Does the Windows 8.1 Preview Release Mean You Should Upgrade
The release of Windows 8.1 addresses many of the criticisms of OS 8, according to a ZDNet preview. When Microsoft released Windows 8 along with the Surface tablets, the concept was that businesses could use the Windows tools they knew to secure and manage an operating system that looked the same on smart phones, tablets and desktops. But enterprise sales lagged because desktop users didn't like the new the tiled interface, finding that it was clumsy and that it interfered with the way they were used to working on a desktop computer. The Microsoft release of the Windows 8.1 preview seems to confirm that Windows 8 had problems. While Microsoft sold millions of Windows 8 licenses, some analysts suspected that many businesses purchased the licenses and downgraded to Windows 7 to keep their options open. The IT departments at midsize businesses were especially concerned about an upgrade that might incur unexpected additional costs.
Studies showed that on desktops without a touchscreen, users preferred the standard desktop/icon arrangement and found it irritating that Windows 8 forced them to boot to the tiled menu. Businesses found that employees needed training on the new Windows, partly because of the tiles and related functionality that replaced some of the desktop functions. The Windows 8.1 release brings back the Desktop in a major way. You can now access a configuration menu that lets you tick a "Go to the Desktop instead of Start when I sign in" menu option. You can also tick a box that asks Windows to display Desktop applications first in the Windows 8 apps list. This gives you the standard and a new way to quickly open Desktop applications.
When Windows 8 removed the Windows Start button it also removed access to a wide range of time-saving functions that many users relied on. Some of that functionality is back. Windows 8.1 includes a Start button with a Taskbar and a Start menu that gives direct access to functions like the File Explorer or Control Panel. The Shut Down menu option with Sleep, Shutdown and Restart is also included - but the lists of recently-used files are not.
The Control Panel is back with a full set of features. It's called PC Settings and includes hundreds of options organized into categories and subcategories like the Control Panels of Windows 7 and Windows XP. In addition to the functions you would expect, such as Accounts and Network, it includes SkyDrive settings, with SkyDrive leading the integration of the operating system with cloud computing.
The new File Explorer now has additional functionality similar to the Windows Explorer of previous Windows versions. A right click opens a menu that lets you restore some of the old functions, show folders, restore libraries and make it work more like Windows Explorer.
Microsoft has made an effort to restore key functions that desktop users missed. Upgrading to Windows 8.1 from Windows 7 or Windows XP should no longer be more disruptive than previous Windows updates. That leaves the other Windows 8 problem: few new functions that make an upgrade compelling for midsize businesses.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.