Windows 8.1 Update 1 is here!

startpageMicrosoft released Windows 8.1 Update 1 today.  The update, which, for me, was like finding a needle in a haystack, will be a mandatory update-which is why it is going through Windows Update versus the store like 8.1 did.  I did not want to wait, so I went to the normal Windows update method, but did not find it. I went to the charms bar, selected SETTINGS, then CHANGE PC SETTINGS, then UPDATE AND RECOVERY then windows update.  I clicked the ‘check now’ option and did, in fact, find many updates. None of them were the ‘Update 1’.  So, I remembered that, sometimes, you have to go to the ‘old’ desktop version of Windows update.  Open up Control Panel, select System and Security then Windows Update.  There it was.  I let it update. It took about 20 minutes. Once that was done, it was like a new computer again.startpagemenu

There are a lot of little things that, collectively, add up to a mostly pleasant experience for the mouse/keyboard user. I have not yet tried it on my tablet, but I suspect I’ll not see much of a difference.

For most users, the changes are subtle and welcome. For example, on the Start Page, there is now a power button and a search icon.  Right clicking tiles gets you a context menu and the app list now highlights new applications.

startpagetaskbarstartpagelivetilesModern apps (Windows store apps, metro, whatever you want to call them) now show up on the task bar when in the desktop AND the task bar shows up on the Start Page. startpagetaskbarAt least, it does sometimes.  I’m not sure if it is a bug or not, but I get the task bar on my Start Page when I move the mouse down to the bottom of the screen and hover. BUT…it doesn’t always work, so, I’m not sure if it is a feature or not.

Modern apps now have a title bar with minimize and close buttons. Fortunately, the title bar hides startpageapptitlebarafter a couple of seconds. to get it back, move the mouse up to the top of the screen.

So far, my only real complaint: it defaulted to booting to the desktop instead of the Start Page.  Don’t want the desktop to be default.

There are other changes as well and more changes are coming (like a new, enhanced Start Menu.) This is the Windows that Microsoft should have released as version 8 and then, over time, deprecate the crap, like the task bar.  For now, though, I wonder if this might be too little, too late. We’ll see.

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Windows 8: the Return of the Start Button

Microsoft is about to release an update to Windows 8, cleverly called Windows 8.1.  Among the many improvements: more Modern UI goodness for control panel items, better multitasking and…tada!  The Start Button and a boot to desktop ‘feature’.

Yep. Microsoft caved. Months and months emphatic talk from the company, which took a hard line on these two features: Neither were coming back. Well, they are. Apparently, an edict came from high up in the company (Ballmer?) to restore these features.

So, 8.1 will deliver (supposedly, but, as Mary Jo Foley points out, we won’t know for sure until it actually releases, things could change before then) a Start Button and an option to boot to the desktop.

It isn’t as bad as it seems, thought.

The Start Button is just a button that takes you to the ModernUI Start Page. Yup, no start MENU, but the Start PAGE.  I can deal with that.  It’s the boot to desktop that is a bit harder to swallow. It isn’t necessary, you can get to-easily-all of your applications, ModernUI or antique desktop via the Start Page.

However, since all the Start Button will do is take on back to the Start Page, I guess this arrangement is more palatable.  I am guessing, though, that Microsoft has improvements to the Start Page in the pipeline to make it somewhat easier for those who still seem to have a difficult time with ModernUI.

Microsoft says a public preview of 8.1 will be out in June, but I’ve heard that these changes will NOT be in that preview. So, we will have to wait until sometime in September, when the final code is unleashed.

Using Windows 8: Be one with the mouse and don’t worry about touch

(For reference, when I speak of Windows RT or just RT, I am referring to the ‘metro’ or Windows 8 store style.)

halfbytestartpageSince it’s release, Windows 8 has been equally praised and panned. Haters have heralded it as the death knell for both Microsoft and Windows. Recently, Microsoft said it had sold 40 million copies. 40 million.  That’s slightly better than what Windows 7 had done at this point in its release. While hardly the runaway hit that Microsoft hopes for, Windows 8 has, nonetheless, done well. Now, it is true that the majority of those installs are on new computers and tablets, and there is no number on how many of them have now been downgraded to Windows 7 or earlier (shudder!)

Still, there are millions of people using Windows 8 and, I am guessing, the vast majority of them have already figured out how to live with and even love the new RT interface.  RT apps are, for the most part, just nice (gorgeous, perhaps) to look at and use. Many are prettier than anything from any of the competition, including Apple.  Just look at Cookbook. It is stunning for a piece of software.

So, what are the basics you need to know when using the RT interface?

Well, for non-touch devices, you really just need a two button mouse with a scroll wheel, pretty standard these days. And, if you have ever moved things around a photo or art app with the mouse, then you have already mastered Windows 8.

Closing an RT app

There are many ways (keyboard shortcuts do work, like ALT-F4) but the best and easiest way is to place the mouse at the top of the screen, hold down the left button and drag the app to the bottom of the screen and let go. In one swoop, you’ve closed the application. 

Switching to another app

Move the mouse to the upper left corner and the last app you used (provided it is still open) will show its tile. Move the mouse down and the list of currently running RT apps will reveal their tiles. Simply move the mouse the one you want and click it. You can also close an app here by right clicking and choosing CLOSE.

Charming, to the last

Moving your mouse to the lower right corner will reveal the charms bar. From here, you can search, share data or access hardware and settings.

But, where do I go for the Start page?

When you are in any other app, move your mouse to the lower left to access the Start page.  Alternately, if you have a Windows keyboard, press the Windows key.

Ok, this IS Windows, how the hell do I see more than one app?

twoappsatonceMicrosoft may need to rethink the name of the product when the ditch the desktop altogether. However, there is a way to see TWO (oohhh, ahhhh) apps at once, though one will be much smaller.  Open the first app you want to use, then open the second (it can be a desktop app too.) Switch back to the first app (an RT app) then drag it down like are going to close it, but about midway down, move it to the left or right side, like you would dock a Windows 7 window. The application should rest there, though dramatically smaller, almost like a sidebar. Next, switch to the second app (by moussing to the upper left, and then selecting the app) and it should fall into the larger section of your screen. Viola! TWO, count ‘em, TWO apps at the same time!  Now, keep in mind, not all Windows thingies will be available, such as drag and drop and not all RT will work in this mode. But, hey, it is a start.

Your scroll wheel is your friend

Now, since RT was designed, primarily, with touch in mind, the applications are linear. That is, most of them will scroll sideways instead of vertically.  They are meant to be swiped left and right. So, no touchscreen means these apps are difficult, right? Well, no.  If you have a mouse with a scroll wheel, you can use the wheel to ‘swipe’ left and right. It works surprisingly well.  You could use the scroll bar at the bottom of the screen, but what fun is that?

win8startshortcutOK, that’s nice that I can scroll over on my Start page, but what if I want to see it all at once? (Huh? I can name my groups too?)

Easy. Along the very bottom of the Start page is the scroll bar. In the very right hand bottom, you will see a small box with a minus sign. Click it. Go on, you KNOW you want to. Ah, there. Doesn’t that feel good? Oh, win8startfullwhat’s that? You see all of your tiles? Well, yeah, you are supposed to see them. This gives you two things: the ability to see all of your tiles and…check this out…you can name your groups of tiles.  To do so, arrange the tiles the way you want. Next, click the minus sign in the scroll bar. Move the mouse over each group and right click. In the options customizeStartbar, click the ‘Name group’ button. Enter the name for the group in the box and press ENTER. The name appears over the group. Pretty cool and a nice way to organize your Start page.

One way of seeing all of your apps, desktop or RT, is to right click anywhere on your Start page and click ‘All Apps’ in the lower right of the screen. Every app that is installed on your computer will be displayed. Even the hidden Windows desktop apps (like Command or Character Map) will display and will be grouped as well.  Right clicking an app reveals more options. You can, for example, pin to the taskbar, open in a new window, etc.

It’s a mystery…where DID I put that file?

win8searchPerhaps the nicest feature of Windows 8 is its search ability.  From the Start page, just begin to type. The search bar pops up on the right side and a real time search commences as you type. You can specify the types of files to be searched or let Windows look in all files.  It will break down the types of files that it found your search term and display it in the info bar along the top of the screen. The search is quick and reliable. It was an eye opener for me and I’m glad that Microsoft finally put Bing in my computer.

So, we’ve seen some pretty cool stuff and it is all in the RT side of the house. Your mouse is your best friend in Windows 8/RT on a PC.  Touchpads seem to work as well, but, for us diehards, the mouse is still our trusty companion.