Windows 8.1 Preview: First startup
As I said in my previous post, Windows 8.1 Preview is released for the public to test. Let’s see what it is and how does it look.
So, what is Windows 8.1?
Windows 8.1, code-named Window Blue, is a free major update for Windows 8. A copy of Windows 8 on which Windows 8.1 is installed is called, why, Windows 8.1! As with Windows service packs, it contains all updates and fixes released for Windows 8.0 plus some new features. And similar to Windows service packs, it comes in two flavors: An update package that simply updates your existing Windows 8.0, and a full installation image that can install a copy of Windows on a computer without an operating system. So, overall, it seem Windows 8.1 is pretty much a service pack, although for undisclosed reasons, Microsoft is avoiding the term “service pack” to describe Windows 8.1. There is, however, the fact that Windows 8.1 packs more new features than the combination of all Windows service packs released to this date have ever packed.
Windows 8’s server-class brother, Windows Server 2012, is also getting an update (called “Windows Server 2012 R2”) but so far I have not seen anything to suggest that it is free of charge.
Windows 8.1 Preview’s version number is 6.3.9431. (No, it is not 8.1!) The final build will probably change the 9431 to something bigger, but on the whole it appears from now on, Windows is going to have a name number and a version number. Video games do have numbers in their names (e.g. StarCraft II) but Windows 8.1 is probably the first in computer software to have a decimal fraction in its name. The client versions of Windows never enjoyed a consistent naming style. We have Windows 1.0, 2.0, 3.x, 95, 98, 2000, Me, XP, Vista, 7 and 8. The server versions of Windows, on the other hand have enjoyed consistent naming: 4.0, 2000, 2003, 2003 R2, 2008, 2008 R2, 2012 and now 2012 R2.
Recently, there has been a funny discussion at Wikipedia as to whether 6.3.9431 is the version number of Windows kernel only. As a matter of fact, many Windows components besides kernel use this version number; e.g. WordPad, Disk Cleanup and Check Disk Utility.
Windows 8.1 Preview requires activation. Activation is an anti-piracy measure that enables software vendors to verify whether a user has the right to use their software. Since this preview is free of charge, this verification always comes positive, until January 2014. Activation can be carried out over the Internet or phone. If your computer was connected to the Internet during Setup, then your Windows 8.1 is already activated. Otherwise, you should activate it via the PC Settings app.
The desktop and the Start screen
A lot has changed in Windows 8.1. Let’s start with the desktop and the Start screen. While Windows 8.0 shows the Start screen upon logon, Windows 8.1 can now be configured to show desktop or Apps screen. The Start button on the taskbar has also returned.
The Start screen has changed quite a lot. The first thing you can spot is the presence of four sizes of tiles: Large, wide, medium and small. Also you can spot a couple of new apps and the new background, which does an animation trick every once in a while. (The fish issues more bubbles.) If you move your mouse, you may also notice a button with a downward arrow in the lower left corner. This is the button that brings up Apps view, where you can see all your apps. (Bad news: There seems to be no keyboard shortcut for it yet. Let’s hope Microsoft fix it by the time 8.1 hits RTM.)
There more customization possibilities available in Windows 8.1. It is possible to change the Start background to one of the other tacky Start-only backgrounds, or use a dimmed version of desktop background, which is a most welcome improvement! There are more color presets to choose for the Start screen, though unfortunately, most of them are high-intensity. It is possible to name the tile groups and change their size right from the ordinary view. (In Windows 8.0, you had to zoom out.) Most importantly, however, shortcuts come to the Start screen whenever the user brings them. In previous versions of Windows, installed apps put their shortcuts in whatever folder and sub-folder they wanted, making a mess of the Start menu. In Windows 8.0, these rogue shortcuts remain in the obscure Apps area. However, Windows 8 still adds a shortcut for program executables to the Start screen. The problem is that programs like Administrative Tools, Microsoft Office and TuneUp Utilities that install a lot of shortcuts could flood the screen. In 8.1, however, this fiasco is over.
There are several new Metro-style apps: Alarms, Calculator, Food & Drink, Health & Fitness, Help & Tips, Reading List, Scan and Sound Recorder. Help & Tips does not work in the preview. The new Calculator and Sound Recorder (Metro-style) do not replace the old Calculator or Sound Recorder (desktop app).
There are other noticeable changes too. The app list can be sorted from the upper left title bar. There is a search box in the upper right corner. Traditional Windows app icons now have differently-colored backgrounds. Also, if you right-click an app that is pinned to the Start screen, you can see a new “Find in Start” command.
I the next episode, I will cover more of the Windows 8.1 hits and misses. For now, stay safe.