Several of our readers have been asking me to do a quick write up on Windows 8.1. I recently bought a new PC, and I decided it was time to give Windows 8 a try. I’ve been happily using Windows 7 for the past 4 years. Honestly, I have no complaints. As a gamer, Windows 7 did everything I needed and felt compatible with everything. So naturally, it makes sense to upgrade.
I’m not an expert. Let me get that out of the way right now. I am your slightly above-average user; perhaps more, but far from a techie. I’m a gamer. I spend the majority of my time on a PC playing games, writing about games, browsing the internet looking for things related to games, and talking with others about games. Those are my requirements.
Windows 8.1 Start Screen
I heard horror stories about the start screen. I heard everything from you no longer have a desktop to this thing being worthless. All of that is untrue! The Stat Screen is actually pretty neat. The image above is what mine looks like right now. It has that tablet look and feel that emphasizes user experience. I’ve chosen to keep mine simple: the games I play, the programs I use every day, and the extra on the left. You’ll notice I have a nice big desktop button. If I click that, it takes me right to the normal desktop you’ve been using for over a decade.
This Start screen is completely customizable. You can use any image you want, any color, etc. You can change the size of tiles, name the groups (or not), and make it like a little command-center for whatever you want to easily access. If you don’t want to use it, you can practically get away without ever seeing it.
A lot of the basic Windows programs are now something called “Apps.” Apps are more like programs designed to work specifically for Windows 8. Skype, the Windows store, etc., all have apps. The app screen above is accessed by pressing the down arrow on the Start screen. I think this was more of their attempt to do something “neat” than something practical. I think the apps can do neat thing, especially when integrating with your Live account (more on this later) but overall unnecessary.
Tip: To close an app in Windows 8.1 you can’t just close it. It remains open until you grab your mouse to the top of the screen, drag the app to the bottom, hold it there until the app spins around, then let go.
The Desktop and Start button
Surprise! Little has changed. That’s my desktop right there. It functions 99% the same. Apparently the original Windows 8 didn’t have the start button. Windows 8.1 added it back, but it’s a little different. Clicking the start button takes you back to the aforementioned Start screen. Right clicking on the start button gives you access to all of the things you ultimately want to use anyway: Programs and features, task manager, system options, etc. I don’t know about you, but I hadn’t used the actual start menu on my computer in over a year. I’m an icon kind of guy.
This took some figuring out. Hover your mouse in the top left and slowly move down. You will see a list of all your open apps. Take your mouse and hover in the bottom right and move up to expose a settings pane with options to personalize Windows, shut down, etc. These are clearly meant for a tablet, but do work well on a desktop. They’ve hidden a lot of things behind these swipe locations, but that has streamlined a lot of the every-day functionality.
Microsoft OneDrive cloud storage
Microsoft is really getting into this cloud storage ad cloud software scene. Have you ever used Skydrive? It’s Microsoft’s version of Google docs Drive. You can essentially use slightly dumbed down versions of Office programs online and access your files anywhere. Windows 8.1 came with 7gb free cloud storage when I signed in with my Live account. OneDrive can sync with folders on your hard drive and instantly backup or even primarily save on the cloud. I don’t do a lot of ‘work’ on my PC, but if I did I would absolutely take advantage of having my files be stored this way.
Windows 8.1 integrates with my Xbox Live Account and more
I play a lot of games on the Xbox 360 and Xbox One. All of my achievements, Gamer Tag information, etc., are all now synced with my Windows 8.1 experience. Does the screen above look familiar? It should for the console veterans. Windows 8.1’s game store brings the gaming experience to Windows. You and I will probably never, ever, use this feature but it’s there for the kids and casual “gamers.” I like the integration. I want more of it.
When I can afford one, I want to get a Microsoft Surface Pro. I want to know that my Windows experience goes with me from one device to the next. I like that connected feel. I like when all of my hardware works together. I’m finally getting that I get when I use Apple products. Using an iPhone isn’t all that different from an iPad. Microsoft has created that feeling across Xbox One, Windows 8.1 desktop and mobile versions.
Windows 8.1 is awesome. From the moment I press the power button, booting up takes less than 4 seconds. I know a lot of that is thanks to my SSD (more on that later) but the whole experience feels slicker, faster, and easier to use. I’m not sure everything is as intuitive as it could be, but it’s getting there. I see the direction Microsoft is taking their platforms, and I love it.
As a gamer, Windows 8.1 doesn’t stand in my way. In fact, I can notice the obvious efforts to make things better. Do you need to upgrade? No, but you’re missing out on a pretty neat experience if you don’t.