Windows 8.1 Pro System Builder OEM DVD 64-BitCUSTOMER REVIEW
Windows 8.1 does a good job of polishing the new Windows functionality added in Windows 8. Windows 8 was a little rough around the edges in some ways.
Windows 8 and 8.1 are basically improved versions of Windows 7 that also have the ability to OPTIONALLY run Windows Store (tablet/touch optimized) apps as well. The benefit of this is that it gives you the ability to use one OS and set of applications on any device including a multi-monitor desktop, laptop, tablet, or some hybrid combination of those. There is a bit of a learning curve with Windows 8.x, but once you spend a little time with it and configure it for the device it’s installed on, you can move seamlessly between traditional keyboard/mouse optimized desktop programs and full screen touch/tablet optimized apps on the same device depending on what you need to get done. You can even have a tablet that plugs into a docking station and becomes a multi-monitor desktop. This isn’t something that can currently be done with other platforms because the OS only does desktop or touch, but not both.
Windows 8.x also has the OPTION to sync certain settings to the cloud so that they can be synced to other devices if the option is also enabled on those devices. This includes things like browser favorites, browser tabs, start screen layout, wallpaper, and plenty of other stuff. These can be enabled or disabled individually (or all at once) per device. Microsoft SkyDrive cloud storage is also built in to the OS. This allows you to save files in your SkyDrive folder and have them automatically show up on other devices that are linked to your SkyDrive account. It’s very fast and convenient. I rarely need to use a thumb drive any more. SkyDrive is free and currently has the best cross platform compatibility of all the cloud storage providers.
All of the additional cloud storage/syncing functionality in Windows 8.1 is tied to using a Microsoft account to log in. This is nothing more than an account that is tied to various MS services. The other reviews that claim that you MUST use a Microsoft account with 8.1 are simply not correct. During the install process (or when adding new accounts) it will prompt you for an existing Microsoft account login. If you don’t already have one or if you don’t want to use one there is an option to “create a new account”. From that screen you can either create a new MS account or select the option to use a local login. In addition, all of the related cloud sync/storage functionality in Windows 8.x is completely optional even if you do use MS accounts instead of local accounts. You can simply save your super secret documents to the local “my documents” folder instead of the SkyDrive folder if you don’t want that document stored on the cloud. SkyDrive is simply for documents you WANT to make available on other devices or remotely, not to store the entire contents of your hard drive. It’s a shame to see people giving a product 1 star and bad reviews because of their own ignorance.
Having said that, the Microsoft account functionality is actually very useful. I didn’t fully appreciate it until I got a new computer (tablet) recently. After starting it up for the first time and logging in with the MS account I use on my other computer (desktop), my new Windows tablet was already 90% of the way configured the way I like it. Various Windows settings were copied in, my wallpaper and start screen layout were synced. It prompted me to download and install a list of Windows Store apps that I currently had installed on my desktop. My browser favorites, email accounts, calendar, and lots of other little details were synced over already. The only thing I had to do manually was install the desktop programs I wanted to use on my tablet. I have never had a new computer configured and ready to go so quickly. In the past, for me, getting a new PC configured the way I like it is an all day process. If you are super paranoid and believe that MS is helping the government spy on you any more than any other company obligated to cooperate with search warrants or the Patriot Act then use a local account instead of a MS account. For more rational minded people, just don’t save any highly sensitive data in your SkyDrive folder…or any cloud storage…or Facebook…or anywhere else on the Internet.
As far as backwards compatibility goes, Windows 8.x will run pretty much everything that runs on Windows 7. I use a lot of diverse software and I have yet to encounter anything that ran on Windows 7 that won’t run on Windows 8. That goes for hardware such as printers as well.
Some of my favorite options that Windows 8.x adds…
- Improved multi-monitor support for when I’m working.
- Ability to run Windows Store touch/tablet optimized apps and games for when I’m not working.
- Miracast support for streaming my screen wirelessly to my TV.
- Ability to run tablet/touch apps “snapped” along side the desktop.
- Built in SkyDrive storage for files that I want to share with other devices.
- Cloud synching options for various settings with other devices.
- Improved task manager.
- Improved file copy dialog with pause/resume support.
- Start screen/live tiles. I didn’t like it at first but it grew on me.
- Windows 8 and 8.1 have a bit of a learning curve if you are coming from previous versions of Windows. Mostly, you just have to learn how to navigate the new Windows Store touch/table optimized apps.
- The Windows Store is still fairly new and it doesn’t have all the apps you will find on other tablets like an iPad or Android tablet. However, it will run any of the traditional desktop programs that Windows 7 runs so while it’s currently short on tablet apps it wins on the desktop program side.
***** Updated *****
If you want to optimize Windows 8.1 primarily for “desktop use” here are some things you should do out of the box…
1) Set your default programs for pictures, music, and video files to the equivalent desktop programs instead of the touch optimized apps.
Move mouse to upper right corner of the screen to open the Charms Bar » select “Settings” » select “Change PC Settings” » select “Search and Apps” » select “Defaults”
Change the following items:
- Music Player = Windows Media Player
- Video Player = Windows Media Player
- Photo Viewer = Windows Photo Viewer
Setting these programs (or other installed third party desktop programs) as your defaults will prevent you from “getting kicked out of the desktop” when you open a music, video, or image file. A lot of people complain about this, but it’s really just a matter of configuring Windows for the device you are using.
2) Install your favorite desktop programs so you can do something useful. Too many people just play with a stock Windows 8 PC in a store and assume that the desktop doesn’t do much anymore. The desktop still does everything that the Windows 7 desktop did, but just like any other version of Windows you need to install the programs that you intend to use before you can start doing the things you want to do.
3) Configure the Start Screen. Take the time to learn the new Start Screen and organize it to your liking. Unpin the touch apps if you don’t need them and pin the desktop apps you use frequently. For desktop users, the new Start Screen isn’t really any better or worse than the old Start Menu. It’s just different. If you set it up right you can find and launch your programs just as quickly (if not more quickly) than you could in any other version of Windows.