Customer Review

18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Significant Improvement Over Windows 8.0, 20 Oct 2013
By 
This review is from: Microsoft Windows 8.1 Pro (CD-ROM)
[2014-04-02 read my added comments re Windows 8.1 Update at the end of this review]

Nearly a year ago (on 2012-10-26 to be exact) I made a review of Windows 8 under a title "Will Windows 8 Flop or Fly?". As a Windows user for many years, I was baffled by what Microsoft was up to and I chose an eye-catching title to express my bewilderment of how Microsoft got itself into alienating a significant part of its loyal customers. One year on and now we know the truth and the [self-inflicted] damage done to Microsoft.

My review then didn't catch much attention - it was lost under the very bottom pile of reviews with a tiny 22 helpful votes from 32 people who bothered to read it, despite the fact that that review was one of the first two or three to appear on Amazon on the day Windows 8 was released.

As I said before, and repeating it now, Windows 8 (and the updated version 8.1) has so many desirable features, most importantly it is fast and refined in many respects. The only major trouble is making the User Interface the same for desktop/laptop and mobile computers. The fact is that touchscreen is well suited to tablets and mobile phones (i.e., hand-held mobile computers), while non-mobile computers such as desktops and laptops need to be supported by a navigational menu system as existed in Windows 7 and its predecessors (a.k.a. Start Menu). Imagine visually sifting through randomly placed square icons to locate an App on a Start Page, as opposed to a navigation based on alphabetical order and logical organisation-by-folders of program shortcuts. That was the Start Menu provided since the launch of the then more mature Windows 95 and that is what Microsoft managed to kill off for no justifiable reason other than what appears to be a totally misplaced obsession with a provision of one-fits-all OS User Interface for Windows Phone, Windows tablets, and Windows PCs. It is simple common-sense to realise that mobile and non-mobile computers call for different User Interfaces.

If I attempt to sum up what is wrong with Windows 8 (or 8.1 for that matter), the phrase "Flat and Disconnected" comes to mind. Imagine a set of logically organised office folders, take out all the papers from all the folders and lay them on the floor. Or, think of a database system logically organised in data tables, and flatten all the data into one spreadsheet. Yes, these are crude examples but easily illustrate changing organised data to flat data. With the Start Page, Microsoft just managed to make Windows flat. Disconnected? Yes, because Windows 8.x presents itself as two disconnected [bipolar?] personalities in one: a disconnected Desktop style and Metro style.

What Microsoft should have done (this is not an after-thought - see my review a year ago) was keep the Start Menu for non-mobile computers but provide the touchscreen interface as an option; this would have avoided the needless alienation Windows 8 caused to PC users to whom productivity is key (in which case the learning curve with touchscreen, at best, was unwelcome, in the worst case, the touchscreen interface was not fit for a serious job productivity demands).

Where are we with Windows 8.1?

Windows 8.1 is definitely an improvement over Windows 8.0. The Start button is back, but the Start Menu is still absent. The Start button brings top level command shortcuts that would please many users; right-click on Start button and you'll find numerous 'power commands' you wished you had at your fingertips (say, a click or two away), such as control panel, device manager, disk management, power options, shutdown options, et cetera.

Another significant improvement - more so than the Start button - is that you can now directly boot into the Desktop bypassing the Start Page. A navigation option you set via taskbar right-click will enable this feature. You can also choose the same background for Desktop Page and Start Page to slightly improve the visual intimacy between the old Desktop and the so called modern metro look.

If you want your Start Menu back, you can actually get it back free of charge. There are now software houses coming up to fill in the void created by Microsoft. Classic Shell (classicshell.net) and Pokki for Windows (pokki.com) are the frontrunners in providing a free patch that restores the Start Menu . I haven't evaluated these Start Menu patch programs but the endorsement made by Lenovo (the new brand name for IBM PCs after sell off) speaks volumes: Lenovo's Windows 8 PCs and laptops now come pre-installed with Pokki to restore the Start Menu.

As an alternative to Start Menu, I have used Bins (from 1upindustries.com) for organising shortcuts of commonly used programs on the desktop taskbar - not a replacement for Start Menu but provides an acceptable solution for program shortcuts used very frequently. And this is not a freeware but costs around £5, and I am not endorsing this program but only indicating its existence as some users may find it as a suitable option.

In addition to the welcome return of the Start button (sadly not Start Menu!) and direct boot into Desktop, there are also notable features shown below, but by no means exhaustive or in any logical order -- just what come to mind as significant:

1. Snap View which allows multiple Apps to be viewed at the same time is one of the good features you'll notice with 8.1. The catch is that you must have a high resolution monitor for the full benefit of Snap View.
2. Skype - I like Skype - and now it's part of the Windows OS and no more an add-on program.
3. I am not a big fan of SkyDrive but deeper integration than with the original Windows 8 is now apparent with 8.1.
4. Dozens of new and overhauled Apps such as Movie Moments, Fresh Paint, Health & Fitness, etc., are all welcome additions.
5. A more consolidated Search system is now more user-friendly than before.
6. Yes, with 8.1 now you can resize the live tiles and thereby optimise your screen space.

Time to Upgrade to 8.1 from Windows 7 and before?

Yes. Now there are more compelling reasons to upgrade to 8.1 than was the case for Windows 8. Of course, upgrade from Windows 8 comes for free and with much improved user experience, so no one needs much convincing here.

With direct booting into the Desktop, reinstating the Start Button, and providing numerous power commands via the Start Button right-click, Microsoft is nearly there to give in to the Start Menu it is stubbornly refusing to restore. My bet is that Start Menu will eventually return as the sound at the cash-tills and buy-clicks start to recede for Windows and Microsoft comes to its senses.

[Update 2014-01-20] Latest rumours indicate that Microsoft is moving away from the ill-fated Windows 8 branding and what was assumed as Windows 8.2 will actually be Windows 9, and slated for early 2015. Update 1 is however expected sooner for Windows 8.1 but not clear if the Start Menu will be part of this Update (and more likely not).

[Update 2013-11-30] Rumours are already flying that the "Start Menu" may come back in spring 2014 or early 2015 as 8.2 update (or even as Windows 9 as some suggest). Google or Bing for "Windows 8.2" and the rumours will be revealed.

In my rating I am withholding 1-star for Microsoft's stubbornness.

I now love Windows 8.1! I would have done even more with the Start Menu.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------
[2014-04-02]

As MSDN subscriber, I have access to Windows 8.1 Update a bit earlier than the general release (from today 2nd April) and I've already installed Windows 8.1 Update this evening and here are the notable changes after the Update:

- The modern apps window now has Minimise and Close controls to the top right edge (revealed when mouse moved up) just as for conventional application window. Furthermore the App icon to the top left reveals menu commands that, in addition to Minimise and Close just mentioned, Split Left and Split Right for positioning the App window. A welcome change for mouse and keyboard users!

- While on Start Page, moving the mouse down now reveals the Taskbar. You'll never feel lost as you can easily jump to your application pinned to the Taskbar. Another welcome update.

- Just like other desktop applications, you can now pin modern apps to the Taskbar. In fact, when your update is complete, you'll notice the Microsoft Store app icon pinned to the Taskbar.

- Modern apps now have Context Menu; right clicking an App reveals useful commands such as Pin to Taskbar, Unpin from Start Page, Resize tile, and Turn Live Tile On or Off.

- PC Settings and Powers Options have now been promoted to the Start Page for easy access. The Power Option is now sitting side by side with User and Search icons at the top right of the Start Page. Your Top right Start Page now is therefore the focal point for controlling your computer with such power commands as Lock, Sign Out, Shutdown, Restart, Hibernate, etc. and Search whatever needs to be searched on the computer.

Okay, not an earth-shattering update Microsoft have come up with in nearly six months, nonetheless a welcome improvement for those of us clinging on to our mouse and keyboard interface. No doubt that there are other welcome improvements under-the-hood and hopefully we'll see and feel these improvements (or lack thereof) through usage over some time. One interesting point with regard to the Update is that Windows 8.1 is now touted to be streamlined and optimised to run with 1GB RAM memory; does this mean leaner and faster Windows? Only time will tell.

Listed below are what Windows 8.1 (as well as Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows RT 8.1) Update contains for 64-bit computers (listed in the order of installation).

Windows8.1-KB2919442-x64.msu
Windows8.1-KB2919355-x64.msu
Windows8.1-KB2932046-x64.msu
Windows8.1-KB2937592-x64.msu
Windows8.1-KB2938439-x64.msu
Windows8.1-KB2949621-v2-x64.msu

For 32-bit computers, the file names change slightly with -x64 replaced with -x86 and the last file for x64 (KB2949621) not included for x86.

Windows8.1-KB2919442-x86.msu
Windows8.1-KB2919355-x86.msu
Windows8.1-KB2932046-x86.msu
Windows8.1-KB2937592-x86.msu
Windows8.1-KB2938439-x86.msu

Note that normally you don't even need to know the above file details as the Update is made automatically through Windows Update. The one useful point to take away from this information is to make sure that the above updates appear in your Windows Update History in the same order as shown above. These are listed in the Update History as the KB numbers as KB2919442, KB2919355, and so on.

Final Words

With Windows 8.1 Update installed, Windows 8/8.1 is starting to feel more sensible and useful with less impediment to my workflow. With Metro Apps window now resembling a bit more like that of their old Desktop cousins, Windows is starting to become more familiar with improved harmony between Metro and Desktop. Windows 8.1 Update is what Windows 8 should have been on day one. Let's hope the long-awaited Start Menu will show up in Windows 9 about the same time next year.
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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 20 Oct 2013 21:00:27 BDT
A very good review of this product, much appreciated and well written. I am a Windows 7 user and have had every version of Windows since its invention, that is to say all but this one. I did not like the look of Windows 8 and was unsure about 8.1, but after reading your very thorough appraisal of this update, I have decided not to upgrade (if you can call it that!). I totally agree with your view that Microsoft will came to its senses and bring back the start menu. I had considered the upgrade and downloading the Classic Shell, but why cover up the new to regain the old? Any way many thanks for an excellent review, was brilliant.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Oct 2013 21:41:33 BDT
Last edited by the author on 3 Apr 2014 18:24:21 BDT
Kaio says:
Thank you for your kind words. Being a Windows 7 user, I can understand not opting for the upgrade. Windows 7 was a solid product following the Windows Vista debacle. Perhaps Windows 9 will come up as a solid product (with Start Menu) if history repeats itself?

Thanks again.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Oct 2013 22:39:06 BDT
Yes, Windows 7 is a solid product, perfect for desktops, and in my view Microsoft have done a 'Vista' again! Windows 8 and 8.1 good for mobile phones and tablets, yes no doubt. I believe strongly that they will in Windows 9 bring out a stronger and a better Windows 7, that is if they have any sense. Again thanks for a good article.

Posted on 21 Oct 2013 13:30:55 BDT
Ade Davey says:
"That was the Start Menu provided since the inception of Windows and that is what Microsoft managed to kill off for no justifiable reason"

It came in in 95. definitely not anywhere near the inception of windows and feelings were mixed about it's introduction then.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Oct 2013 13:54:51 BDT
Last edited by the author on 21 Oct 2013 15:29:16 BDT
Kaio says:
Good point, thanks.
I am trying to remember how I navigated to programs with Windows 3.0 and 3.1 but that seem to have faded from memory.

Oh! the memory comes back: "Start Me Up" by Rolling Stones ... to advertise the Start Menu when Windows 95 was launched.

Posted on 8 Jan 2014 08:54:56 GMT
Malcs Views says:
Thank you for an excellent review, just a quick mention that after trying various Start Menus I personally found (classicshell.net) nearest to the original start button. Makes Win8 quite bearable.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Jan 2014 12:30:25 GMT
Kaio says:
Thank you for your feedback. Much appreciated.

Posted on 10 Jan 2014 22:38:24 GMT
klb161 says:
Download Start is back and disable the charms menu and enable boot to desktop. also if u want to go to metro interface there is a button to do so.
http://www.startisback.com

Posted on 3 Apr 2014 18:19:05 BDT
Kaio says:
This review is now updated after installing and using Windows 8.1 Update.
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Kaio
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