While waiting for a long-running I/O operation to complete, I decided to take a few minutes to share with you my week-long experience with Windows 8.1. As a BizSpark member, I had access to the release bits of Windows 8.1, which I clean installed on my Lenovo Thinkpad 520. Here’s the pluses and minuses in no real significant order.
- The OS appears solid and stable. Most apps I installed worked just fine. Lenovo and HP drivers I had to install worked just fine. Best of all, reinstalling the OS finally rid my computer of the Windows Search Indexer hogging up the CPU – all the time.
- Windows Search searches everywhere by default.
- Windows Store app is improved, with its own search box.
- I like the ability to easily set my default programs based on activity as opposed to file extensions, using Default App Settings.
- Installing desktop apps such as Visual Studio used to clutter the start screen with old-style icons. No longer. In fact, even apps I downloaded from the store didn’t get pinned to the start screen by default. Everything that’s installed is still available from the Apps view of the Start Screen.
- Right-clicking on the left-bottom corner now brings up even more tools.
- The buttons on the charm bar appear closer to the corner of the screen which was used to activate it, rather than in the middle of the screen
- Organizing tiles appear to be much smoother. The drag threshold necessary on an icon is no longer there. Editing group headers is super easy.
- It’s now possible to select multiple apps on the start screen to uninstall at the same time.
- SkyDrive is integrated into Windows Explorer.
- OK, so the Start Button is there on the task bar, whoop-tee-doo.
And now the fun part:
- Windows hijacks some additional Win+ shortcuts. For example, Win+Q and Win+S do the same thing (bring up the “Search Everywhere” flyout) which breaks the screen clipping functionality of OneNote using Win+S. This means that I cannot screen capture any UI that auto-closes. I’m using Office 2013.
- As a Windows Phone developer, I needed to install Windows Phone SDK 8.0. I got a warning that this program has compatibility issues. Sure enough, XDE.EXE (the new Device Emulator) was spinning during install. Eventually installation failed. I uninstalled, rebooted, retried, and eventually and somewhat arbitrarily it succeeded.
- Apple iTunes 64-bit did not install, period. It failed at the end with some problem regarding a run-time DLL (MSVCRT8.0). Maybe VS 2013 RC is to blame, since I installed that too.
- The desktop version of “Default Programs” competes with its modern counterpart “Default App Settings”, which is confusing.
- Google Chrome, and some other apps (e.g. Disk Management console, ) appear blurry at the default resolution, DPI and text size. This appears to be broken in 8.1.
- Search doesn’t find some things, like the great PowerShell_ISE.exe, unless you type it all the way. I don’t buy that Search should hide some things for the sake of “protecting the user from themselves”, especially in the case of PowerShell which is easily found.
- Every web page that has Silverlight on it now generates a security warning on IE10. Way to really put the last nail on Silverlight’s coffin, Microsoft. At least on the plug-in one.
- Several times, the PC appeared to be connected to a WiFi network but I was unable to connect to the internet. Windows did not indicate “Limited” connectivity. Turning off/on WiFi in Windows or using the hard switch on my laptop did not work. I think rebooting worked in one instance, and in another connecting do a different network. But WiFi is otherwise generally stable enough.
- The popup of the network icon in the system tray continues to contradict what the Networks flyout says regarding which network I’m connected to and whether I have internet access.
- The audio out jack on my laptop dock didn’t work until I installed the Conexant audio driver from Lenovo’s support website. Apparently the generic HD Audio driver that comes built-in can’t handle this. I’m not sure if this was working without a 3rd party driver install on 8.0.
- Installing a driver for a wireless HP Printer (series 3520) wasn’t possible through the modern UI. I had to fiddle with the desktop devices UI to add a “generic class” driver for this to work.
- It doesn’t seem like you can have multiple SkyDrives, which belong to different users, appear at the same time in Windows Explorer. The lack of this feature is unfortunate, because it would have allowed a big convenience for sharing between multiple users.
- It was possible for me to get IE into a state that this dialog below kept popping up over and over again without getting out of it. End Task to the rescue. Usability? Bah. As long as a user has to deal with the Task Manager, usability will suffer.
- The library links are removed from the favorites, but you can still manually add them.
- “My Computer” is now “This PC”
- There is a new VHDX format that’s supported.