Windows 8.1 released after a year of soul-searching

Windows 8.1 released after a year of soul-searching

Microsoft revises radical interface after getting blasted by users

AP

OCT 17, 2013

LOS ANGELES – Microsoft is releasing its long-awaited Windows 8.1 upgrade as a free download starting Thursday. It addresses some of the gripes people have had with Windows 8, the dramatically different operating system that attempts to bridge the divide between tablet and other personal computers. Windows 8.1 still features the dual worlds that Windows 8 created when it came out last October. On one hand, it features a touch-enabled tile interface resembling what is found in tablet computers.On the other, there is the old desktop mode, where the keyboard and mouse still reign. The update adds some new finger- and gesture-friendly shortcuts for touch-based apps, while restoring some respect for the desktop mode that a billion PC users have become accustomed to.

The release comes as sales of traditional desktop and laptop computers continue to decline because consumers are buying smartphones and tablets. It also comes at a time of transition for Microsoft as the company focuses on devices and services, not just software.

This month, Microsoft struck a deal to acquire Nokia’s phone business and patent rights for more than $7 billion. Microsoft is also searching for a new CEO to replace Steven Ballmer, who announced last month that he plans to retire within the next year. The Window 8.1 update is free for current owners of Windows 8. Computers with Windows 8.1 already installed were to go on sale Friday.

The changes range from the cosmetic to the functional:

Restoring the desktop

Start me up: The Start button is back in desktop mode, although not the way it was before Windows 8 came along. In Windows 7 and before, a click on Start would have brought up programs and important folders in a list. Now, one tap on Start flips you back to the new tile interface, where you can click or tap tiles to open programs. A long press brings up crucial settings such as the Control Panel.

Boot to desktop: You can now start up the machine in desktop mode, bypassing the tiles for a short time. That removes some of the headache for companies that want to use Windows 8 but don’t want to buy a touch-screen monitor for every employee.

New touches, gestures

On-screen keyboard swipes: The on-screen keyboard now includes the ability to type numbers or punctuation marks by swiping up or away from certain keys on the standard QWERTY layout, eliminating the need to toggle between numeric and alphabetic layouts. You can also select from suggested words midstream using sideswipes and taps on the virtual spacebar.

Gesture-enabled apps: You can now wave in the air in front of the front-facing camera to get a response. For example, in the new app Bing Food & Drink, a right-to-left wave in “Hands Free Mode” flips through pages of a recipe.

Quicker tile organizing: You can tap and hold Windows tiles with your finger to move them. Another couple of taps will allow you to re-size them to one of four sizes. In the previous version, you had to go back to the mouse or touchpad and right-click on tiles to do this, and you were limited to two sizes.

Easier app access: Finding all your apps takes just a swipe up on your start screen, as long as you don’t do it from beyond the bottom edge. Before, you had to swipe up from the bottom edge, then tap on the All Apps button.

Small conveniences

Automatic updates: Apps update in the background, replacing the constant reminders to go to the Windows Store to update the apps yourself.

Smaller tablets: Windows 8.1 now has a home screen that looks good in portrait mode on screens measuring from 7 inches to 8 inches diagonally.

Lock screen access: You can now answer Skype calls or take photos from the lock screen without having to log in. Just swipe down. You can also set other apps like Twitter to send notifications when the screen is locked.

Functional changes

Better multitasking: In Windows 8.1, you can run up to four apps at once side by side, double the previous amount, though you need a large, high-resolution monitor to do so (On its own, Microsoft’s Surface tablets are not big enough for more than two). You can re-size panes using a slider that moves side to side, instead of being limited to one larger window and one slender one. This is still not as capable as Windows 7 or in desktop mode, where you can open dozens of items in windows that can be re-sized both horizontally and diagonally. And many app makers have yet to adapt, meaning some apps still appear as a thin sliver, even if you want them to take up half the screen.

Global search: Typing while on the tile-based start screen will pull up multiple search results — if applicable — from your computer, the Web and the Windows app store. If you are searching for a musician, you will see a list of popular songs you can play using Xbox Music, and if it is someone famous (like U.S. President Barack Obama) you will see biographical details, videos and other information. Before, you had to choose where to search — in apps, settings, the computer file system or on the Internet.

Email update: The standard-issue Mail app now has a “power pane” on the left-hand side with folders for updates from social networks like Facebook, messages from favorite contacts, and newsletters. Some of these features work only with Microsoft accounts such as Hotmail and Outlook.com, though. A new “sweep” command deletes multiple messages with a couple of taps.

Better browsing: No longer are you limited to 10 open tabs in the tile version of Internet Explorer. Before, Web pages automatically closed without prompts when you tried to open more. With Windows 8.1, you can open as many as you want. Better yet, you can have two different websites displayed side by side, the way you have long been able to before Windows 8 came along.

Fun stuff

Xbox music refresh: The music streaming app now optimizes playback over discovery with a layout that has more lists and smaller photos. It also adds the ability to create playlists from any website with a couple of taps. When on a website featuring artists, swipe in from the right edge and tap the Share button followed by the Music button. It will create a song playlist based on those artists, which you can then stream for free.

Picture editing: A picture editor with pre-set effects comes with the update, allowing for photo touch-ups, cropping, contrast changes and other features.

Xbox One integration: You can pick up where you left off if you start playing a video purchased on Xbox Video on a tablet and then watch the rest on Microsoft’s upcoming game console, Xbox One.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: