advice you can use — short and to the point — every Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday

Thursday, April 10th, 2014 technology  research  practice

A Practice Tip

  • Practice
StartScreen

Windows 8.1 Start Screen

Amidst all the hype about this week’s t, I made the jump on the weekend to Windows 8.1 from the first of our remaining, four XP computers.

Overall, it was a pretty seamless and surprisingly anti-climatic event, particularly given my long avoidance of this change, buttressed as it has been by the many mixed reviews of the Windows 8 interface I’ve encountered online.

We have a number of Windows 7 computers in our office, all of which have performed admirably. It certainly would have been my initial preference to replace my remaining home and office XP computers with Windows 7, being the “devil I know.”

However, Windows 7 PC’s are no longer readily available at retail, and thus Windows 8, now upgraded to 8.1, was the obvious, easy alternative.

Windows 8.1 is really two, easily interchangeable interfaces in one.

The desktop interface borrows extensively from all predecessor Windows releases, and will provide familiar and mostly seamless continuity with all you have known before. With a few key exceptions, you won’t likely notice too much difference in the 8.1 desktop environment, whether you’re upgrading from XP, Vista or Windows 7.

The alternative, Start Screen interface attempts to replicate a tablet-like experience on your PC, particularly if you are using a touch screen. Rather than featuring shortcut icons that launch the familiar executable programs, it features clickable squares that open apps and features.  Windows 8.1 apps, shortcuts and other destinations on the computer are easily pinned to the Start Screen, allowing you to fully customize your experience.

You will find a number of apps pre-installed, many of which you will eliminate immediately as unnecessary. The Windows store allows you to download from a vast array of existing apps to more fully personalize your selection.

Whether you will prefer to use the Facebook, Twitter, Mail and Calendar apps on 8.1,  as opposed to accessing these services via your web browser, may be a matter of personal taste.

The bottom line is that the web browser versions of all these services remain full-featured, while their parallel apps contain streamlined and downsized versions. While it may make sense to use such apps on your smart phone or tablet screens, I have not yet been struck by any advantage to using them on the full-size screen of the Windows 8.1 desktop.

While the Windows 8.1 app ecosphere will undoubtedly grow and become more tempting over time, for now it’s a safe bet that most of my Windows 8.1 experience will be on the familiar desktop, with only infrequent visits to the Start Screen to use the occasional app.

StartMenu

Start Menu

The most common complaints about the original Windows 8 release related to its elimination of the familiar Start button and Start Menu. As a result, simple tasks like restarting your computer and finding your installed software became a chore.

With the new Windows 8.1 update, this problem has been eliminated.

The start button has returned to its familiar, bottom-left corner of the screen.  It  can be toggled to switch between the desktop and Start Screens.  Right-clicking brings up a menu with numerous familiar options allowing you to access your programs, task manager, Control Panel, and shut down functions.

As a result, Windows 8.1 will allow you to do everything you have always done in Windows, with the added bonus of the Start Screen, to be accessed as you may desire.

In all other regards, the updated Windows 8.1 interface is intuitive, sleek, user-friendly, fast and elegant.

As with any new computer initiation, installing software and importing files can be a bit time consuming.  This problem was minimized for me by copying everything I needed from my XP to an external hard-drive, including my Downloads Folder (and all the software saved to it), which allowed for surprisingly quick transition and program re-installations.

I was up and running within an hour or two.

With more than 30% of the world’s computers still running XP and support now ended for this venerable old OS, there is likely to be a mass migration over the next few months to Windows 8.1 computers, as we retire our remaining, trusted XP workhorses.

I’m pleased to say that for me, this first transition has been a fairly simple and easy one.

So today’s tip:  Windows 8.1 – try it, you’ll like it!

(And I’m still deciding whether I may attempt to salvage my still solid, but now obsolete XP computers by trying Linux – but that’s a whole other post for another day…)

– Garry J. Wise, Toronto (@wiselaw on Twitter)

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