Windows 8.1: Update or upgrade?

Two out of three of my machines upgraded easily.

By now, if you are a Windows 8 user, you probably upgraded or at least tried to upgrade to Windows 8.1. Of my three machines that ran Windows 8, two of them upgraded rather uneventfully, if slowly. The third, an old Celeron desktop machine, failed because evidently there wasn't enough free memory to create a RamDisk. I tried a few things to remedy this but frankly after seeing 8.1 run on my other machines, I decided it wasn't worth moving heaven and earth to accomplish. Overall, that is my impression of 8.1 - nice to have, not a must-have.

As I said, the upgrades went pretty slowly. The first machine that I upgraded, my VAIO Duo, was upgraded the first day the 8.1 upgrade was available. It was about as hard to download the upgrade file as it was to download a new iOS version from Apple on the first day it was available.  That is, I guess, the measuring stick today. So by that measure I guess it was about normal. What I was surprised about was how long it took to install on my machine. But, again, it was not terribly out of reason.

Once my machine upgraded, I rushed over to the desktop to see my old friend, the Start button. To my chagrin, it really wasn't a start button. There was a button where the Start button would go, and it was the Windows logo. Pressing that button brought me to the Windows 8 Metro interface. It's not really what those clamoring for the return of the Start button were looking for. 

Of course, when I right clicked the Windows button I saw the familiar Start button options, albeit in a different sort of fly out menu. But I guess if you really need those old start options, right clicking did give you what you needed.

OK, so less than overwhelmed I headed over to see the shiny new, improved Windows Store. I liked the look of the featured apps. I downloaded the Facebook app finally and a few of the other suggestions. However, I was kind of bummed when I realized that they no longer had apps broken down by category. Now they had popular free, popular paid and recommended for me. Again, more like iTunes or Google Play I guess. But I liked the old categories better. 

I am just not that familiar with Windows 8 applications, and I used to enjoy browsing the different categories for apps that I considered interesting. I just don't browse as well under this new format. I hope Microsoft will restore the categories soon.

Beyond that, I do think Windows 8.1 was snappier on my machine. I wouldn't say it was a game changer overall, but a solid upgrade.

I upgraded my other laptop a few days after the rush was over. That upgrade went much faster on the download and about the same on the install. Again, same type of results. One thing I did notice is that since my other laptop is not a touchscreen, having the Start button was more useful with a mouse. I didn't have to mouse in from the corner or side and go to another screen and all of that.

I was speaking with Mark Laymon, founder of the co-working Caffeine Spaces here at the FAU R&D Park. Mark is a mouse user for 20 years. He doesn't have a touchscreen. He thinks while overall Windows 8.1 was "all right," it was no big deal. The biggest thing for him is when he has to shut down, he no longer has to try and drag the mouse over from the right edge and find the power button and all of that. He just goes to the familiar start button menu. Also, reaching stuff like the control panel and other places from the Start button is a lot easier for him.

That just confirms for me what I already knew. Windows 8 is really made for a touch interface. While you can get by with just a mouse, it loses some of its power without touch. Even now, when I am on my old laptop or other machines, I find myself touching the screen to move things around or scroll down. It is only when nothing happens that I realize I am not in touchscreen Kansas anymore.

So overall if you use a mouse, Windows 8.1 is a decent upgrade and offers some help. If not and you haven't upgraded yet, it probably doesn't rise to the top of your list. One thing to keep in mind though is that Microsoft made a big deal about Windows 8.1 being a free upgrade. I don't know what their plans are, but maybe it doesn't stay free forever? Just a thought.

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