Monday, October 21, 2013

Updating to Windows 8.1: Part 2: What's Different

Hopefully if you’ve installed the Windows 8.1 update, all went well.  But even if everything went smoothly, you might be wondering what’s going on, because some things are certainly different.  I took screen captures of what I could, both before and after when I knew the change was happening, but there was even more new than I bargained for.  Here's just a little bit of what I've found.
What’s Different

Natural scrolling is gone.  For as long as I’ve used a mouse or a touchpad on a PC, moving down the touchpad or scrolling the wheel on a mouse towards myself, moved the screen down.  Moving up on the touchpad or mouse, moved the screen up.  But with Windows 8, Microsoft changed to natural scrolling, which Macs have used for a long time.  Natural scrolling is an attempt to replicate the hand movements of a touch screen on the touchpad.  Or, in other words, everything was backward from how it had been before.  With this upgrade, at least on my Lenovo RT, natural scrolling is gone.  For those of us who switch back and forth between Windows 7 and Windows 8 PCs, I’ve got to say I’m glad I’m going to be scrolling in the same direction all day.

UPDATE:  After another update, natural scroll seems to be back.  Lot's of people have discussed ways around there, including here.

File Explorer looks different.  In my opinion, Windows 7 got Explorer just right with all of the folders listed down the left side whenever you clicked the shortcut on the taskbar.  Windows 8 had continued this, but in 8.1, the folders are now buried a level.  In other words, instead of having Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos available to be opened as soon as I enter File Explorer along the left side, I have to select This PC to get those links.  It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but that’s what I thought when I first saw all the folders available along the left side until I started using it and fell in love.
File Explorer in 8.1
The change that most people have been waiting for is the return of the Start Button.  Now, perhaps I didn’t understand what was going to happen with the Start Button, but I have to admit to being underwhelmed.  When in the Desktop environment, I thought the Start Button would function like the old one—clicking it would reveal a list of programs and other functions, such as the Control Panel.  But this is a Start Button, and it just takes you back to the Start Screen.
Windows 8, with no Start Button in the bottom left.
8.1, now with a Start Button in the bottom left.
The Start Screen is one place 8.1 has made a nice improvement.  Instead of just two sizes for tiles, now there are three or four size options.  (Why the fourth option—large—is not available for every tile is beyond me.)  In addition to having more size options, groups of tiles can be customized with titles.

More options on the Start Screen.
But my very favorite improvement is without question split screen.  In Windows 8 you could have two apps open and showing at the same time, with one app taking up about a quarter of either the left or right side of the screen and the other app filing the rest.  And it could only be two.  Now with 8.1 you can split the screen between multiple apps and drag at the edge to make each whatever size you want.  Of course, the Desktop still counts as an app all on its own, so splitting the screen between two Word documents, for instance, still can’t be done since two instances of the same app can’t be split.
My Windows 8.1 RT computer now does a real split screen.  Hooray!
And there are many other odds and ends.  The Store got a facelift.  The PC Settings page is much more user friendly.  Search from the Start screen now searches the web in addition to apps and your files.  And you can set up your computer to bypass the Start Screen and launch directly to the Desktop.
One last thing, because I think finding the solution to this took as long as the install.  My PC was reset to require a password when it’s turned on, restarted, or coming out of sleep.  I’ve never required a password log on for this computer, and I didn’t particularly want to start.  Thanks to this Nick’s Computer Fix video, I was able to get rid of the password requirement. 
Some other helpful tips, such as booting to the Desktop and adding a Start Button with a menu can be found here.
And that’s just a taste of Windows 8.1.  Good luck!


Updating to Windows 8.1: Part One: Download and Install

Windows 8.1 is here!  It will solve all your problems!  Or so many people may think.  There are, indeed, a lot of improvements, but don’t go into an upgrade to Windows 8.1 thinking it will suddenly be just like Windows used to be or that everything will be perfect.  Also, I just discovered that I’m lucky I updated when I did, because Microsoft has temporarily pulled the update for Windows RT.

One thing you can be sure of if you’re about to upgrade: give yourself plenty of time to do it.  I have a Lenovo Yoga, which doesn’t have the world’s most powerful processor by any means, and it runs Windows RT.  The file size for the RT upgrade is 2.11 GB, versus the 3.5 GB file for Windows 8.1 Pro.  I spent an hour and fifteen minutes updating.  But on a rather ancient Gateway I own that I switched over to Windows 8 Pro, it took nearly four hours to finish the upgrade to 8.1.  I would guess most people’s experience will be somewhere in between those two, but I wouldn’t make plans when you’re about to run the update. To give you some idea of the size of these files, Apple says most standard definition movies in the iTunes Store of approximately two hours are 1.5 GB and a high definition version of the same film would be 4 GB.

The Download and Install

I had heard the update would be waiting for me in the Store, but when I clicked on the Store App from the Start page, I couldn’t find the download.  I decided to try restarting my computer, and that was when I saw that I had an update.  However, that wasn’t the Windows 8.1 update—it was a Firmware update I had to install before 8.1 became available.  After the Firmware update and the restart, the 8.1 update was waiting in the Store as I had initially expected.
You really can’t miss the update in the store.
Once you’ve clicked on the update, settle in.  In fact, I made dinner.  There was nothing to do but watch the wheel turn as parts of the file downloaded and installed with the computer restarting all on its own several times.  It wasn’t until I was asked to agree to the License and sign in with my Microsoft account that I needed to do anything.  A Microsoft account is either a Hotmail or Outlook email.  To set up a Windows 8 computer initially requires a Microsoft account, so everything should be ready when you get to that step since this is an upgrade.
An example of the sitting and waiting screen.
Sign in screen.
There were a few other simple prompts to follow, including verifying your account for security purposes with an email, but if you don’t have access to a second computer while running the update, you can select the option to take care of this step later.
In Part 2, I’ll detail some of the differences between Windows 8 and 8.1.