Windows 8.1 Preview: Hits and misses

Windows 8.1 Preview has both new features and flops, some of which are bugs that will be solved by the time it is released to manufacturing (RTM) and some are flops by design and will never get fixed.
Screenshot: Windows 8.1 error  on small screen
Here is the first: Windows 8.1 Preview still does not run Metro-style apps on screens whose vertical resolution is lower than 768. That means, they do not run on your 720p High Definition TV (1280×720) .

PC Settings

PC Settings, the Metro-style app that is to replace Control Panel, has expanded significantly. It now shows many of the Windows settings, but still not all of them. It consists of multiple subcategories, which will take you to multiple subpages.

Network connectivity

The network area of PC Settings has a proxy settings page but this is far from being PC-wide. In fact, only Internet Explorer and programs that are deliberately written to be compatible with Internet Explorer (like Google Chrome) will support it. Metro-style apps still have connectivity problems, especially if you work in a company that has deployed a proxy-based clients to meter your Internet connection usage and charge you on your paycheck at the end of the month. Apparently, Microsoft does not believe this a good idea, but I am sure it is not because Microsoft is a proponent of free and unlimited Internet access by corporate employees.

Internet connectivity was not the only problem. Local network connectivity had problems too. Whenever I clicked a file from a network location, Windows 8.1 refused to open it with a very strange error message.
Screenshot: Windows 8.1 does not connect to network
The message basically says I am not connected to the Internet (yes, Internet, not network) but the file is available nevertheless. Yet Windows did not open the file in spite of its claim. Although my network connection icon at the lower right corner of the screen on system tray shows that I am indeed offline, the existing versions of Windows act more sanely: If I am offline and the file is not available, they do not claim that it is available.

Windows 8.1 also features a new snapping mechanism through which apps can run side-by-side but the amount of screen property that each occupy is adjustable by a slider. Here is a screenshot of Desktop and SkyDrive app running side-by-side, showing yet another screen-allocation bug.
Screenshot: Windows 8.1 preview showing its Sky-Net problem!By the way, SkyDrive app can now browse the local computer. Its executable is called FileManager.exe.

Photos app

Photos app is completely changed. It has lost a whole host of online sharing and integration features, an issue that I expect Microsoft is attempting to mitigate by native integration of SkyDrive into Windows 8.1’s infrastructure. Instead it can perform basic editing on photos. Frankly, I care about neither of the two because I already use a desktop app that provides both. However, what even I did not fail to find impressive is two facts:

  1. This app is now indeed faster: It has come closer to Microsoft’s “fast and fluid” slogan and can now be used for previewing images instead of the venerable Windows Photo Viewer.
  2. The PNG transparency bug is solved: PNG images now show up correctly. Compare the following screenshots.

Overall, this seems like Windows Vista and Windows 7 all over again. In Windows Vista, Microsoft tried to replace Windows Photo Viewer from XP with a Windows Photo Gallery. The result was awful as the Photo Gallery was the least suitable for quickly previewing images. So, re-enter Windows Photo Viewer in Windows 7!

App management

In Windows 8.0 closing a Metro-style app was not like closing a desktop app but when you opened an app, it opened, and when you closed an app, it was gone for good.

In Windows 8.1 Preview, I tried to close the Photo apps. Here is what happened:


Persistence is not the only change in the app management area. I tried opening fourteen apps in the 8.1 preview but Windows kept terminating them in the background, starting with those to which I had paid the least attention upon launch. It was like attempting to hold water in my hand. Task switcher (invoked by pressing Alt+Tab) refused to list those apps that were not completely launched. Metro-app switcher (Windows key+Tab) was more lenient.

I’d love to set up a real-world test scenario but I have none in mind because I myself never use Metro-style apps.

Putting the trash where it can be seen!

Opening File Explorer reveals new changes: “Computer” area is now renamed “This PC” and now shows six new items: Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures and Videos. More importantly, there are no libraries to be seen.

File Explorer changes in Windows 8.1 Preview

File Explorer changes in Windows 8.1 Preview

Libraries are not discontinued. They can be enabled. Public folders such as “Public Documents”, “Public Pictures”, etc. are not part of them but they can be added to the libraries easily. With the addition of Desktop and Downloads to This PC area, I can now safely hide Favorites from the explorer bar because I only used it to reach my downloads and my desktop.

But are these changes welcome? My personal answer is: No! I specifically hate Documents folder in which I never store my documents. Computer programs abuse this folder to store their temporary files and their application data without my consent. Video games often store saved games here. All three do not belong in this folder; they should go to Temp folder, AppData folder and Saved Games folder respectively. I do not want this polluted folder in front of my eyes. I’d rather hide it if it is at all possible. I always stored my data in another partition, so even if Windows partition was nuked, they’d be safe.

Other small things

Screenshot: Windows 8.1 - There updates!Screenshot: Windows 8.1 - There updates!One of the first things you should do after installing a copy of Windows is to update it. There are a lot of updates available for Windows 8.1 Preview. In fact, there is a whooping 172.5 MB of updates.

Screenshot: Windows 8.1 shortcut menu
Right-clicking on the Start button, which is now back in its original place, reveals a menu containing shortcuts to useful areas of Windows. This menu was also available in Windows 8.0 but in 8.1 Preview, it can also shutdown or restart a computer. In addition, this menu can either contain a shortcut to PowerShell or Command Prompt; your choice. By default, it is PowerShell but I feel more at home with Command Prompt which is lighter and faster. PowerShell is more powerful but it is slower to launch and its syntax is too complicated.

Screenshot: Windows PowerShell 4.0By the way, Windows PowerShell 4.0 is now available in Windows 8.1 Preview. Apparently a jump in major version number is not so big a deal in Windows PowerShell because Microsoft is too silent about it.

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Posted on 20 July 2013, in Software Review, Windows Administration and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I had Windows 8 on my new laptop. Hated it. Removed it (with some difficulty) and installed Windows 7. Even if I didn’t hate it, there is no compelling reason for me to switch OS’s. Quite frankly, all the complaining by people about the new UI seems focused on the touch centric design and lack of a Start button and menu. What’s disturbing to me is Microsoft’s move towards a closed ecosystem focused more on delivering wacks of advertising, selling apps/services and products than providing an OS I can use how I want. Not interested.

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