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In Depth: Windows 8.1 Update 1: whats in Microsofts latest Windows update


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It would be fair to say, at this point, that Windows 8 has not been a success. Beyond the typically harsh technology community, even the everyday users of Windows 8 are not content.

The fragmentation between the elements of Windows 7 that made it into Windows 8 and the more 'Modern UI'/Metro elements are confusing, with basic Microsoft products such as the Office suite awkwardly flipping between the two states.
Things that people loved, such as the Start Menu, have been removed and replaced with a more Windows Phone-style Start screen, signaling a change of focus on Microsoft's part from desktop to tablet a change that is not intrinsically good.

Shut down right from the Start screen

Thankfully, Microsoft has been listening and produced Windows 8.1, which made amends for some of the features that were omitted, or removed, from previous versions of Windows. Unfortunately, 8.1 didn't go all the way in fixing Windows as it currently is, which is why Microsoft is going to release Windows 8.1 Update 1 (a mouthful, to say the least).

A copy of Update 1 was accidentally leaked by Microsoft itself on its software updates page but will be formally announced at Build 2014. Here we'll take a look at what's new.
What's new in Update 1

With Update 1, Microsoft has aimed to create an operating system that will work better on low-range hardware, requiring only 1GB of RAM and 16GB of mass storage to run (Windows 8.1 required at least 2GB of RAM and 32GB of mass storage).

The focus is obviously on spreading Windows across as many PCs as possible, especially in business where Microsoft is considered to be losing its edge against Android and Apple tablets and smartphones.

Right-click for a menu, even in Modern UI

Microsoft has also moved the software power button onto the home screen for easier access, as well as chafing the right-click behaviour when clicking on the Live Tiles or Modern UI elements of the OS. Right-clicking now brings up a regular Windows context menu, even in Modern UI apps, as opposed to the options pane as before.
OS mismatch

Unfortunately this introduces yet more fragmentation, as the new contextual options don't always match those within the app. While many users won't notice, it does further increase the sense that Microsoft has essentially bolted two OSes onto each other and called it a day.

With Windows 8, Microsoft chose to rather turn their backs on keyboard and mouse users, choosing instead to hastily focus on the touchscreen aspect of the OS. Update 1 goes some way to retrace their steps and make features which were previously difficult to access with a mouse far easier to find.

We've used a Microsoft Surface Pro 2 with both fingers and a mouse, so it's easy to see how neglected laptop and desktop users would feel. Some operations that were easily completed with your finger would take multiple mouse movements and clicks before being completed on a desktop.
Desktop boot

Another added bonus for desktop users is the ability to boot directly to the desktop, meaning you can use Windows 8.1 as you would have used Windows 7.

Internet Explorer also shows the tabs and address bar by default, again cutting down the clicks. Clicking on photos and videos in the desktop mode opens them in the desktop, not Metro, apps, too.

Not all of Windows 8.1 Update 1's changes are positive, however. Microsoft have decided to make the taskbar accessible throughout the OS, regardless of which environment Modern UI or classic Windows you're in.

Summoning the taskbar in Modern UI apps forces the taskbar to overlay over the bottom of the content, obscuring some of it from view and click-ability. Not only is the implementation ugly, but it is also a usability nightmare and something Microsoft should address before releasing Update 1 to the public.

SkyDrive has been rebranded to OneDrive and is making its debut in Update 1, however very little has changed from the SkyDrive app in Windows 8.1.

While Windows 8.1 Update 1 doesn't address all of the issues that users have with the operating system, it certainly goes some way towards amending some of the more gaping wholes. Desktop, and laptop, is now easier with the integration of the two modes desktop and Metro becoming a little closer.

The fact that Microsoft is even considering an Update 1 is a sign of progress, having left previous OSes for years without major updates. Choosing to follow Apple's yearly update calendar will serve Microsoft well in the eyes of their users, and that's what matters.

Here's what we're doing to all our new Windows 8.1 systems to get them running smoothly.

1. Fix SkyDrive

One of the most annoying issues with Windows 8.1 is when the newly integrated SkyDrive won't sync files. Often, that's because you have a lot of files trying to sync and your PC is hibernating or going to sleep before it's done. When you turn your PC back on, SkyDrive sync spends so long rebuilding the sync list that it doesn't get through all the files before you're turning off your PC again with all the new files you created only making the backlog worse.

Open the SkyDrive app and wait a couple of minutes and you should see the total numbers of files that need to upload and download. Tap the numbers to see a list of files with sync progress bars. Create a power profile that doesn't turn your PC off after a set time, switch to that and leave your PC plugged in overnight, and SkyDrive should plough through all the files. If there are files causing problems, they'll be listed here as well, so you can find and fix them.
2. Get compatibility view back in IE

IE 11 includes a lot more web standards than before, but many sites still relegate all versions of IE to specially written pages designed for older, less standard versions. If a page didn't look right in IE 10, you could click the blue Compatibility icon in the address bar to load it in as if you were using one of those old browsers. You don't see that icon for most sites in IE 11 because it now only appears if a site is listed by Microsoft as having compatibility problems.

Fortunately, you can add individual sites to the list yourself. Click the Settings cog next to the tabs and choose Compatibility View settings. The current site will be highlighted. Click Add to put it on the list and you'll see the button again. Alternatively, press F12 and use the Document mode dropdown to make IE pretend to be a range of different browsers, which can fix sites Compatibility View doesn't.

Add specific sites to the Compatibility View

3. Trust this PC

Until your PC is marked in your Microsoft account as 'trusted' it won't sync Wi-Fi passwords, website logins and other useful but sensitive information. Usually it's entrusted during setup (or when you add a new user account) by typing in a code Microsoft emails or texts to you. If you skip that step you can still use your PC, but secure details won't sync.

Microsoft will also stop trusting any devices you don't use for two months. Turn that back on in PC Settings, Accounts. Under Your account, choose 'More account settings online'. This loads the browser and asks you to sign in to your Microsoft account. Select the check box that says 'I sign in frequently on this device. Don't ask me for a code.'

You'll get a code by email, text message or whatever method you've chosen for authentication. Once you type that in, your PC will be trusted and will sync secure information. If you haven't already set up any trusted devices, look on the Password and security info page and choose Edit security info to pick how to authenticate new devices first.

Authenticate your machine for syncing

4. Get all the apps on your Start screen to install

When you upgrade to Windows 8.1 you'll see tiles for all the apps you had installed (and if you pick the Start screen layout from another Windows 8.1 PC you'll see the tiles for all the apps you had installed on that PC). That doesn't mean you actually have those apps though. Look carefully and you'll see an arrow in the corner of some tiles, or if they're on the All Apps screen they'll say 'install' under the app name.

You have a placeholder for the app, not the app itself. Just tap the tile and Windows 8.1 will install the app from the Store for you. If you have a lot of apps that need installing, go to the Store and pick My Apps from the app bar to get them all at once. If you're using Avast anti-virus, this can cause problems with apps installing. Remove the shortcuts to the problem apps in the users/user/appdata/local/microsoft/windows/applicationshortcuts folder.

Re-instate your app tiles

5. Get rid of the pop-up tips

The first time you start using Windows Store apps you'll see pop up tips teaching you how to open the Charms bar and switch between apps. Annoyingly, you'll keep seeing them unless you follow their instructions at least once. If you don't have a touchscreen, use your mouse to do what the tip is suggesting. After you've done it once, you won't see the tip again.
6. Put libraries back

You don't have to keep your photos, music and videos where Windows suggests. You might have them on an external drive, on SkyDrive or on another PC. Adding the folders you use to the libraries in Windows means you get to choose where files live, but you can still find them quickly, especially in Store apps. But Windows 8.1 hides Libraries in Explorer. To put them back in the navigation pane, open the View tab on the ribbon and choose Options, Change folder and search options, then put a tick next to Show libraries.
7. Fix file associations

You don't have to open pictures in the Photos app or music in the Xbox Music app. If you missed the notification letting you pick which program to use the first time you opened a file, go to Explorer and select a file you want to change the default for. Click the arrow next to the Open button and pick 'Choose default program' to change to the software you want to use.
8. Put desktop IE back on the Start screen

The tile for the desktop version of IE is gone from the Windows 8.1 Start screen. You can't put it back so if you don't want to click the desktop tile and then open IE from the taskbar, you have to make desktop IE the default and then the tile for the modern version of IE launches the desktop browser instead. Click the Settings cog in desktop IE, choose Internet Options > Programs and put a tick next to 'Open Internet Explorer tiles on the desktop'.

Make IE desktop launch from a tile

9. See more tiles

Perhaps because of the 8-inch tablets Microsoft is pushing this year, the default in Windows 8.1 puts only a few, larger tiles on the Start screen. Open the Settings charm, choose Tiles and you can make the tiles smaller so you see more of them. You can also add the Windows admin tools like Event Viewer to the 'All apps' list here.

0. Squeeze in more text and apps

If you have a large, high resolution screen, you might want the high DPI that's the default setting in Windows 8.1. Alternatively, you might want to have smaller text and see more information at once more messages in Mail, more of a web page on screen, and so on.

In PC Settings choose PC and Devices > Display (or open the Search charm and search for 'size'). The dropdown under 'More options' lets you change the size of apps and text from Default to Smaller, which puts yet more tiles on the Start screen and makes text smaller in your apps. It also lets you snap three apps side by side on a Surface 2 screen rather than just two (or four on a larger screen). If that makes desktop programs look too small, you can change the DPI there separately - right-click on the desktop and choose 'Screen resolution' then 'Make text and other items smaller or larger'. You can drag the scale between Smaller and Larger or check 'Let me chose one scaling level for all my displays' to see the options as radio buttons instead.

Get a high DPI for your high-res screen

11. Get an admin account

When you set up Windows 8.1 it guides you through signing in with a Microsoft account or making a local account. Signing in with a Microsoft account gets you all the handy settings synced, but it means you don't get the choice of creating an admin account - and there are still plenty of times you need to be an admin in Windows. Open the control panel and pick 'Change account type' under User Account and Family Safety, select your own account and choose 'Change the account type', then pick Administrator.
12. Use Bing images as your lock screen

The Windows 8 Bing app is gone in Windows 8.1 and with it the option to see the Bing daily image as your lock screen. But you can still do it with a third-party app like Image of the Day.
13. Update Office to get snipping back

Windows 8.1 uses the Windows-S shortcut for the Search pane instead of the Snipping tool (a handy way of grabbing a section of the screen) and doesn't give it another keyboard shortcut. You have to find the Snipping tool in Explorer, right-click and choose Properties and open the Shortcut tab to add your own keyboard shortcut (using Ctrl-Alt).

If you have Office 2013 installed (including the free version in Windows RT) which uses OneNote's snipping tool, make sure you've applied all the updates and you get the Windows-Shift-S shortcut for snipping.
14. Fix disappearing USB drives

Windows 8.1 powers down USB drives when you're not using them to save your battery (keeping the USB port live uses power on your PC). USB drives are supposed to turn themselves back on automatically when you want to use them, but it turns out quite a lot of drives don't manage that.

Check the list here http://blogs.msdn.com/b/usbcoreblog/archive/2013/11/01/help-after-installing-windows-8-1-my-usb-drive-disappears-or-file-transfers-stop-unexpectedly-r-a-post-title.aspx and if your drive is named there, try upgrading the firmware. If that doesn't help, find the drive details in Device Manager and use those to add a key to its settings in the Registry that stops Windows turning it off (there are full instructions at the link above).
15. Put remote pictures back in the Photos app

The Windows 8 Photos app showed pictures from Flickr, Facebook, SkyDrive and your other Windows 8 PCs as well as local images. The Windows 8.1 version defaults to just showing the pictures on your PC and you can't add the online images back. However, if you include the picture folders on networked PCs in the Pictures library (using Explorer) you'll see those images in the Photos app, as long as those PCs are turned on and running a version of Windows that has the search indexer. This means you can see photos on a Windows 8 PC but not on a NAS. Open Explorer, select the folder you want to include in the Network section and click Easy access in the ribbon, then choose Include in library, Pictures.


Edited by Bryan
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This seems like two different articles - one specifically about Windows 8.1 Update 1 and another about tweaking Windows 8.1.

Edited by lister
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@dcs18, So what do you think on this? Will this low hardware requirement version get any performance gain on better hardwares? Or are just making things lighter and targeting their OS for better use in handhelds?

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@dcs18, So what do you think on this? Will this low hardware requirement version get any performance gain on better hardwares? Or are just making things lighter and targeting their OS for better use in handhelds?

The low hardware requirement may/may not get a performance gain - however, it's not about better hardware but more about low-end hardware. The good news may come the way of those folks who tried to upgrade from Windows 8 to the 8.1 and discovered that their hardware was not up to the mark due to a higher requirement - update 1 would make those segment of people happy.

Speaking of performance gain, I'd prefer to test-drive this one over a protracted period of time before hazarding an uneducated guess - as a general thumb rule, I take claims from Microsoft and reviews from most nerds with a pinch of salt.

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Yeah, hands on experience will tell things. However, I'm not planning to upgrade yet from windows 8. So have to rely on you for having it tested. So keep us updated.

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The 8.1 update 1 doesn't seem to have any performance upgrades I can see. Maybe something in the background might work better. As for the lower system requirements, It still runs the same on my netbook as the old 8.1 and 8 has.. Works fine as a work station but don't do anything graphically intensive on it.

I do like how you have the option of dragging the window off screen or using the _ X option in the right corner now. Also booting up directly to desktop is really nice.

I don't use any of those start is back things because I never had a need for my start button. If it isn't on my desktop I just use Windows key R to run the specific program I want to use. It runs smoothly with my Windows phone and can't wait for the 8.1 update for my phone to come out next month

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