Windows 8.1 Desktop Improvements

One of the top three postings on my blog (in terms of page views) was my January 2013 article on How to Fix the Windows 8 Desktop.  The sole purpose of this article was to highlight that there are still mouse/keyboard desktop users in this world and Win8.0 was missing a multitude of features for this large user base.  As I stated over and over in the comments, I wasn’t condemning Win 8 itself – just the desktop usability.  Now Windows 8.1 is available and there have been significant improvements to the OS in nearly every place you look and in many places you can’t see.  But what about the desktop?  Is it more usable than Win 8.0 for non-touch users?  Below I take a look at my original list of suggestions and see how 8.1 addresses them.

So what has changed in the Windows 8.1 Desktop?

I won’t go into much detail on each item so I encourage you to check out the original post for justification why I want each feature? There is also a very healthy discussion and debate.

Requested Feature

Win8 Status Win 8.1 Status

Start button

Only available with 3rd party plugin The Start Button has returned in 8.1. If you are in the anti-start-button crowd then you can disable it. Good decision by Microsoft and it is proof they do listen to customers.
Start Menu Only available with 3rd party plugin Although the Start Button is back, there is not an updated version of the start menu you are used to. This may not be what traditionalist had in mind, but the experience in 8.1 is definitely an improvement over 8.0. In 8.1 there are two screens — your Modern Start Screen and a new “all apps” screen — similar to the two screen modal in Windows Phone. Now when you install an app it is listed in “all apps” and not automatically pinned to your Modern Start Screen. In 8.0 the start menu was the Modern UI screen and other than tile placement there was no way to sort or organize your apps.  In 8.1 the Start button takes you to the “all apps” screen that can be sorted alphabetically, by most used, by date installed, and by category. It is a serviceable replacement for the real Start Menu but if you’re making the jump from Win7 to Win8.1 it does looks different and takes some time getting used to.
Boot to the Desktop Option Only available with 3rd party plugin Yes, this is now available in 8.1. For us Corporate types, having a start button and the ability to boot to the desktop will make migrating to Win8.1 less painful for our users. In fact, this is probably the number one reason most corporations skipped Windows 8.
Trashcan docked on the taskbar Not possible Still not possible. I don’t think this will ever happen since the desktop is now considered legacy and there is very little development occurring. However, it would have been one small item that would have made life easier for non technical people.
Pin Modern UI apps to the desktop or taskbar Only available with 3rd party plugin Only available with 3rd party plugin
Access Windows Store from the Desktop No option that I am aware of No option that I am aware of
Preinstall/Integrate Skydrive to the desktop Desktop Skydrive had to be downloaded and installed manually. The Skydrive Desktop app is now preinstalled with Windows 8.1. In fact, it seems built in and not a separate app.
Bring Back Free Windows Media Center This is only available as a $9.99 download from the Windows Store I have no idea what’s going on here.  I think they have moved all new Media Center development to the Xbox One.
DVD Playback Only available with Windows Media Center or 3rd party codec install (try explaining that to your grandma, your boss, or any other sane human.) T.B.D.
Built-in Image Resizer No built in option. Numerous 3rd party options available, but I prefer this ultra simple tool. No built in option.
Share From the Desktop Nothing can be shared from the desktop. Screenshots of the desktop can now be captured and shared with the Share Charm. This is actually a good idea since taking a screenshot without a keyboard often requires phalange gymnastics to hit the right key combo. This is an improvement over 8.0 but I still would like to be able to share a web page, a document, or other object from the desktop — not just a screen capture of what I’m look at. The screenshot sharing is a little akward since there is no easy to save the screenshot, only share it through an app or email. The share options need a “save locally” option.



7 thoughts on “Windows 8.1 Desktop Improvements”

  1. Great list Joey (really great) but I don’t we will see much of your suggestions. I would love to run modern apps in a window and it is 100% possible but you need to use ModernMix to do it. I read the comments in your original post and saw there were detractors to this idea. Here’s the use case. My email client is Outlook. I would like to have Outlook up and running and have the Win8.1 Twitter app in a modern window next to it. Below the twitter app I would like to have the Xbox Music app on screen. Stuff makes sense. and you trashcan on the dock idea ——- brilliant!!!

  2. Joey, congrats on this article. Why congrats? Your candid article about 8.0 and the absurd desktop was passed around and read by many people — including several key people within microsoft (I know) It was articles like yours that led to several key platform changes. While you didn’t get everything you wanted, and probably won’t, you made positive change on the platform. And you are not going to see the trashcan on the dock, the desktop ship has sailed.

  3. Thanks for the note, guys. I am pleased to see the changes in 8.1. I know the future of the desktop is limited but Microsoft needs to understand the investment companies like mine have in Windows, the desktop, apps, training, process, etc… I’m excited about the future of the modern UI but I can’t just give 6,000 users a new OS without maintaining a transition period. The fact remains that desktop apps will be here for years and years — Microsoft should make the desktop home as comfortable and easy to use as possible. I don’t care if they modernize the desktop, in fact, I welcome the changes and improvements, but keep it there for a few more years.

  4. Ok, things got better, but WHY do they smack up metro in full screen when you press windows button?

    How often do you need to occupy a full screen on a 20″ widescreen to show a startmenu?

  5. Daniel, it’s one sized fits all. The start menu will work on your 20″ screen, a 6″ phablet, or a giant 60″ screen at Fox News. I will admit it looks different coming from Win7 but it’s not much different. Now in 8.1 you can sort apps by name, most used, date installed, etc… So in some ways this is more efficient than the old style mouse start menu.

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