Every so often, rather then discuss politics, especially when so many do it so well, I turn to what I do for a living, which is technology. I am an outside network consultant right now to 8 different companies, and I provide contract consulting nationwide for everything from virtualization to implementation. On a daily basis I have responsibility for a few hundred desktops nationwide, and I help set policy for a few hundred locally.
Right now, we're mostly Windows 7, with no real plans to change anytime soon. But for home users, Windows8 is what you will find most often on PCs available at your local store. With the introduction of 8.1, I thought I'd at least mention some of the positives and negatives.
Ready to begin? Go from 8.0 to 8.1?
Ok, let's cover some of the bases. I'll start out with the positives.
Metro is finally usable
One of the chief complaints about Windows 8 is that the Windows 8 Metro interface was neither fish nor foul, it constantly felt as though the end user had no active say in how the metro interface managed the layout and configuration of your screen. With Window 8.1, many of these settings can be tuned and changed by the end user, including this one:
That's right, you can now enable 'start to desktop' a feature many businesses were eager for. By right clicking on your taskbar, you have new options including bypassing Metro to boot straight to the Windows Desktop.
NFC.. NFC Everywhere...
Samsung made a big push a few years ago showing commercials of users trading photos and songs by tapping phones together. This is done through NFC, Near Field Communication. Google and Microsoft have both bet big on NFC, the idea that tap ready tags can signal a device to do something or modify something. Windows 8.1 puts NFC to great use - Microsoft has enabled NFC printing, simly get your windows 8.1 laptop (with NFC support) near a NFC enabled printer, and bam.. you can print. No need to grab drivers/etc. the NFC tag tells it exactly what it needs to know, and if it needs to download/install driver base.
Microsoft hasn't just stopped their with the NFC features.. NFC tap ready projectos for Miracast (wireless projector usage) and NFC ready NAS storage devices are also on Microsoft's horizon. Forget trying to hustle up disks and media, just tap.. and go.
This will make moving from office to office much easier, in Microsoft's view and I tend to agree. Walking end users through an install is much more difficult then just saying "can you touch your laptop/tablet to it?"
One of the features that makes a splash in the business world is the ability to turn on Mobile Hotspot in you phone and get a portable WiFi hotspot. Unfortunately, it's been something that didn't follow with PCs. That's all changed with Windows 8.1. With 8.1, your mobile 4G connection in your laptop can be the heart of a mobile hotspot, giving you an instant office on the road. This is one of those features that has been a LONG time coming, going all the way back to some of us using WinGate proxy software on dialup modem connections, or Microsoft Easy Connection Sharing with PPP DSL. Routers and broadband devices changed all of that, and ICS Connection sharing took a back seat. But the introduction of mobile hotspot technology still holds a lot of value in a more connected world.
Secure Boot Improved Again..
In an effort to foil spyware and hijacks, Microsoft's Secure boot has been enhanced again, encrypting and keying all critical boot data in a way to prevent software from compromising the boot sequence. The new method, provided in 8.1 is nearly foil proof. In several attempts to intentionally infect a box, Windows 8.1 was able to correctly identify records were altered and immediately terminate the changes and boot as normal.
This doesn't make it hijack free-- browser hijacks are still a thing, but it significantly diminishes the most harmful hijacks that alter the basic way Windows functions, and avoids anything with unauthorized boot changes.
Note: this will also feed into my negatives.
Multi-Monitor Support again improved
Windows 8.1 continues to take multi-monitor support to a whole other level. Allowing for different positions, orientations, layouts and configurations of multi-monitor support, Windows 8.1 takes one of the better features of Windows 8 and improves on it.
Multiple taskbars can now appear in different windows and configurations.
Battery Life Improvements
If you're a laptop user that has Windows 8, this is probably your biggest reason to upgrade. Microsoft has managed to put more of Windows 8 into non-essential componnets.. meaning fewer disk spins, less memory usage and lower processor overhead when just single tasks are up. The benefit: battery life in tested laptops goes up, significantly. Depending on the laptop you are testing you can get between 10-40% battery life improvement.
With 8.1, all versions.. not just pro.. have the heart of encryption built in. In fact, if you use a Microsoft login, your data on your PC is encrypted requiring your correct password to get at your data. This is a great add, giving people a bit of peace against stolen laptops and devices.. there will be no backdoor.. no USB connection to just suck out the data. Log on and get your data, or don't get you data at all.
(FYI: This also means you should strongly consider a backup service online to store data 'just in case')
A lot of people kept hearing that Windows 8.1 would bring back the start menu. And the resound answer is: not really. While it puts a start menu icon where you are used to it, a single click simply brings up the metro interface. Microsoft is hoping more users make the mental leap to associating the Metro as a replacement chooser shell.
MS has been down this road before; when Windows 3.11 and NT gave way to Windows 95, and the start menu was introduced, replacing a folder view system. Microsoft is clearly committed to this method of interaction and believes they have to move forward. That however, doesn't mean you are forced to. There are two good apps available that put the start menu as "you're used to it"
Both of these are great tools for those that can't give up the traditional start menu view.
Secure Boot's Alterations...
Secureboot is one of the most useful tools Microsoft has in securing the state of a machine. However, Secureboot requires that UEFI signature code to be enabled in BIOS. Many OEMs ship with it enabled, most stand alone motherboard makers ship with it disabled.
There are users who will choose to enable SecureBoot in BIOS. In order for this to work all of your hardware must be UEFI ready. This will rule out users with quite a few video cards. And with Secureboot enabled, users will not be able to easily dual boot (Linux or any other OS).
By disabling Secure Boot, you turn off one of the better features of Windows 8.1, and of course, you get the annoying warning on your desktop at all times. Outside of that, though, it does not in any way harm your experience.
Huge, single shot download
Microsoft has issued out Windows 8.1 in a single shot 3.6Gb image level update. Available through the Windows store, this update is free to all users of Windows 8. But the enormity of it - basically an entire install DVD of it's own is significant, putting those on DSL or lesser broadband at a real negative. Your best bet is to find a friend who can download the ISO and help you out:
Let's face facts.. if you didn't like 8, then some of the big changes in 8.1 may not be enough to sway you over. But it is still an impressive core level update that makes you wonder why this isn't the OS they released when 8 came out. This is Windows 8 refined. People forget how bad Windows XP was before Service Pack 1, and how it improved significantly with Service Pack 2 & 3.
Windows 8.1 isn't perfect. There are still a lot of things I wish were better; but it's improved support and additions do make it a worthy bump from MS's prior version.
With the upgrades to 8.1, however, I find myself believing more and more that Windows 8 RT (micro-tablet edition) is an outright failure and they should admit as much. Windows 8.1 on a tablet is an ideal configuration; full OS support with great battery life. Running on one of Intel's new chips, it has been shown in ultra-light high performance configurations.. that is the tablet MS should be pushing. Windows 8 RT.. which has had it's 8.1 upgrade withdrawn
Continues to show why RT really isn't worth while. I see a lot of value in Windows Phone, and Microsoft's commitment to this with the purchase of Nokia tells me that will stick around. But the in-betwen nowhere land OS that is RT feels doomed to fail in a world where Intel continually improve their power usage numbers and platforms get smaller and faster.
Microsoft's tablet strategy needs to completely drop trying to compete with an Apple or a Google, and start getting serious in their ads. No more dancing boardrooms. If Microsoft presented the Surface Pro showing it using 8.1, breaking out a mobile hotspot and running company ERP software while flipping back and forth to skype in a sidebar, they would impress the buyers who have the most interest in this product.