Review: Update to Windows 8 doesn't fix basic problems

July 10, 2013 by Troy Wolverton

Microsoft is developing an update to Windows 8 that promises to "refine" the clunky software. But if a preview of the update is any indication, the changes won't go far enough to address Windows 8's flaws.

Windows 8, which debuted last year, was designed to bring Microsoft's flagship operating system into the post-PC era while continuing to serve traditional PC users. Unfortunately, this desire to serve both camps has yielded software that serves neither particularly well.

Windows 8 is oblivious to the context in which it's being used and disregards how users might want to interact with it. Its new "Modern" interface, which was designed with touch screens in mind, but which traditional PC users can't avoid, represents a significant step backward in function for them. And users of the new interface have found a narrow range of apps available for it.

The new update, dubbed Windows 8.1 and expected to be broadly available later this year, attempts to address some of these shortcomings.

With the new software, users can choose to have their computers load the traditional when they turn them on - rather than having to pass through the Modern interface first. Microsoft has also restored the familiar - and widely missed - Start button to the desktop taskbar.

Windows 8 allowed users to split the screen between two Modern applications, but would only devote about a quarter of the screen to one of them, while the other got the rest. With the update, users can display more than two Modern applications at once - if they have a big enough screen - and can adjust how much screen space each gets. Similarly, users of Windows 8.1 can see two or more tabbed browser windows in Internet Explorer, something they can't do with the original version of the .

And Microsoft appears to be focusing on boosting the number and quality of the apps users can choose from. There are now more than 100,000 apps in the Windows 8 store, and the company announced at its developer conference last month that apps from Facebook, Flipboard and the National Football League - which are popular on iPads and Android devices - are on the way.

Microsoft has also added some new features to Windows 8.1. Among the best are a search feature that searches the device, the Web and the Windows app store simultaneously; and a feature that will automatically update your apps and sync them across your Windows devices.

While such changes are welcome, they don't solve Windows 8's basic problems. It's still blithely unaware of the context in which it's being used. Even with the new "boot to desktop" mode, you'll still often find yourself in the Modern interface, even on a keyboard-and-mouse PC. And there's a good chance that even if you're committed to the Modern interface, you'll find yourself fumbling with the desktop, trying to click icons that were designed for a pointer - not your fingertips.

Rather than restoring a well-used feature, the new Start button is just a facade. It doesn't bring back the old Windows Start menu, but simply takes users back to the Modern home screen. Users can configure it to show all their applications instead - in a full-screen Modern view - but even that view doesn't duplicate all the features of the old Start menu.

Even with the new features, the Modern interface remains a poor fit for traditional PC users. The ability to show two - or maybe three - apps at a time is not a substitute for being able to view, stack and quickly switch between numerous windowed folders and applications.

And then there's the app situation. Despite the recent additions, the Windows app store offers users far less choice than app stores for the iPad and Android devices. For example, only one of the current top 10 paid and top 10 free apps available for the iPad is available as a Modern Windows app.

Windows 8.1 is still in development. It - and the Windows app selection - may well improve by the time it's officially launched. Let's hope so, because they both still need a lot of work.



-Likes: New boot-to-desktop mode; ability to adjust screen space devoted to apps when viewing more than one at once; new universal search feature; new feature that automatically updates apps and syncs them to other devices.

-Dislikes: Software remains ignorant of whether users are using a tablet or traditional PC; new Start button doesn't restore old Start menu; quality and diversity of apps far less than what's available for iPad or Android devices.

-Price: Free download


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4.2 / 5 (10) Jul 11, 2013
The article is good; Windows 8 is what's getting the very low votes.
2.3 / 5 (9) Jul 11, 2013
I have appreciated SOME of what Microsoft spews out...

But technologically - the best of the quality programs stopped at Office 2003 and XP - and except for SOME necessary updates in the technological sense, all the major steps have been into stupid ideas and stupid products that amount to little more than fancy gift wrapping on the old cash cow.

I got so tired of their bullshit, that I left Microsoft and went over to the Linix camp many years ago and now am a more or less full time Uxuntu user (with the Nautilus filing system).

I still run XP on a dual boot system...... because I have all the software and hardware that works with it - but crashes badly on Win 7.

I am glad to see their greed and stupidity crippling them from the inside out.

The fact that they are a US department of global surveilance pisses me off too.

Anything the Americans export is spyware basically.
3 / 5 (8) Jul 11, 2013
I'm actually loving windows 8, it took a small amount of time to get used to the new way of doing things but once I got over that it's great. Sure there are a few things that could change but nothing to make me want to revert to 7.

I'm finding this is the case with most people around me, they'll read articles that flame 8 and never actually give it a try, after seeing me use it for a while they get envy and move over. Not long after that they just see that it's better.

It's a shame people are so resistant to change.
2.3 / 5 (6) Jul 11, 2013
It is disheartening when allegedly tech savvy people chose to harass innovators instead of applaud their efforts. (I use the word allegedly due to this statement: "The ability to show two - or maybe three - apps at a time is not a substitute for being able to view, stack and quickly switch between numerous windowed folders and applications." You can still do this on the desktop and I would not rule out better integration with Modern apps in the future.) Transitioning the traditional desktop experience into the era of touch screens and mobile computing is no simple feat. Show me a better example than Windows 8. Show me any example other than Windows 8. You don't have to be a tech guru to understand that Apple and Google will have to tackle these same issues very soon. While Microsoft has definitely placed itself at a major disadvantage by being late to the mobile space, they were around 20 years ago, and they'll be around 20 years from now. They can recover. I use Windows 8 with the understanding that Microsoft is navigating uncharted territory and there will be some awkwardness involved. But that is part of the process of innovation. Supposedly, addressing these issues is the very challenge that we techies love. I enjoy using 8.1 and I look forward to 8.2 and beyond. What else am I going to get excited about, iOS7?
4.2 / 5 (6) Jul 11, 2013
The whole appstore thing is part of what's putting people off.

Why do you need an appstore? Why can't you just install programs and never mind that Microsoft hasn't bothered to put them up in some repository? Why does Microsoft have to come between me and the software I want to use?

I use Windows 8 with the understanding that Microsoft is navigating uncharted territory and there will be some awkwardness involved.

My wallet won't tolerate the awkwardness of being their guinea pig whenever they break something that works. I know they're trying to wean their desktop PC customers into buying their mobile offerings by creating a unified user experience across the devices, but they're really doing that by crippling what the desktop PC has to offer.

And I simply have no reason to pay for something that works worse than what I already have.
1.5 / 5 (30) Jul 11, 2013
Yes, as ford destroyed the horse and carriage industry.
3 / 5 (1) Jul 11, 2013
It's a shame people are so resistant to change.
It's not about resistance, but about fact, that the new interface is optimized for touch screens, which have no meaning at the desktop PC. IMO what MS wants is not to compete his own HW products (MS Surface tablet), so he essentially destroys whole PC industry.

I think Microsoft did themselves some harm in marketing windows 8 as a touch screen OS, desktop users were left asking 'where does a touch screen fit in to my computing life?', it just simply doesn't for most people.

The new OS features are just as accessible with a mouse, I now find I'm as fast (if not faster) on windows 8 as I was on 7. They should have just said 'look at the new UI oooooh, isn't it pretty!' leaving the touch out of it. People wouldn't have dismissed it so easy.

The one place where I can say windows 8 is VERY poor is when using RDP from a windows 8 machine on to a windows 8 machine, that's painful.
4 / 5 (2) Jul 11, 2013 Bloatware changes into overblown adware.

That i will not tolerate, Pay per disk, pay per app AND ad supported.. that's going too far, if it's a free ad supported OS then fair enough.
5 / 5 (4) Jul 11, 2013
It seems Microsoft is fully comitted to the "one usable, one unausable" OS pattern.

If you absolutely must use windows then skip every second OS they put out. Sticking to that has saved me a lot of grief inthe past.

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