10 New Features in Windows 8.1 Preview that saved my Surface RT
I just bit the bullet and installed the Windows 8.1 Preview on my Surface RT. It's a one-way upgrade (meaning you won't be able to go from this Preview Build to the final) so make a Recovery Drive with a USB drive you have lying around. You'll need at least a 4GB USB key for this backup and the drive will be erased. Then go to http://preview.windows.com and follow the instructions. Basically you download an update, install, reboot, and then the Windows Store says Windows 8.1 Preview is available. You install for a while (took a few hours) and assuming you're signed in with the same Microsoft Account it will redownload all your apps.
Warning: Installing anything called "preview" is for advanced/enthusiast folks. Expect nothing and you'll never be disappointed. Backup your crap. Be prepared to torch your machine to get back to the mainline.
I honestly didn't use my Surface RT that much, mostly just for Movies and Stuff, but this new 8.1 update adds some stuff that will have me using it around the house more.
Here's 10 features that are making me look harder at Windows 8.1.
Being able to use your Desktop Wallpaper as your Start Menu background
The Start Button is back, down there in the corner. But that's not as interesting to me as the ability to use your Desktop wallpaper as your Start Menu background. This might be hard to visualize, but the point is that if you hit the Start Button (or the Windows Key) you'll immediately move to the big Start Menu. When the background of that menu is your same desktop wallpaper, the result is much less jarring than a bright background and makes the whole Windows 8.x experience much more comforting.
From the Start Menu, hit Windows-C, click Settings, then Personalization. You'll see the menu fly out as in the picture below. Select the tiny thumbnail of your wallpaper. It's the square with the birds in my picture here.
This little change is a huge difference. I wish this was the default experience, myself.
If you are in the Start Screen and you start typing it will search everything. Apps, Files and the Internet if you want. If you search for a Well Known Thing (caps mine) then it will give you detailed results that include (possibly) music, big pics, videos, etc. I searched for Daft Punk below.
Freaking Outlook 2013
Since my Surface RT includes Office RT (Word, Excel, PointPoint, etc) it looks like Windows 8.1 adds Outlook 2013 RT to the mix! This was a total surprise to me, and is the #1 reason I'll start using my Surface for work stuff. I'm surprised this hasn't been noticed by some of the tech sites I read. It's an awesome addition.
Windows 8.1 seems much smarter about making decisions about window management. Here I've launched the Games app while running the Mail app on the left and the Desktop on the right. it's hovering (teetering, even) in the middle, waiting to be pulled from one side to the other, rather than just taking over one of my existing apps.
Apps can be 50/50 split on the Surface RT, as well as the other 70/30 options.
Way easier customization
Icons are moved more like on my other tablets, with a push and hold gesture. Except you can select multiple icons, start dragging them with one figure while scrolling with the other finger. Grouping and customizing is way easier.
Here is me starting to move things around. I've got the Office stuff tiny, and the News app largest.
Better All Apps View
Apps that are newly installed get marked "new" in the All Apps few. You swipe down from the Start Menu to get here, and can sort by Recently Installed as well. I found a bunch of new apps I hadn't seen before like Calculator, Sound Recorder, Health and Fitness and Alarms.
More Comprehensive Settings
The Settings area has a LOT more info than before, including some rather deep pages (you may have to hunt) like this one on my Wi-Fi Router. Note that it's marked as a Meter Connection. I thought it was cool that Outlook didn't connect automatically when this was marked as Metered (this means my router has limited data and I could be charged for big downloads). I have personally downloaded gigs of mail while overseas and gotten nailed by big bills, so this was cool.
The Metering is an existing feature, but the deeper details into my Wi-Fi and devices is new.
Removable Disks in your Music and Video Libraries
I'm pretty sure this wasn't there before. I added a 64gig micro-SD to my Surface RT with the plan to watch Videos and store Photos on it, but it wasn't very seamless in Windows 8. I took a chance and right clicked on my SD card folders and said "Include in Library" and now my videos show up in the Videos app! Suddenly my 32-gig Surface has become a more useful 96 gig machine (well, 64-gig, as I'm going to change the defaults to store everything on my SD card.)
Here's my videos listed, some in the cloud and some on my micro SD card.
Here I am looking at Outlook while watching Harry Potter in Split-Screen.
Smarter Notifications and Quiet Hours
My wife is NOT a fan of my Surface RT for one basic reason. It won't stop beeping. I installed Twitter and Twitter "pops toast" - meaning, it uses notifications - and it's forever going off and beeping at night. Yes, I could turn off notifications, or sleep it, and I do, but when I'm using the thing I want it on. The Notifications options have been expanded to include "quiet hours," which is a nice touch.
The Reading List
I'm a big fan of Instapaper and the idea of a "Read It Later" gesture. This is different from simply bookmarking. This is a queue of long-form reading material. From apps like Internet Explorer you can invoke the "Share" action. I could share to Twitter, Mail, some People, or the new Reading List.
Then I click to Share, and later on go to my Reading List (now pinned to my Start Screen) and go read my long form articles. I haven't checked but I'm presuming this list would be persisted transparently across all my machines.
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