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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Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.
Are you sure this statement is accurate?
"It's a one-way upgrade (meaning you won't be able to go from this Preview Build to the final)"
The FAQ at preview.windows.com says:
"If you're currently using Windows RT, you won't be able to uninstall Windows RT 8.1 Preview. You'll be able to upgrade to the final edition of Windows RT 8.1 when it becomes available."
One little touch I've noticed on my 1080p monitors, is when bringing in the Charms menu with the mouse, the charms move closer to the top or bottom depending on the edge you swipe in from. It's the little things!
Once the final versions of Windows 8.1 are available, after their release to manufacturing, those who have downloaded the preview will get the same Windows Update plus Windows Store notification. While their data and accounts will be preserved if and when they choose to install the free, final 8.1 release, all their apps must be reinstalled, Niehaus said.
Link to the forum on Microsoft Answers
If so, does that not negate the usefulness of Outlook somewhat?
The website says it is a one way ticket because there is no way back to 8.0, but we will be able to go forward to RTM when available.
The other thing it warns us when installing is that when you go to RTM you'll have to reinstall all your apps, but since they all come from the store, that will be easy.
The fact that Outlook would be part of the 8.1 update for RT is old news, that's why you didn't see it on news sites about the preview availability.
I'm really happy with my RT from last //build/ and I'm installing the preview right now. This update will make such a big difference. I'm really looking forward for it to finish so I can start using it.
I just got the restart request from Windows :)
Other than that, I like the new features.
What about the x86 emulator in the Windows RT?
Is it a new feature in the Windows RT Preview 8.1?
Will it be in the final version of Windows RT 8.1?
It's a fairly minor/subtle difference, but I think it will make a big difference.
Great post Scott. I was very "meh" about the desktop wallpaper thing, but after seeing pictures I'm completely down with it and can see that it will be Very Good Thing. I'm also looking forward to the improved search - it drives me batty having to "winkey typity down down enter" just to search for stuff in the "control panel".
There are rumours that MS have sorted this, fingers crossed it's there !
I was hoping to get more granularity over which apps could pull data under which connection. Is that what "metered connection" does?
See, to me this would be perfect for some gaming and productivity (e.g. video editing, audio editing, photo editing), but being an ARM device means it can't use the plethora of Windows apps.
However, I'm still waiting for a version of Windows 8 that is usable for desktops/laptops. Three 24" monitors, and I can run two things. Seems legit.
Adding a button that jumps me from normal mode to LOOK AT FULL SCREEN TABLET MODE PRETTY! rather than a keypress doesn't really change the annoyance level.
[note that I love some of the desktop changes in 8... it's just the forced occasional tablet mode that stops my workflow and makes me curse your employer]
anyone else have a similar experience?
I like the new tile sizes, and having the desktop background on the start screen actually works really well.
There are lots of positive changes here imo. I must point out though that I was actually a huge fan of Windows 8 how it was, and never agreed with many of the criticisms.
Almost feels like the shoe is on the other foot now, as i'm the one feeling like something I really liked has been changed negatively.
The one thing I really don't like is the new search. I thought it was spot on how it was in Windows 8.
The search for Daft Punk in the post looks great, but more often than not I am hitting the search button and typing the name of an app, or a setting I want to change.
Now when i'm doing this it feels like all that space to the left is just wasted, where as before I had a nice big area showing me the search results.
I know when I press enter I see a screen of results, but it just feels less fluid than it did before.
I think the key is to allow as much as possible to be configurable by the user. I'd like to for instance remove the start button, and as somebody else said have the IE tabs appear at the top.
Neither are a big deal, and I do think there's more positive changes than anything else.
Having Outlook 2013 is awesome, I hope more business users will consider Windows RT as I think it's one place it's been underestimated.
Feels like it kind of goes against the thought process behind the search charm, about teaching users a behaviour that can be re-used. Something which made total sense when Microsoft explained it at various dev camps.
Now I can't show somebody the one place you can search from within any app that supports it, it means back to the days of finding where the search functionality is in each app.
Not a problem for most of us, but the idea of teaching the user "this is where you can search in any app" once rather than them learning it per app was a really appealing idea.
Yeah, that looks great. Please give me a second to question something. I would like someone to start an explanation of how Win8.1 charms works on either remote desktop or in virtual environments without “remote-touch”. I would welcome a discussion about visual enhancements over cosmetic ones and… something, something, something meeting.
Other thing id that now you can close an app that is in the sidebar even in the start screen (I disabled the "swipe to the most recent app).
I don't see any mention of Skydrive and an offline copy. Does it now do this?
This is a pretty important feature I would have thought.
If I right click I have the option for making available offline, but I haven't tried it yet or checked to see how granular that can be.
Hopefully specific folders only is an option. Nice that it seems to show all the files in there even the ones that aren't synched for offline access.
I'm a big fan of Instapaper
Same here, I recommend installing the Instapaper app,
You run it once to give it your username (and optional password)
Then Instapaper appears in your SHARE list.
Also does creating a recovery drive mean I can very easily go back to my system exactly as it is now.
Also does creating a recovery drive mean I can very easily go back to my system exactly as it is now.
If so, then MS missed what the public was crying about.
Still would be nice if it could figure out that when an app is running full screen on one monitor, and a desktop program is launched, that if the other monitor doesn't have something running in full screen that it would launch over there. Current behaviour is that the desktop program will launch on the last monitor it opened, shutting down the full screen app if that's the last screen it was on.
Without that I'd have to learn to always open apps on one monitor and desktop programs on the other - and that's just no good :)
The start menu background is massive improvement. Microsoft has to make that the default. It's unbelievable that such a small change makes such a huge difference to the UX.
I'm loving 8.1
I'm thinking about purchasing Surface RT after the price went down but seen some negative reviews on Word speed - it can't keep up with you typing. Is that still an issue?
Also, Amazon supports all tablets but Windows for textbooks, and they won't work with kindle app. Textbooks that are supposed to be in sets are split between Kno and Vitalsource (which you can't use on Rt), and Kno doesn't carry majority of my nursing books. The only other way to use etextbooks is renting them on CourseSmart, and can only be viewed online on RT. Can't buy the books, and can't work on assignments or study places with no WiFi. I was hoping to be able to use them in the car, in planes, and when visiting my family in the country (where, believe it or not, there's still no internet service.) Any idea if Amazon and MS plan on making nice, and fixing this? For RT specifically since Pro is an actual computer and can download and run nookstudy?
Here is where I originally read about it:
Hope it helps everyone who has the 8.1 preview
Anyway, the upgrade won't run now because of this, which is very frustrating. I see lots of people having this problem :(
Even more annoying, after restarting it tries to install again on it's own, forever yielding the same message and even worse, downloading the update EVERY time!
It worked so well and now it is practically useless
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Is Windows 8.1 ready and safe for us desktop users? If I install it on my production laptop what is the downside? Will the upgrade to full version be flawless?