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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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.

restore the missing Windows features in windows 8 with start8 and aero8tuner

Windows 8 will soon be for real, meaning it will be available, in it’s official release, in October (the 26th.) If you are worried about missing some of your favorite features-and many are-fear not, they can still be had.

start8menuSince Microsoft announced the expulsion of the START ORB and MENU, many have lamented its passing.  Some even going so far as saying it will kill the operating systems acceptance. That’s just wrong, but, for those who do want the little beast, Stardock has your answer. Called Start 8, it is a start menu worthy of something from Microsoft.

Once downloaded and installed, the familiar Start Orb displays in the lower left corner start8buttonoptionsof your task bar, just as it did in previous versions of the operating system. Click it and up pops the familiar menu, with a slight Windows 8 flair.  It will take a few moments for the menu to populate, but, once it does, your apps and familiar options will be there.  The applet also lets you customize the Orb itself. Included are images for variations on the Windows 7/Vista style button, XP’s START button (ugh, why?) or even the Windows 8 logo (which looks nice.)

start8optionsThere many options for Start8, like allowing you to go straight to the desktop upon logging in and using the Windows 8 style menu page for the start menu. I like this option a lot, it gives you the best of both worlds: a quick way to start applications while staying in the desktop yet taking advantage of what makes Windows 8 so nice. Once you select the Windows 8 style, you have more options.  You can select the size of the Windows 8 menu, search and set Windows settings.

start8win8styleFor now, the application is still in beta, and it is not perfect. After a few uses, the Windows 8 style menu, for example, ceased to display once I started a Windows 8 style app (the News app.) I know Stardock will fix that, likely in the next release.  Stardock releases quality apps and this looks like one. It is currently free.

Aero8Tuner brings back the Aero effects that made Windows Vista and 7 so beautiful. While the flat look of 8 is nice, I like the transparency of the last two versions of Windows and it will be nice to have it if I want it-which Microsoft should have allowed anyway.  Aero8Tuner gives you other options like coloring the window borders.

As I am still running the Release Preview, which still has Aero, I have not yet tried Aero8Tuner, but it looks promising and I will definitely follow up on this once I get the final release of Windows 8.  Redmond Pie has an article here.

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Windows 8 on non-touch devices, easier than it might seem

Win8LogoSo, Windows 8 will be released to the public on October 26, 2012.  As you may know, it is a pretty radical departure for Microsoft.  Gone are our favorite little bits like the Start button and menu, the pretty transparent graphical user interface, most of the Windows ‘chrome’, some user interface customization and other small but collectively cool stuff. In is a new ‘Start’ page where all of your applications are accessed, a flattened appearance, more attention to typography and colors and the overall appearance. Also in are full screen apps and no overlapping windows (in the ‘metro’ interface.) The new Metro interface was, however, designed with touch interfaces in mind.

One thing that may not be apparent, however, is what to do if you do NOT have a touch enabled device. Well, mouse and keyboard do play nice with the Metro interface although, at first sight, this does not seem true.

One thing I’ve heard over and over is ‘how do you close down an application?’  Simple, just drag the app to the bottom of the screen. You can do this with the mouse or your finger if you have a touch device. Alternately, ALT-F4 still works. You can also kill the task with Task Manager. Finally, you can move the mouse to the upper left corner, watch the thumbnail appear, and slowly move the mouse down. A list of running apps will display. Hover over one and right click, then click CLOSE. The first two options are, however, the quickest.

Here are a few more hotkeys for Windows 8 that might make a non-touch user work a little easier:

Keys: Windows 8 Function
Windows+[space] Switch language and keyboard
Windows+, Show what’s on the desktop
Windows+[pgup] or [pgdown] Move a Metro app to the monitor on left or right in multi monitor configuration
Windows+F File Search
Windows+Z Application Bar
Windows+H Opens the share charm
Windows+C Opens the charm bar
Windows+I Settings
Windows+[tab] Switch between apps
Windows+Q Opens the Search page
Windows+J Move between the snapped and filled apps
Windows+E Open Windows File Explorer (the old Windows Explorer renamed)
Windows+M Go to the Windows Desktop

Below is a chart from Microsoft explaining the touch and mouse gestures. Whish I had this a few months ago.  As an aside, Microsoft will have a lot of education to give to the general public before Windows 8 will take off and not be a colossal flop.

w8-gestures-mouse

Office 2013: word

Microsoft has formally introduced Office 2013 and Office 365. Office 2013 is the successor to Office 2010 and Office 365 is the rental version. I’m not going to discuss 365 today, in fact, I want to talk about one component of Office: Word. Word is probably tied with Excel as the most used application on the planet.

Before I start, I want to give a quick overview of the Preview version of Office that Microsoft made available today.  (You can grab it here.)

You start the process of acquiring the preview by clicking a bevy of Try It! buttons. Once you get to webmanagementyour Live account page, you click the install button to begin the download.  Once started, the process is fairly quick. It downloaded and began the install process in just a few minutes. Within 15 minutes, you can actually start using the suite. Performance is below par until the entire process is complete, but, once it is, I found the suite to be pretty snappy. Your account page on Live.com will show you how many machines you can install it on and will track that for you. It will show you the name of the computer(s) you have installed it on.  You have the option of deactivating office on a computer so you can install it on another. You have up to five computers for the home edition.

Word

Word15LoadDocumentThe first thing you notice about Word (or any of the apps) is that it has a Metro ‘feel’. No tiles, but the typography and colors match Windows 8’s Metro appearance.  Office, however, is a DESKTOP application, not a real Metro app.  That said, it has a Metro look and feel. Word looks terrific.  Gone is Aero and the chrome associated with a ‘normal’ Windows app. There’s no Window border and the open, close and minimize widgets are small and out of the way.

Upon opening a document,I noticed several things right away: the open file dialog box is now full accountscreen and if you hit the BROWSE button, only then will you get a standard file open dialog.  The open file page also has a link to your SkyDrive. SkyDrive is a 20gb file store that lives on Microsoft servers somewhere on the planet. Microsoft have integrated its web services very nicely and pretty seamlessly.  Also, you notice all of your options are now in a bar down the left side of the page and there’s an Account option that gives you control over what services you want, your SkyDrive and a few options for Office itself.

WordNavWhen your selected document loads, you get a navigation pane on the left.  It shows the structure of your document, provided you actually use the headers and sections properly (which I often don’t.) It is a convenient way to organize and edit your document.

hideRibbonThe Ribbon has been refined further. It is now flat (following the Metro mantra) and can be tucked out of the way, only to show when needed.  ribbonpinThe organization and presentation of the ribbon is much nicer than in previous versions of the suite.  The most used features are prominent on the ribbon and most of the keyboard shortcuts are still there.

Word is, first and foremost, a text editor.  As such, Microsoft added several things to enhance its editing abilities.  Text flows more smoothly and more intelligently when you move objects around your document. In previous editions, moving an image could sometimes result in your text going to a completely different page. That does not happen now.

A bit of Google Docs has been incorporated as well. I speak of the ability to share a document and have a group edit it.  Versioning and comments are integral and there is now the ability for an editor to respond to a comment without affecting the document.  Sharepoint like functionality is possible with SkyDrive.  Microsoft really has embraced the web, in ways I never thought they could.

One interesting, though totally unimportant feature: themes. Office 2007 gave you three color schemes. Office 2013 gives you Zune-like themes. There are no color schemes, oddly enough.  And the ‘themes’ are simple backgrounds that are unobtrusive and barely noticeable. They blend in while you work and are not in your face. In fact, you don’t really notice them. I’m not sure if this is good or not or why they bothered.

One annoying thing: as the result of Microsoft losing a bogus patent lawsuit, custom XML tags were bogusXMLremoved from the DOCX format. So, when I tried to load such a document, I was greeted with a message informing me that the XML custom tags would be removed. Not earth shattering, but annoying.

Overall, I’d say Office 2013 may prove to be a bigger deal than Windows 8 and I’d love to try it on a Windows 8 touch screen device.  It will ship on the Surface tablets, so when you purchase a Surface, you will get Office with the device.

The preview edition is available now and you can download it from here.

EDIT: Changed references to Office 15 to Office 2013.

Windows 8: Microsoft’s best yet?

I’ve been using Windows 8 for months now, first with the developer’s preview (admittedly, did not use this much) then with the consumer preview and, now, the release preview. With each release, the operating system became more and more usable as well as nicer to look at and experience.

While the removal of some of the stalwarts of Windows does nag me a bit, I cannot say that I will entirely miss them. Except for Aero, which I will miss, I don’t think I’ll miss anything.  Aero, however, I will. I love the way Aero looks in the Release Preview. I also like the flattened look, so I am a bit divided, but I do like the live window previews and all of the other Aero bits. I’m hoping that Microsoft will only do away with the Aero Glass…while I do like that, I could live without it.

I won’t, however, miss the Start button. I have been waffling back and forth on this, but, finally, decided that, no, in fact, I won’t miss it. Why? because the Start screen has what I need. The hot corners and the right click will give me most, if not all, of the Start button functionality.  The neutering of the desktop is just fine with me.

Why?

Metro.

Metro is gorgeous, as far an operating system is concerned.  The clean typography, full screen layouts, loss of the ‘chrome’, the gentle colors all add up to a very pleasant and easy to use OS. I hope developers fall in line and develop Metro apps that live up to the potential of Metro.

Metro, in many ways, is a step back in time to Windows 1.1. Windows 1.1, for those of you who do not know or remember, did not have overlapping windows. It presented them in a quadrant like display or, if only two apps were open, half and half.  It was also flat. There were no shadows or three-dee like buttons. Typography, however, was not its strong suit.  Machine requirements, as well, have not increased with Windows over your average Windows Vista computer. Hell, even some XP class machine will run Windows 8.  Windows 1.1 had rather modest requirements as well: CGA (remember that?) graphics, 256k RAM, Floppy disk. Mouse. That was it.

So, with Microsoft recent announcements, Windows 8 is poised to become the must have upgrade. It will be at the heart of Microsoft’s mobile strategy with Windows Phone 8, the Surface Tablets and who knows what else. Metro will be on those as well as the XBOX and, presumably, its successor.  So, what will this cost for existing computers? Well, no a whole lot. $40. And, the best part? You can upgrade from all the way back to Windows XP, if your computer will support it, that is. My guess is it will if that computer is five years old or newer. And, if upgrading from Windows 7 or the Windows 8 Release Preview, your programs and settings will remain intact.

I am also quite pleased with the compatibility as well. So far, I’ve not run into any application that won’t run. Some are not as smooth, but they do run. As a rule, if it runs under Windows 7, it will run under Windows 8. I am sure there are exceptions, but I have not run into them.

Microsoft is still being dodgy about a release date, but all evidence points to an October release. I can’t wait.  I thought Windows 7 was Microsoft’s best, but, that might just be Windows 8 instead.

Windows 8: gripes and missing features…are they really that bad?

Win8StartWindows 8, Microsoft’s next iteration of it’s vulnerable Windows operating system, is due out later this year, with a release ‘preview’ due up in the next couple of weeks.  After a ‘developer preview’ and a subsequent ‘consumer preview’, the operating system has garnered a fair amount of praise and criticism.

Some of the criticism is warranted, others…well, not so much.  For example, the lack of a start button seems to really bother some and is the number one complaint, followed closely by Metro’s seemingly unfriendliness for mouse and keyboard.  These are more personal preference, in my opinion, than short comings of the operating system.  Microsoft is attempting to re-invent Windows and they have a desire to just break with the past and killing the start button is just one way to do so.

Another way, as announced recently, is to ditch much of the eye candy they introduced with Vista. In fact, in a blog post, Microsoft proclaimed that Aero (the fancy special effects for window presentation such as see through borders) is tacky and that they are getting rid of it. Now, MY preference would be to keep it as it made that rather staid and plain Windows desktop look a bit more attractive.  So, Microsoft is killing off many of the things that made Windows, well, Windows. Some of the other things that are getting removed include:

  • DVD Movie playback – you will need a third party solution for this
  • Windows Media Center – it will still be available, but will cost money and you MUST be running Windows 8 Professional (just like in the XP Media Center days)
  • Aero
  • Blue Screen of Death (replaced by a uninformative frowny face and friendlier message)
  • Start Menu and Start Button (similar functionality available via the start screen and a hotspot in the lower left corner of the screen)
  • Previous Versions replaced with File History
  • Overlapping, multiple windows in Metro (there is a snap feature that lets you see two apps at once)
  • Flip 3D appears to be gone. Alt-Tab still there.
  • Traditional menus in many desktop apps (like Explorer) replaced with the ribbon UI

The biggest criticism that actually makes sense is the stark contrast between the Metro and Windows desktop interfaces. Microsoft has done little to ease that while many third parties have designed very attractive themes that follow the Metro look and feel and make the desktop feel like it is part of Windows 8.  However, I get why Microsoft has not done so much, they really are trying to kill traditional Windows.

Negatives aside, there is much to like about Windows 8.  Metro presents a whole new interface (that dates back to the Zune and Windows Media Center) that is attractive, clean and does not rely on gee-whiz effects to work. Yes, I am contradicting myself here: I LOVE Metro’s clean look yet LOVE Aero Glass.  I think they both can co-exist, but, if Microsoft really does not want Metro, fine. I’m sure the fine folks at StarDock already have an Aero Glass mechanism in the works for Windows 8.

One really nice thing about the new operating system is its speed. Boy, is it fast.  Start up is very quick, even on the Celeron based computer that I am using to write this post.  Not only is it fast, it’s memory requirement is pretty conservative: this machine has 2gb of ram and performance is very snappy, unlike it was with Vista or even Windows 7 (which is still my favorite version of Windows.)

The lack of a touchscreen, for me, in no way hinders my ability to use Metro applications. I find the mouse and keyboard to work very well. Yes, it took some getting used to, but it just seems like second nature now. I do find myself wanting to reach up and touch the screen (no, not out of disgust) and move those tiles.  It is going to be great with a touch screen, but is great with mouse and keyboard too. 

Over the next few weeks, we should learn about what will be in the final shipping version.  The release candidate is due to be unleashed the first week of June, so we should have a good idea of what is to come. Stay tuned for more.