5 things you should know about Windows 8.1

When the world ends and the sun burns out and your laptop dies in the cataclysm, I guarantee you that you’re not going to miss Windows 8.1.  As airplanes careen in the windstorm, the stars fall from heaven and the moon dissolves in the conflagration no one is going to muse about how annoying the Windows 8.1 start screen was.  That’s pretty trivial when death is imminent.

But until then (and on that happy note hehe) there are at least five things you need to know about Windows 8.1. By the end of this guide you’ll be equipped to flex your brawn with this seemingly foreign operating system.  If the very mention of Windows 8.1 causes your hair to bristle then allow me to mollify your frustration with these five tips:

1 How do I turn this thing off?

It felt like I was on the brink of a nervous breakdown when I couldn’t figure out how to shut down my Windows 8 PC. My initial experience with Windows 8 precipitated my abhorrence for the operating system.  A few months ago I despised the Start Screen, the missing Start Button and the circuitous path to shut down the stupid computer.

Where the heck is the shutdown button anyway?

Yeah, stuff like that is irksome.  And even though my animosity toward Windows hasn’t completely abated, Microsoft did manage to placate my rage with the advent of Windows 8.1.  That’s because shutting down your PC is now a little more intuitive (although still not glaringly obvious).

The best way to shutdown your box is to conjure the Quick Launch menu by pressing the Windows Key and x keys simultaneously then press uu in rapid succession to shutdown or ur in rapid succession to restart.

To shutdown do this:

Windows Key + x + uu

Or to reboot type:

Windows Key + x + ur

Incidentally, you can also get here by simply right-clicking the Start Button.

Windows 8.1 Quick Launch

2. Where are my Libraries?

In Windows 7 you could go to Computer and see all your libraries neatly grouped in the left pane.

Windows 7 Libraries

But Windows 8.1 isn’t so friendly.

If you click the File Explorer icon in the taskbar (Windows Key + e) you’ll immediately notice your Libraries are gone.  Where are all your documents, pictures, videos and music hiding?

To get them back, right click the left pane and choose Show libraries.  You can also achieve the same effect by clicking the View tab, choosing the Navigation pane icon in the far left of the ribbon and checking off Show libraries.

Show libraries in Windows 8.1

ProTip:

If you want to make File Explorer look more like the Windows Explorer from your Windows 7 and Vista days, click the little arrow adjacent to the blue question mark thing.  This minimizes the ribbon (the navigation panel with all the pretty icons) and effectively gives you more screen real estate.

Minimize the Ribbon in File Explorer in Windows 8.1

3. Windows 8.1 feels like it loves tablets more than laptops

That’s because Microsoft has a special affinity for touch enabled devices.

The myopic executive team at Microsoft is so transfixed on tablets that it virtually ostracized traditional non-touch desktop and laptop users.

Hey Microsoft, before you accuse me of being “touchy feeling” (and then boast about your bad pun), let me hit you with some knowledge:

Some people actually hate gummy, scummy, grimy, smeary touch screens.  And hey Microsoft, unless you wear glasses or carry an expensive camera lens, most people aren’t packing microfiber cloths in their wallets.  And touchscreens chomp up battery bits and can fatigue your arms so… everyone doesn’t adore it like you do.

And I’m one of them.  Call me a dinosaur but the only thing you get when you touch my laptop screen is a finger painted in dust.

That’s why I posted a few things you can do to optimize Windows 8.1 for non-touch computers.   The first thing I recommend doing is enabling boot to desktop and then forcing the Start Screen to display all your apps rather than a bunch of useless tiles.

4. Something weird happens whenever I click photos or PDFs.

Yep.

You see, Windows 8.1 is a mercurial program.

Microsoft crafted the worlds first operating system with bipolar affective disorder.  The capricious operating system sometimes behaves like a tablet and other times like a desktop.  It’s as if it doesn’t have a personality and it’s mood is about as predictable as the stock market.

For example, if you click a PDF from the traditional Windows Desktop you’ll suddenly find yourself transported to the Start Screen inside some silly full screen Microsoft Reader App.

Microsoft Windows 8.1 Reader App

That’s because the default file associations in Windows 8.1 are built for the Start Screen.

Ugh.

To fix the shenanigans we need to tell Windows to open our preferred PDF reader instead of the Reader app.  I’m going to banish you from using Adobe Reader and heartily recommend Foxit Reader instead.

It’s cleaner, has less bloatware and doesn’t require as many updates.  Incidentally, if anyone can tell me why Adobe Reader requires so many updates please let me know in the comments.  Between the deluge of Adobe Reader and Flash updates, sometimes I feel like I’m drowning.

To change the default file type associations revisit our old friend the Start Screen and type:

choose a default app file

Windows 8.1 choose a default app

When the file type window floats onto the screen scroll down and click the Reader app to pick your PDF reader.

Windows 8.1 Choosing your default app

5. Do I have two Internet Explorers now?

Yes and no.

Microsoft calls it “one browser two experiences” but I call it “two browsers bad experiences”.

I actually hate Internet Explorer because it feels inordinately slow on every computer I’ve ever used; however, to Microsoft’s credit IE11 is significantly superior to prior versions and is arguably more secure too.

Programatically speaking IE may be a single browser; however, pragmatically speaking, it functions like two disparate browsers.  Clicking the goofy Internet Explorer Start Screen tile spits up a full screen, immersive version of IE11.  However, clicking the famous blue E from the Windows Desktop opens Internet Explorer in the normal desktop view.

Microsoft claims the full screen version of IE, known as the Modern UI version (or Metro style IE) will give you better battery life; however, if it’s vexing you too much we can force the Modern UI version to open the desktop version instead.

Pop open the desktop version of Internet Explorer, click the little gear in the upper right corner of the browser and choose Internet options.

Now click the Programs tab and select Always in Internet Explorer on the desktop.  

Also, make sure Open Internet Explorer tiles on the desktop is checked off.

Always in Internet Explorer on the desktop

There you go…

Five things you need to know…

Hey that rhymed.

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  • Digitalnoodle

    Thanks, my thoughts the same, especially #3. I fully support experimentation/exploration and innovation however I was disappointed to see Windows deviate from their core philosophy and competencies, such as default opening all apps in windows. As a non-tablet user, it looks like it might be smart to start considering alternatives to Microsoft.

    • Digital, I agree – I’ve been tinkering with Linux for a while and love the stability but not the software incompatibility. There are rumors floating around the net that Microsoft’s next big thing is Windows 9 “threshold” which is purportedly being released in limited capacity this fall. Maybe it’ll address some of Microsoft’s biggest issues?

      • canaddar

        Windows 8 was the equal to Windows ME, followed by XP which was decent. I am hoping that 8.1 is just a patch to get to the next XP equal, because I want my desktop to be a desktop, not a touchpad.

  • caliban

    How on earth do I get back to the desktop while running a full screen game? In XP

    I just hit the Windows key and there I was, back at the desk top.

    Now I have been cursed with the wretched Win 8.1 – it doesn’t work. So I have to close down the game to do anything at all! .

    MS are back on the old Operating System Switchback System.
    One bad (Win 2000), One good (XP). One bad (Vista). One good (Win7). One bad (Win 8).

    Buying Widows is like Russian Roulette. But more predictable, you get shot in the head every second go.

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