash any trepidation you’re feeling about this new, seemingly enigmatic update. In addition, I realize you’re busy and therefore you need quick answers to common tasks and frustrations.
That’s why I compiled this brief compendium of Windows 8.1 tips.
Let’s just jump right in…
1. Flipping between the Desktop and Start Screens
To get to the desktop, either click the Desktop app in the lower left corner of the screen or press the Windows Key + d.
If getting to the desktop still feels unnatural, drag the Desktop app icon to the upper left corner of the Start Screen. Now the next time you login or unlock the computer, you’ll zip right to desktop whenever you press the Enter key.
Alternatively, you should probably do away with the silly Start Screen all together. Booting Windows 8.1 directly to the desktop is a great way to do that.
If you’re already in the Desktop and want to recall the Start Screen, press the Windows Key to go back to Start or just click the Start Menu button in the bottom left corner of the screen.
2. Sifting through active Apps
In Windows 8, Microsoft introduced the concept of Apps.
Think of Apps like mini-programs that live on the Start Screen and consume the entire screen when launched. The full screen experience makes viewing Apps more immersive and therefore mitigates distractions; however, it can also make flipping through each App a challenge.
In prior version of Windows, you could easily cycle through applications by pressing Alt + Tab. This also works in Windows 8 and 8.1 but you can also shuffle the App deck by moving your mouse into any corner on the left side of the screen.
The Apps appears as thumbnails.
Astute observers will notice the Desktop in the App list; that’s no mistake.
Since everything is an App in Windows 8 and 8.1, the Desktop will appear in your shuffle. This is completely new so it might take a few minutes for Windows 7, Vista, and XP users get get comfortable with it so make sure you spend some time getting comfortable with this change.
3. Showing hidden App options
Yes, all apps have settings but figuring out how to get to those settings can be mind boggling.
To display app specific settings just right-click an empty part of the screen or die-hard keyboard enthusiasts can press Windows Key + z
P.S. Notice that both tips included the Food App? That’s because my stomach is growling and I’m ready for lunch – but I digress…
To search for stuff in Windows 8.1 just start typing from the Start Screen.
For example, a few days ago I downloaded VLC Player but now I can’t find it. So I summoned the Start Screen, typed vlc and instantly Windows 8.1 focused my results and found the App.
Just press enter and it’ll open.
If for some reason your search results took longer than a few seconds, you can improve the performance by changing the scope from Everywhere to something more specific such as Settings, Files, Web Images or Web Videos.
The Bottom Line
Windows 8.1 offers many improvements over prior versions of Windows. And although it isn’t perfect it brings back a few old favorites like the Start Screen and the ability to boot directly to the Desktop.
Once you see how easy it is to flip between the Desktop and Start Screen, cycle through open Apps and search for files you’ll start to see that the new update isn’t really anything to be afraid of.
Have you updated to Windows 8.1 yet? What do you think of the changes?