Windows 8.1 Won't Fix Problems Users Care About Most

NEWS ANALYSIS: There are a lot of nice changes coming with the next iteration of Windows, but the changes you really want aren't among them.

Windows 8

The good news is that there's finally a refresh of Windows 8 coming down the pike, as eWEEK's Pedro Hernandez explains. The bad news is that the changes you almost certainly want won't be there.

Yes, Microsoft is bringing back the Start Button, but the Start Menu that lives behind it on all previous versions of Windows won't be there. Instead the Start Button will simply lead you to the Start Screen, that tiled interface you probably don't like.

While Microsoft is planning to make Windows 8 more mouse-and-keyboard friendly with version 8.1, it's still going to be a touch-screen interface jammed into a mouse-and-keyboard environment. If you don't like the Windows 8 interface now, this isn't going to be your salvation.

Microsoft's Windows Program Management Vice President Antoine Leblond explained in his rundown of Windows 8.1 features that the new version of Windows will be able to boot into alternate screens, but the only screen he actually mentioned was the screen that shows the icons of available applications, which is what you see when you invoke the Search charm in the current iteration of Windows 8. He specifically does not say you will be able to boot directly into the Desktop.

This brings us back to the Start Button. What people liked about the Start Button in Windows 7, which had reached a nicely refined stage, wasn't the button itself. It was the Start Menu, which allowed users to go directly to the applications they wanted quickly and conveniently.

The Start Menu also kept track of what applications you used most often and moved them into the Start Menu for you. Some of the features of the Start Menu have been taken over by the Charms Bar, such as the ability to run the Control Panel, but even here it's been made more difficult.

Let's say, for example, that you want to go to the Network and Sharing Center on Windows 7. You do this in the following sequence: Start > Control Panel > Network and Sharing Center. That's three steps. With Windows 8 on a standard PC, you use a longer sequence: Desktop > Charms Bar > Settings > Control Panel > Network and Sharing Center. That's five steps. Unfortunately, while you can invoke the Charms Bar from the Start Screen, you can't get to the Control Panel from there.

This is typical of the lack of thought in the Windows 8 interface design. Even used with a touch-screen computer, navigating the dual-personality of the user interface is never easier, and frequently harder than it was with Windows 7. Yes, on a touch-screen computer the Start Screen is intuitive and it responds to touch nicely. But you still have to go to the Desktop for too many things for it to be a completely touch interface.

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...