Say "yes" to O/S "version" upgrades


Q: Should I update our Windows 8 computers to Windows 8.1, and if so, why?

A: Yes, I believe you should update; here’s why:

1. Version 2 typically beats version 1. Windows 8.0 represents version 1 of a fairly significant new operating system, and as expected, Microsoft didn’t get everything right. With Windows 8.1, Microsoft cleaned up many issues related to security, functionality, and design. Typically, installing version upgrades does not overwrite any of the operating system/hardware component tweaks mentioned in the previous topic.

2. Boot to desktop option. Windows 8.1 will allow you to skip the Start screen and boot directly to the Desktop view, as follows. From the Desktop screen, right-click the Taskbar and select Properties, then click the Navigation tab and check the option labeled Show my desktop background on Start.

3. Shut down from the Start button. Windows 8.1 restores the Start button, and while it still does not behave exactly like the Windows 7 Start button, it does allow you to shut down Windows by clicking the Start button and selecting the Shut Down option.

4. Access apps from the Start button. You can configure the Start button to launch the apps screen from the Navigation tab described above, by checking the box labeled Show the apps view automatically when I go to Start. (I still recommend installing the free Classic Shell Start button as described in the May 2013 JofA topic “Restore Windows 8 Start Button” (page 77).)

5. A more stable boundary between apps and applications. Windows 8 routinely jumps Desktop users to the Start screen without warning, but Windows 8.1 does a better (but not perfect) job by allowing Desktop users to remain in Desktop mode.

6. Snap four screens. Windows 8 allows you to launch two apps at a time, with an automatic snap to a 75%/25% split. Windows 8.1 improves on this facet by allowing you to launch up to four apps that snap to equal-size windows on a single screen.

7. Better searching. Windows 8 forced users to search Apps, Settings, and Files separately, but Windows 8.1 searches all three of these areas simultaneously, and also can include searches of other areas, such as your OneDrive, Bing web search, and video and music apps.

8. Support for 3-D printers. For those interested in printing objects instead of paper, Windows 8.1 provides printer drivers for printing to 3-D printers.

9. Wireless printing. Windows 8.1 prints directly to Wi-Fi-enabled printers without needing to connect to (or through) a Wi-Fi router. 

10. New Windows 8.1 shortcuts. To help you work more efficiently, Windows 8.1 offers the following new shortcuts.

  • Winkey+T: From the Start screen, this shortcut opens the Taskbar in the Start screen.
  • Home key: In the Start screen, pressing the Home key selects the first app icon, and pressing the End key selects the last app icon.
  • Esc key: Pressing the Esc key returns from the Start screen to the Desktop view. (Pressing the Windows key does the same thing, but it does so as a toggle between the Start and Desktop screens. The Esc key does not work as a toggle, i.e., pressing the Esc key again does not return you to the Start screen.)
  • Winkey+down arrow: This keystroke combination closes the app, but the app remains running in the background and remains in the Desktop’s Taskbar.
  • Winkey+period+right arrow (or left arrow): Allows you to place up to four full-screen apps side by side, although this three-fingered shortcut is a little awkward to use.

J. Carlton Collins ( ) is a technology consultant, CPE instructor, and a JofA contributing editor.

Note: Instructions for Microsoft Office in “Technology Q&A” refer to the 2013, 2010, and 2007 versions, unless otherwise specified.

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