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Brett Nordquist (Customer Experience Engineer)

The Time Has Come For Windows 8.1

Written on November 11, 2013 by Brett Nordquist

The time has come. The time is now. And with apologies to Marvin K. Mooney, it’s time to consider running Windows 8 on your desktop or laptop computer.

Although there’s no shortage of opinion surrounding Microsoft's latest operating system, Windows 8 remains somewhat of an enigma. I’ve spoken to people who have mentioned the following:

1. Windows 8 is for touchscreens only.
2. Windows 8 is worthless for desktop users.
3. Windows 8 is forcing a tablet OS on us. 
4. Windows 8 is nothing more than Windows 7 with spiffy skin.

Microsoft has added to the confusion with a string of commercials that largely fail to provide compelling reasons desktop users may want a new computer with Windows 8. Most of the ads I’ve seen are focused on all-in-one touchscreen computers or the Microsoft Surface laptop/tablet hybrid.

This is unfortunate because there are a number of compelling reasons a traditional desktop user may actually enjoy using Windows 8 and specifically, the latest update, Windows 8.1. I’ve been running Windows 8 since the day it arrived on a two year old Serenity with Intel i5 2500k processor, 16 GB RAM and fast Samsung SSD.

But I’ve recently installed Windows 8.1 on two older computers in our home. Both are Intel Core 2 Duo systems with 4 GB RAM, traditional drives, and NVIDIA 430 graphic cards. They are by no means state-of-the art systems yet both of them feel zippy again under Windows 8.1. If you’re running Windows 7, you should have no problem upgrading to Windows 8, and you just might see a minor bump in performance too.

By far the most controversial aspect of Windows 8 has been the removal of the well-known START button. Windows 8 replaced the START button with, well, nothing and that was the problem for many users who were not used to using keyboard shortcuts to access programs and system settings. Sure, one could pin a program’s icon to the desktop or taskbar, but the change was too much for many of Microsoft’s staunchest supporters. Many long-time Windows users felt that Microsoft was forcing a tablet interface on them for no particular reason other than to prepare them for a future Windows tablet purchase. I can't say I blame them but I'm over it. 

With Windows 8.1, Microsoft is meeting their customers half-way by bringing back the START button, but not the START menu. But I am happy with this change because I’m able to access many of the administrative functions by right-clicking on the START button while continuing to use the Windows START tiles to access all my programs. Pressing the WINDOWS key displays the programs I use most often. Do yourself a favor and spend a few minutes customizing your programs and tile sizes. You can pin your most used programs to the START screen and even resize tiles now based on your preferences.

I've configured my START screen below to show only the programs I use each day. I find it more useful and configurable than the traditional START menu. Notice how I'm using three sizes of tiles to balance the screen. Don't see a program you need? Just start typing its name and a pane shoots in from the right with what you're after. 

There are a number of new features packed into Windows 8.1, but the one reason I decided to install it on all the computers I own is for one reason: it’s more stable than Windows 7. I know a lot of you won’t enjoy hearing this and some of you may disagree with me which is fine. But those occasional error messages and rare BSOD are gone under Windows 8. I have not had a single BSOD in over a year on my primary PC.

Even on my two older PCs, Windows 8 has run perfectly. Even the HomeGroup feature works well!  Maybe the optimization of system processes and lower memory footprint is what makes all three of my computers feel more responsive under Windows 8. And we all love speed but it means nothing if your systems isn't stable. That's not a problem because Windows 8 is freaking stable. 

So yes, the time has come. If you’re considering a new PC that runs Windows, I strongly recommend going with Windows 8.1 over Windows 7. It’s different. It’s controversial. It’s reliable. And it’s also the better choice for most people.  

Tags: Microsoft Windows 8

My wife has Windows 8.1 on her Surface now, and I do like it better than Windows 8. There are also some things that will only be coming to Windows 8+ that may interest certain users, like the next version of DirectX. However, for the desktops in my home we are sticking with Windows 7 for the foreseeable future.

Posted on 2013-11-12 06:07:12

I can understand sticking with 7 due to the upgrade pricing ($109-$199) but if you're buying a new system, man up and go with 8. :-)

Posted on 2013-11-12 06:10:36

So, why should desktop users take on Windows 8? What new features are going to help with Photoshop, CAD, or other content creation tasks? So far I am hearing "might see a minor bump in performance" and less BSOD messages as positives. (Anecdotally, I have not had one BSOD screen in the last 5 years of my Windows 7 machine.) On the downside there is learning a radically new interface, and lots of stuff for social networking/sharing, which have nothing to do with most content creation.

Am I missing something important? If not, then there are much easier ways of getting a boost in performance, such as better video card, more RAM, or an SSD. Ignoring content consumption, which is what mobile devices are good at, do you have any good reasons why I should put in the hours to learn a new interface for content creation on my desktop?

Posted on 2013-11-12 15:08:09

There were some improvements in Windows 8, which have carried over to 8.1:

- Better multi monitor support, including things like being able to show the taskbar on all screens, and customize the taskbar appearance per screen to some degree.

- Improved Task Manager, showing more details about system performance

- Upcoming versions of DirectX will only be on Windows 8+ (more a gaming thing, but some professional applications also use DX so it may eventually be an issue)

The biggest thing with 8.1, to me, is that it is no longer as intrusive as stock 8 was. With 8, every time you booted the system it went to the new Start interface first, and you had to manually navigate from there to the desktop - which is where you'll spend almost all your time if you aren't on a tablet. Moving between the desktop and the Start interface, when you did need to, was also a bit jarring. Windows 8.1 resolves both of those: the Start button is back and the Start interface can be made to have the same background as your desktop, making using it look and feel more a part of the desktop rather than alienated from it, and you can set the system to boot directly to the desktop as well.

Posted on 2013-11-12 16:44:39

I should also point out that, to me, these benefits have to be weighed against the complications of learning the new OS. For those who prefer to stick with what they are familiar with, or especially those who would be using other computers with legacy versions of Windows (XP -> Win7) at the same time, it may still be best to stick with Windows 7. That won't always be available, of course, but it still is for now... and it is still what most of our customers are getting on their new computers :)

Posted on 2013-11-12 17:17:18

If you're familiar with Windows 7, I am not sure there's a whole lot new you can't learn over a weekend. I can understand not upgrading due to cost and I wish Microsoft had continued the $39 upgrade pricing when Windows 8 first launched. But this is the direction Microsoft is heading. It's time to get on board! :-)

Posted on 2013-11-12 17:54:40
Daniel Brown

I don't think there's much point in upgrading if you already have Windows 7. If you were buying a new PC with Windows, then I'd recommend 8 (8.1) for the few additional features, the longer support availability, and the simplified versions.

Posted on 2013-11-12 17:07:17

I would and did upgrade all my computers to Windows 8.1, but I understand why someone would stick with 7 until they bought a new PC.

Posted on 2013-11-12 17:46:42

There is a bit of a learning curve but nothing major. I have 3 kids under the age of 10, and they had no problems getting around Windows 8. They do most everything from the desktop so there's really not much to learn.

I can't tell you if it's worth the extra time it takes to learn Windows 8. For me, it was an easy choice for the reasons I mentioned, and I can't imagine going back to Windows 7. If you're happy with Windows 7 then stick with it and upgrade to 8 when you replace your current computer.

Posted on 2013-11-12 17:51:18

Thanks for all the thoughts. The multi-monitor improvement would be very nice. I don't see an upgrade happening, but my machine is old, and I am starting to consider a new computer (from Puget of course). I am skeptical of Windows 8.0/8.1 given the problems I have seen with Windows 8.0 on the desktop. In the past, the latest version of Windows was an obvious choice. This time it looks like I need to research the OS as well as the hardware. Maybe if I wait long enough, Windows 9 will come out and be exactly what I want! (sarcasm)

Posted on 2013-11-12 18:14:14

I bought my machine on here in 2009 and got Windows 7. Couldn't stand it compared to XP. Took about 2 years to get "comfortable" with it but never did really come to enjoy it as much as XP. I'm still using that machine. The only good thing about Win 7 over XP was there were no BSOD's except the rare ones if you use hibernate every night.

I'm quite sure I'll despise Windows 8.1. Right now I don't want the stress of having to take multiple years of getting used to yet another system that has less customization then the previous one (given that Microsoft takes away more and more customization each time they "upgrade".)

But I'm always a hold-out. I still don't have a cell phone and I work for 1 of the main telecom companies.

Posted on 2013-11-13 15:52:56

I bought a PC right before Windows 8 was released, so I have a free Windows 8 upgrade disk. I ran through the upgrade advisor and could never get everything to pass muster. I have run Windows 8 under VMWare and Virtual Box, so I'm familiar with the interface. Despite under-the-covers improvements, the GUI still annoys me too much to make the switch. I really am content to wait for Windows 9, hoping Microsoft will make it possible to NEVER see the tiled interface on a desktop machine.

BTW, I'm writing this on an old, but still excellent, iPad 2 that works well for web browsing, email, ebook reading and movies. Don't want a smartphone that's too big for my pocket.

Posted on 2014-05-19 17:37:27