Feature

Computers: Is Windows 8.1 worth it?

Windows 8.1 will please longtime Windows users who never got comfortable with Windows 8’s tablet-like interface.

Windows 8.1 has arrived, said Mat Honan in Wired.com. If you’re using Windows, then run, don’t walk, and download the latest upgrade. It’s not only free, but “it’s a solid, necessary update” that will please longtime Windows users who never got comfortable with Windows 8’s tablet-like interface. The new version makes some “cosmetic concessions” to those users, including reinstating the Start button. But Microsoft’s latest offering is primarily “a recommitment to the touch-based future” and is “even more cloud-focused” than ever. Search is a major function in 8.1, giving users graphics-heavy results “designed to make it easy to find what you need at a glance.” And the new version “pushes you to save everything” in the cloud, allowing you access to your data from any device.

The new operating system “looks and feels mostly the same,” said Tom Warren in TheVerge.com. But it does help “bridge the gap between old and new,” with Microsoft clearly taking a second try at “ushering in the touch-friendly, tablet-filled future.” The 8.1 system “allows for a lot more personalization across the board,” giving you more built-in backgrounds and color schemes to pick from. But the biggest draw is Microsoft’s new approach to search. Microsoft’s Bing search engine “is deeply integrated into 8.1,” giving users an easy way to search local files and the Internet at once.

But 8.1 won’t “cure Microsoft’s schizophrenia,” said Shara Tibken in CNET.com. Windows is still torn between a PC past and a tablet future. While this newest version adds some important features that were “sorely lacking,” including the Start button and the option to boot directly into desktop mode, that’s not much. “Including those features—standards of older Windows versions—is partly an admission that Microsoft’s bold move wasn’t the right one.” Let’s face it: Sometimes users want “a PC to be just a PC.”

This offering amounts to “rearranging crackers on plates on deck chairs on the Titanic,” said David Pogue in The New York Times. Microsoft has made several “terrific” improvements to the system and its apps, but “the fundamental problem with Windows 8 hasn’t changed: You’re still working in two operating systems at once.” Switching between the “tiles” system and the traditional desktop “still feels jarring.” The obvious solution is to split it up: one system for tablets, another for desktops. Microsoft may have lofty dreams of a day when all computers have touch screens, but “reality seems to have other ideas.”

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