Windows 8.1 Upgrade Delivers Good and Bad News
Previously, you had no choice but to accept Internet Explorer 11 as your browser with Windows 8, for the simple reason that IE11 is no longer a separate application. It's part of Windows 8 and now 8.1. Even though you could install a different browser and use it as the default for opening links, IE was still there and handled a number of functions. Now you can turn Internet Explorer off completely, but it's still there and some parts of Windows may still make use of it. While it's hard to believe sometimes that people actually missed the old Windows interface, apparently they do. With the new update to Windows, you don't really have to look at the tiles on the Start Screen again. However one thing that some people really disliked about Windows 8, in whatever incarnation, was the use of live tiles on the Start Screen. I've heard complaints about how distracting the live tiles were from people starting with the first Windows Phone 8 release. With larger screens, live tiles became even more distracting. Now you can turn off the live information. You can also resize and relocate those tiles.Getting the Windows 8.1 upgrade is fairly straightforward. If you already have Windows 8, it'll show up in the Windows Store. Once you select the upgrade it'll be installed automatically. It's worth noting that your Windows 8 apps will be updated automatically once Windows 8.1 is installed. If you don't have Windows 8, or if you don't want to install it from the Windows Store, Microsoft will also have .iso files available so that you can create a DVD or install it from a USB drive. If you're running Windows 7, you can update to Windows 8.1 and your information will be retained. But you'll need to reinstall your applications. If you have an earlier version of Windows, you'll need to perform a fresh installation. Going to Windows 8.1 from an earlier version of Windows isn't free. While the Windows 8.1 upgrade is theoretically available starting at 7 a.m. EST on Oct. 17, you might want to wait until later in the day, or maybe even until the next day, to download Windows. You can assume that the servers around the world will be clogged. Editor's Note: This story was updated to clarify the browser selection process in Windows 8.1.
Unfortunately, some things weren't fixed. The biggest disappointment is the support for POP3 in the mail program. While the standard mail program has been extensively reworked, and it's got a lot of nice features, you still can't use POP3. The only solution is to use Outlook.com to access your POP services, or to install Outlook, whether as part of Microsoft Office or as part of Office 365. Of course, you can always use a third-party mail app.