Windows 8.1 Upgrade Delivers Good and Bad News

NEWS ANALYSIS: Microsoft brings some badly needed improvements to Windows 8.1 when it starts the upgrade process on Oct. 17. But other badly needed improvements are left out.

Relief is finally at hand. The strange, intractable problems that have plagued Windows 8 since it was first shipped a year ago are being addressed and, in some cases, fixed. Or perhaps I should say that most of them have been addressed. But for reasons that remain unknown, there are features of Windows 8.1 that you will still need but aren't there.

On the other hand, the upgrade process is fairly simple for most users, and even better, it's probably going to be free. But the discount price for upgrading from a previous version of Windows is gone.

Everyone will pay the same whether it's for an entirely new version of Windows or an upgrade from a previous version. In addition, the only previous version from which you can upgrade is Windows 7. If you have Windows XP or Vista, you're out of luck.

The good news is that Microsoft has worked to ease the learning curve with Windows 8.1. There's a lot of new context-sensitive help and a new app aimed at providing hints and tips that make it easier to figure out what you want the new version of Windows to do. You get prompts for features such as the active corners, so that when you move your mouse in the direction of the lower right, for example, you get told that the Start button is there.

But that's not to suggest that the old-and-yearned-for Windows 7 Start button is back. This Start button will allow you to launch some applications, but the old ability to launch programs that you use a lot still hasn't returned. But if you right-click on the new Start button, you'll get a menu with most of what you want.

Other things that users have asked for have appeared in Windows 8.1. For example, you no longer need to boot the computer into the Start Screen with its tiles and apps. Instead you can boot into the desktop, just like you could with earlier versions of Windows.

This is a good thing, because even though apps may show up on the tiles of the Start Screen, you'll find that most of them still drop you into the desktop before the app is launched. So if you're going to run, for example, Microsoft Word anyway, you might as well start at the desktop.

One thing that Microsoft took away when it launched Windows 8 is now back with Windows 8.1, and that's the ability to pick your own default programs.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...