Windows 8.1 Looks Promising (ish)!

by Ed Sparks

We've been playing with the Windows 8.1 Preview Release for a few weeks, and it looks like a strong upgrade that mostly cleans up the half-baked feel of Windows 8. 

The whole thing feels more polished and refined, and even in this preview stage they're clearly hitting the mark and making it a more useful and livable OS regardless if you choose the Modern or "traditional" Desktop world.  It's just some compromise, instead of all compromise. Windows Server 2012 R2 looks just as good, though honestly guys just scrap Metro on this thing.  Please.  Seriously.  NOBODY wants this.

Let's hope they get this right, as it would be great to have this OS we know (and love?) succeed into the next generation.  This at least gives us hope, especially if they can get Surface 2.0 devices right too.

A Few Quirks 
We are seeing a few glitches, though this is to be expected with a beta - err - preview release. 

Skydrive is now fully integrated (and properly!) into the OS both on the Desktop and Metro side. There's nothing extra to install and your cloud storage shows up just as if it were local. However, it doesn't sync everything by default anymore.  In fact, the exact opposite - everything is cloud first, which makes a lot of sense.  
The problem?  On many of our upgraded test systems it doesn't sync anything at all, due to some glitchy upgrade code.  This seems to be the result of broken interaction between the former standalone desktop Skydrive client, and the new built-in version.

The Fixes

  1. Make sure you have no junction/mount points defined anywhere in your old Skydrive path (c:\users\<username>\skydrive usually).  These immediately break things, though they were never really supported.
  2. Check Task Manager to make sure the skydrive.exe executable is not running, then open up %localappdata%\Microsoft\Windows\Skydrive.  Delete all the contents of this folder, then from a Run dialog, type 'skydrive.exe' and click OK.  Again check if skydrive.exe is running in Task Manager and that everything is now syncing.

The other big problem we're seeing?  It's unstable - very!.  So far it crashes at least once a day.  We're talking hard system reboot crashes (though oddly not blue screens).  So far it seems video driver related.  Fingers crossed that's just an early preview glitch.

The good news is Microsoft seems to be aggressively updating this through Windows Update, and often!

Wish List

  1. Notification Centre.  It's beyond annoying that alerts popup everywhere for just a few seconds, that can then never be found again.  The Start Screen Live Tiles don't help, as they only show a tiny bit of what's going on, and offer no deep-linking support (i.e. if I click a Start Screen icon with information showing, I'm not actually taken to that information - just the app in general, which is stupid).  Come on - you even have a button called "Notifications" in the Settings Bar.  How about clicking that brings up all the notifications? Just a thought guys!
  2. System-wide media controls.  Snapping any media-related app just so one can pause, skip or change the volume is stupid.  Android and iOS handle this WAY better. Just make this part of the (still ridiculously named) Charms Bar.  It's got loads of wasted space.