Five of My First Thoughts on Windows 8.1

November 30, 2013

Five Thoughts Windows 8.1I’ve given you the explanation on why you must upgrade from Windows XP sooner rather than later. I’ve also told you we were planning to upgrade a computer to Windows 8.1 in our office and how we were preparing. A few days ago I got to experience Windows 8.1 a little earlier than expected when a misbehaving laptop required a reinstall of the operating system. Rather than reinstalling Windows 7 on the laptop, I went ahead and upgraded it to Windows 8.1.

I’ve only had a few days with Windows 8.1 and wanted to share a few of my thoughts, minus some of the profanities that it caused me to utter. For those interested, this was installed on an HP laptop more than three years old. Drivers for all internal hardware installed automatically and without issues.

Where is Control Panel?

Once I got it installed, I knew I need to go into Windows Update and download all of the updates released after Windows 8.1. Without a Start menu (more on that in a minute), I knew I needed to find Control Panel. Now I’ve been using Windows since v1 and I think I can find my way around pretty darned well. Yet I couldn’t find Control Panel. Microsoft, did you really have to make this so difficult?

Yes, I did eventually find it and ran Windows Update. The funny part came a couple hours later when I was having dinner with a friend. She had gotten a new laptop about two weeks earlier that was supplied with Windows 8.1 and is a very casual computer user. I hadn’t even mentioned my problems finding Control Panel when she starting telling me the story of her inability to find Control Panel.

No Start Menu = Massive Mistake

I fully understand why Microsoft wanted to include the Metro (tiled) interface. Yes, I can see it can be useful on tablets and smartphones. But forcing it down the throats of people using a good old computer on a desktop was a mistake of massive proportions. With Windows 8.1 they claimed they were kinda sorta bringing back a Start Menu. Poppycock!

Things immediately got better for me when I installed Start8. Again, I can’t understand why Microsoft would be so stubborn to not include an interface familiar to users of any version of Windows for the past 15+ years! Now I can boot directly to the Desktop (the real computer) mode of Windows 8.1 and I have a Start menu similar to the one I’ve been using for years. For the most part, I can avoid the silly tiles that are not the least bit helpful to me.

I am certainly not the first to criticize Microsoft’s decision to leave out the Start menu and I’m sure I won’t be the last. How many millions of dollars (billions?) has Microsoft lost from users unwilling to upgrade for this one exclusion? It definitely is not a small number. Thankfully Start8 solves the problem for $5 and there other alternatives that do something similar for free.

Quit Trying to Help Me!

I got Start8 installed and got to work installing the software I needed. At some point I moved my cursor to the upper left of the screen and this annoying graphic with a big arrow popped up telling me to move all the way to the upper left and click. I did, hoping it would get rid of this message claiming to help me though it was really incredibly annoying. Even more annoying was trying to get it to go away. Doing what it requested did nothing at all. The item it claimed it would bring up never came up and the stupid message wouldn’t go away.

Thankfully I found a forum posting explaining how to get rid of these less than helpful messages. Really Microsoft, I have to edit Group Policy or tweak the registry to get this done? You couldn’t include a simple dialog box to allow us to tell these popups to take a hike? In trying to be helpful, I found I had to dig really deep so I didn’t get any more help.

I also hate the “Snap” feature included with Windows 7. If you drag a Window to the edge of the screen, that Windows is automatically expanded to full screen. No, please don’t do that! Luckily I knew it was named Snap and searched the Windows 8.1 help to find out how to disable yet another annoying feature.

Vendors Need to Provide Working Drivers

Have I ever mentioned that I love Wacom tablets? I think you’ll find a number of posts where I heap praise upon them and suggest that all designers get one. Once I had my software installed, it was time to install drivers for some of the hardware that isn’t inside of my computer. First up was the Wacom tablet. I went to the Wacom tablet and downloaded the latest driver which proclaimed it worked on Windows 8.

After installing the driver and rebooting, the driver told me no tablet was connected. What? It is most definitely connected and I can move the cursor around on screen. Unfortunately the cursor acts like a mouse and definitely not like a tablet. Wacom support was already closed for the Thanksgiving holiday so I had to find another solution. After digging through a variety of forum posts, I found the solution was to download a driver released before Windows 8. For reference, I found it was the 6.1.6-7 driver from November 2010 that worked for me.

I also had to dig to find a driver for our Sharp office printer as the vendor Web site claimed there was no driver. A third party site had a driver for Windows 7 that worked great. C’mon vendors, Windows 8 is more than a year old and you really need to do a better job of making working drivers available.

It Really is Good After Fixing It

By now you probably think I hate Windows 8.1 and that isn’t the case. I do hate that the interface changes forced upon us by Microsoft make it more difficult than it should be to get things in a workable condition. Once I get over the hurdles I’ve listed here, I’ve found that Windows 8.1 is faster than Windows 7 on this same machine. It is just too bad that all of the positive changes are overshadowed by the really bad changes.

I will also again stress that those of you who refuse to give up Windows XP really need to rethink that decision. Yes, you’ll have some sort of expense to move to a newer operating system. Yes, there will be a learning curve since you will be moving forward 2-3 operating systems depending on whether you choose Windows 7 or 8. Yet you could face even bigger costs if you remain on an operating system that is no longer supported and will be presenting hackers with a huge opportunity.

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12 Comments

  1. Pratik Shah

    Hi Foster,

    Just thought I would share few of my thoughts on this.

    1) WHERE IS CONTROL PANEL?

    Instead of going through Start > Settings > Control Panel… in earlier versions of Windows, the access to most of the commands that a power user would use including Control Panel has been made accessible at one click. I think this was a great feature. Right clicking on Start button gives access to almost all administrative commands.

    2) NO START MENU = MASSIVE MISTAKE

    Personally, I felt, there is no need for a start menu anymore. There are two major reasons why.

    A) Most frequent programs that we use, we usually pin them on taskbar. This I think is the best way to access favourite programs instantly.

    B) Boot to desktop feature in Windows 8.1 is the key feature in my view. I don’t see any reason to add third party start menu apps.

    Besides, I like changes :). I was already getting bored with the same old workflow starting from Win98/Win XP/Vista/Win 7. A little change brings freshness in the new product that I would always welcome.

    My thoughts though :).

    Reply
  2. Brian Davies

    I agree totally with Pratik. There is not a single thing I cannot do as fast, if not faster, without the Start menu. It adds absolutely nothing to my workflow. Right-clicking the Start button gives the Control Panel features (plus more) or simply press Windows Key + X and hit whichever shortcut letter activates the feature you are looking for.

    I had no issues with the screen hints showing the corner activation points, mine vanished after trying them; I’m sorry to hear you had issues with those. A quick click at the top left jumps from the desktop to the last used Modern UI app you were in (if it is still running) and another click in the top left returns you to the desktop. I am so used to it that it is a reflex action and is better than “looking for” something to click on.

    Reply
  3. Linda

    My son got a new laptop with it and removed i. Really hated it, and installed Windows 7.

    Reply
  4. Foster D. Coburn III

    Pratik and Brian, I’m glad you like the new interface and new methods. Clearly I don’t and clearly Linda’s son didn’t either. That’s the problem. Those of us who don’t like the new interface have to fight to get something we do like. This is not going to help Microsoft convince people to upgrade from whatever they are using now. My main suggestion is simply that they include an option to give people a real, live Start menu (not the half-baked right-click option they have now) as an option. And Brian, I will never run a “Modern UI app” so I will have no need to switch back and forth.

    Reply
  5. Randall J. Currie

    Really? Start8 charges you $5.00 for a start menu?

    You should have tried Classic Shell. It’s an open source project that keeps regular updates for the new versions of Windows that keep arriving at our door. The latest version adds a classic start menu to the Windows Desktop screen and (though hard to find) has a checkbox option on one of its Preferences tabs (not selected by default) that lets you disable the “Metro” interface as the default (you can still get to the Apps interface but the Windows Desktop will come up first by default if you select this). Start menu is customizable to appear like Win98, WinXP, WinVista, or Win7 among other customizations. It also adds some better folder navigation options in both Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer.

    http://www.classicshell.net/

    Reply
  6. Foster D. Coburn III

    I was aware of other options including Classic Shell. I chose the option I preferred and I have no problem spending $5 for something so useful.

    Reply
  7. Anonymous

    I suggest also getting from http://www.stardock.com the Modern Mix program that will…. get this allow “Windows”
    You can have just like you do in past versions of Windows multiple programs and folders open in any size window. No hidden thumbnails to open 1 folder or program at a time as in Windows 8. $5.00

    Reply
  8. Foster D. Coburn III

    I did order ModernMix. They had a discount if you bought it at the same time as Start8. So far, I’ve not found much use for it though I’m sure that will change.

    Reply
  9. Rachel Dahlgren

    Foster, I have just encountered a problem with 8.1 and Corel X6. When I a working with Corel my file explorer on my tacks bar does not work, neither does the shortcut windows key + E. Was wondering if any others are having this issue as well.

    Once I close Corel my file explorer works just fine.

    Reply
  10. Foster D. Coburn III

    Rachel, we assume you mean “CorelDRAW X6” as Corel is the name of a company that makes many products with X6 in the name. We have not had this issue in our office, but our workhorse machines are on Windows 7 so we haven’t spent a lot of time using CorelDRAW X6 on Windows 8.1. I have not heard of this issue from anyone else to this point.

    Reply
  11. Brian Davies

    Foster, I guess we each have our own opinions. You said “My main suggestion is simply that they include an option to give people a real, live Start menu (not the half-baked right-click option they have now) as an option.” Considering the Start screen can be twice as functional as the old Start menu I find your statement tells me you don’t know how to use the Start screen. You can add all the shortcuts to both software AND Control Panel items in one place, what is half-baked about that? So you prefer to go Start>Control Panel>Programs & Features, for example, instead of Start>Programs & Features? The same can be said of all other Control Panel items….and you prefer Start>All Programs> and then scrolling down a list (and often have to look in folders) to find a lesser used program than simply clicking Start>Program tile? Like I said, I am pretty sure you don’t know how to use the Start screen to its full advantage.

    What about the Apps screen set to “Sort by Most Used”? It is pretty well the old “All Programs” section of the old Start menu in a more functional and expanded layout. The biggest issue with Windows 8 is not Windows 8; it is peoples’ lack of interest in learning anything new which will bring advantages, once learnt. People would rather cling to slower ways of doing things than learn something new and more functional.

    Reply
  12. Foster D. Coburn III

    Brian, you hit the nail on the head in that we each have our opinions. You love the new interface and I hate it. There are so many that hate it that Microsoft has lost billions in sales. It is so hated that Microsoft will be bringing back the Start menu in the next release.

    I don’t find the Start screen useful at all and I don’t run ANY apps. I run desktop software. Sure, I looked at some of the apps and couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I’d choose them over desktop software with more functionality. I’ve looked at the Apps screen and find it wastes tons of space. Yes, I prefer groups that fly out of a compact menu to SCREENS full of icons. I have a lot of software installed.

    I also don’t reboot often, maybe once a month. Because I don’t reboot, most of my main software is running all the time. Using the Start menu to start my software is not a time waster at all. Whereas having to shift to a whole different interface to launch desktop software is incredibly time wasting to ME. To each his own, just don’t force me to use Metro and I will choose a different OS.

    Reply

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Foster D. Coburn III

Foster D. Coburn III is author of 13 best-selling books on CorelDRAW and has been a contributor to numerous technology and graphics-related magazines. Foster has taken many projects, including this Web site, from the early design stage through to a finished piece. He has been a featured speaker at many graphics conferences. His first Web site was built in 1995 and he has been working exclusively in WordPress since 2013.

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