In 2012 Microsoft launched Windows 8. In some respects, the idea behind the new platform was to bridge the gap between Windows on PC’s / laptops and the new touchscreen devices such as tablets and mobile phones.
Sadly, Windows 8 was not the success Microsoft had hoped for, with many users complaining about the huge departure away from familiar layouts. This resulted in confusion and frustration about what can essentially be called an unfinished platform.
Moving on a year, Microsoft has launched version Windows 8.1. With the majority of existing Microsoft users deciding to reject the initial Windows 8 upgrade, is this the right time for them to consider 8.1? Also, what about existing Windows 8 users? Should they upgrade too?
Virtually all PC’s and laptops are now sold with either Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 operating system. Therefore, when investing in new hardware in the future, there is no escape and you will be forced to accept the latest platform over your preferred option.
Additionally, Microsoft have announced that they will cease supporting Windows 7 from January 2015, and therefore it’s inevitable that you will need to adopt this latest offering even if it’s later rather than sooner. However, for now we recommend that current users of Windows 7 or earlier talk to us first – but usually we advise you to continue using your existing system.
Should a Windows 8 user upgrade to Windows 8.1?
When Windows 8 launched in 2012, many of the touchscreen devices it was designed for were simply not available for purchase. Those that were available were considered too expensive against the price of the competition.
Moving on a year and there is now more choice for touchscreen laptops, tablets and all in one devices at considerably better pricing. The relative failure of Windows 8 meant that developers were hesitant to create apps for these devices although there is now a feeling Microsoft are getting it right and apps are being launched at a faster rate. That said, the competition with Android and Apple is so firmly established there is a feeling of too little too late. But, the one advantage for Microsoft is the integration with a Windows platform, which the competition is unable to offer. So, for users looking for a device that offers more, combining business and leisure capability, this could be Microsoft’s single competitive advantage.
For Windows 8 users the decision to upgrade to Windows 8.1 should be relatively easy given the many advantages listed below. This upgrade is FREE which will be welcome news and is available at Windows Store.
What are the advantages of Microsoft Windows 8.1?
Windows 8.1 introduces Snap functionality to the Start Screen, which allows you to re-size different applications screens independently of one another, allowing the user to run multiple apps on the same screen. Live tiles can also be re-sized with 3 different sizes, Small, Regular and Large. The desktop background can also be matched to the start screen for a unified look.
In Windows 8, users were restricted to two apps open simultaneously on screen. This has doubled to four and each can be sized independently depending on which app you are working on at the time.
2. Automatic App Updates
All applications installed from the Windows Store will automatically update in the background while you are using your PC rather than ask you to update every app individually. This is a nice time saver and an admin function you never have to worry about.
3. It consumes less disk space
Windows 8.1 has offers some new functionality & features, however Microsoft says that’s it uses between 8-15% less space on your hard drive.
4. Smart Search
Search Charm on Windows 8 was pretty good, but the new search facility on Windows 8.1, called Smart Search is in a different league. It’s incredibly versatile searching all aspects of the device including apps to produce more comprehensive results. When searching on a topic such as a specific famous person, Windows 8.1 will produce what Microsoft have called a “Search Hero” which displays relevant information, such as Date of Birth, Death, photographs, discography etc.
This new search facility alone is worth updating for.
5. Greater External Display Support
Windows 8.1 Allows greater options, especially when running a tablet on external displays, it also supports DPI scaling, which essential allows you to set different scaling text and icon settings per monitor, especially useful with high resolution displays.
6. Live Lock Screen
Windows 8.1 brings the option to allow calendar appointments, email notifications etc all from the lock screen, before you login. You can also set the lock screen to display a slide show of your own pictures
Windows 8.1 allows the user to boot straight to the desktop, instead of the Start screen. One of the biggest complaints about Windows 8 was the removal of the Start button. It’s a welcome return to a familiar friend, although the start menu in windows 8.1 is not like previous versions, it’s a cut down version of the old start menu.
In Windows 8.1 the Start screen gets a major redesign to make it easier to customize, with a wider range of tile sizes to accommodate more items on the Start screen. And of course there’s a check box that lets you bypass the Start screen and go straight to the desktop.
In summary there are new features in just about every corner of this platform that are superior to Windows 8. Windows have also added an online tutorial which was sadly missing before and could have prevented some of the frustration. Whilst we wouldn’t say Windows 8.1 is now the finished item, it’s clearly head and shoulders better than its predecessor.
With any new system, there are invariably downsides which the manufacturer doesn’t wish to tell you…
1. No Option To Un-Install
There is no way to un-install windows 8.1 or revert to a system restore point prior to the update. This means that once you press the button, there is simply no turning back. You have to work with what you’ve got whether you like it or not. Overall, this shouldn’t be an issue for Windows 8 users and is not as relevant if you are considering upgrading from Windows 7 or earlier because if you have Windows 7 you will have recovery partition or media, so will be able to revert back quiet easily.
2. Software Reinstallation
Very often Windows 8.1 requires users to re-install software that was working fine, before the upgrade. As with any upgrade, it is advisable to ensure you have completed a full system back up and that you ensure you have installation media, user identification, licence keys and passwords for all of your other software.
As a precaution, it is worth checking whether your other software is updated to be compatible with Windows 8.1. Some software may not be compatible and therefore cease to function. It is so important you check this out before running an upgrade of this magnitude.
Many users have also reported that they need to re-install drivers for many devices, so external devices, peripherals; external monitors etc may stop working completely after this update. For any upgrade, there will always be one or two potential issues with drivers so this isn’t something new.
4. Start Menu
Windows 8.1 restores the Start Menu, however this is not the Start menu that users have become accustomed to over the last 13 or so years. The menu has limited functionality, with its primary function being to take the user back to the start screen.
5. Mouse Issue
Some computer mice stop working correctly, or start to act sporadically under windows 8.1, especially for Gamers, although Microsoft are currently working on a fix. Windows 8 or 8.1 is not the best for working with a keyboard and mouse – it is ideally suited to touch screen devices.
6. No Direct Download
Unlike other previous service packs on Windows 7 and XP, you cannot manually download and install the service pack, the installation must be carried out from the Microsoft Apps Store.
Whenever you are considering updating your system you should ideally talk to your IT support company and allow them to run checks on your systems first and point out the potential issues you may have. Some will be known, but there’s always the chance of a ghost in the closet due to the vast range of software that is available and used for business purposes with the age old chestnut of current compatibility.
Additionally, before any update, a full system back-up is advisable to protect you from a potential failure.
Our final words…
- If you’re an existing Windows 8 user, the update is free and largely seamless, and adds some useful new tweaks and features. You should upgrade as soon as possible but follow our advice so that we can do our best to protect you.
- If you’re a Windows 7 user consider keeping with it until it’s absolutely necessary to invest in a new PC; those touch-optimized Windows 8 and 8.1 elements won’t do much for you anyway, and Windows 7 still works well with most applications