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Windows 8.1 is a Modest Step in the Right Direction for Microsoft

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

By Anick Jesdanun

NEW YORK — I doubt I was the only one who rolled my eyes when I first used Windows 8 a year ago. I found its touch controls and gestures awkward, and I was troubled by how little its primary, tile-based interface could do on its own.

For many basic tasks, I had to return to the system’s traditional desktop mode, the one that resembles older versions of Windows. It felt as though I was working on two different computers at once.

Since then, I’ve warmed up to many of those touch controls and gestures, such that I’ve even tried to use them absentmindedly out of habit on my touch-less MacBook laptop. And the free Windows 8.1 update addresses many of my remaining gripes.

Windows is still far from perfect. It continues to come across as a work in progress. But Windows 8.1 shows Microsoft is listening. People who already have Windows 8 will find digital life more pleasant with the update.

What was so bad about Windows 8’s tile mode?

• I can open only 10 Web pages at a time in the Internet Explorer browser. Pages automatically close once I’ve hit the limit, without any prompts or choice of which one. With Windows 8.1, there’s no limit.

• The browser in Windows 8 doesn’t let me view more than one Web page at once. Sure, I can open 10 tabs, but I can see only one at a time. I can’t have a news site or Facebook continually open on one side while I check Gmail on another. With Windows 8.1, I can open a “new window” rather than a “new tab” using a right click to have a second page visible.

• That limitation also applies to Window 8’s Mail app. With Windows 8.1, I can now have two messages open at once. And if I click on an attachment, it opens to the side rather than replace what I’m reading. The Mail app’s layout adjusts to fit into the remaining space.

• I can access some computer settings from the tile-based interface, but Windows 8 kicks me to the desktop for many others, including changing the display screen’s resolution and controlling how quickly energy-saving measures kick in. I can adjust that and more now from the primary interface with Windows 8.1, though I still couldn’t check the percentage battery life I have left without going to desktop.

If you’re buying a new Windows computer or already have Windows 8, your choices are limited. In that case, you might as well accept Windows 8.1, which is far better than Windows 8.

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