Since Windows 8 was released, it has been one of the most controversial and most talked about operating systems, partly due to how it takes away what most Windows users are used to using and brings in a completely new mind-set. I have been able to experience a time when Windows 98 existed, Windows 2000 then I spent the majority of my time on Windows XP in my High school (even when 7 was released). I completely skipped Vista and finally got Windows 7, what a wonderful operating system, but then Windows 8 came out and it was…confusing at best. I got the preview build on my Samsung non-touchscreen laptop, it was pretty hard to use at first but the keyboard short cuts helped and I just assumed it was much better to use the OS on touch screens and I summarised ‘Windows 8 is good, but really it was made for touchscreens I believe”.
Now that I purchased my Lenovo Yoga laptop, I now realise just how much I was missing.
With the portability of my new laptop (my old one was…pretty big and I couldn’t take it anywhere, stupid purchase decision), it helped me realise how wonderful Windows 8 can be with the touch controls and all of its capabilities, with my old laptop I was still stuck in the Dogma that I needed the start button, I would shy away from the Metro UI and go straight to desktop, it even came to a point I used a add-on start button to add in the old features, kind of embarrassing now that I think about it, I realise now that the removal of the old start button could not have been better. I have everything I need and more on my start screen, it allowed me to maximise my productivity and creativity, as a designer and developer my time is valuable and having access to all of my tools with a few key strokes is amazing and helps you feel much more in control of the system.
And this was on Windows 8, on Windows 8.1 , an update I managed to received a few days ago through MSDN (thank you again Microsoft, always being awesome), it allowed me to check out what I had been missing in the 8.1 preview and more. And whilst it isn’t a ground shaking update to the system, it improved lots of little things and added in fantastic features that make this operating system more ideal for everything I do.
The sidebar/startmenu that slides in from the right is an integral part to the experience and it is a fantastic idea that no matter what app you are on, you are able to access the settings, share app contents and search for things in an app in the same place. Microsoft also makes it easy for developers to take advantage of the extra Windows 8 functionality in their development process.
So I am going to summarise the different sections so it doesn’t feel like a wall of text and you can skip what you don’t want to read.
The main start screen.
In less than an hour, I set up my start screen the way I wanted it. I tried to think of the best way to integrate all the stuff I use onto this ‘dashboard’, one awesome thing about Windows 8 is that if you use an address that already has contacts/calendar, they all sync straight away on your account, so on there you can see live people notifications, tweets and I have set up my various email accounts which is awesome for getting all my mail and keeping up to date with instant notifications.
In Windows 8 it allowed me to manage all my apps and favourites well but on 8.1 you can modify the size of all your apps and so I can make ones that are important, very noticeable and others smaller, this is all trial and error because I wanted my home screen to look aesthetically pleasing whilst offering me all of my quick-links to everything I might need.
As a Creative Cloud member I have access to all of Adobe’s wonderful apps, I have been able to neatly tidy these all in one space with their own group name. Some of the apps are only found on the web and Internet explorer gives you a great feature that allows you to add websites to your start screen, a fantastic addition, as you can see I have Kuler and Edge web fonts in there as well. (At the moment my OCD to keep things neat is bugging me because I still have 2 little slots to fill on the right hand side there on the adobe stuff). You can see on the right I have the game I am working on as a wide tile, with Visual studios and the map maker ‘tiled’ with it, this way I have all the tools bundled together when I need them. I have yet to download office again, an amazing must-have for me, because when I installed this update I could only keep my files so downloading all the software is a work-in-progress at the moment.
I even set up a little ‘inspiration’ group where I put links to great sites that allow me to take a break and try to jog my mind and be productive, though I access these links sparingly, I don’t rely on them everytime I find my self with a ‘creative block’. These links are just there to remind me that I have those at my disposal. You see that is another reason I have this set up, the internet is massive, you know that already and so its easy to lose some of your favourite links if you are always discovering new things. Your bookmarks can fill up fast and you forget what tools you have, in this instance, I have my main apps and shortcuts that let me know what I have straight from the start screen. Also I have rainymood.com on there because I JUST LOVE RAIN. I am a Pluviophile, a lovely word I learnt the other day.
And finally, speaking of rain, my background is a fantastic photo (I couldn’t find the source to thank the owner), but it is actually my desktop background and whilst a subtle feature it is one of my favourite additions, when I go from Desktop to Start, it feels inter-connected. That these two systems aren’t separate, they come together seamlessly and its a big thing for me, to see that wonderful background when I switch between the two states. Maybe it is just me, but I do love it. So now I am going to discuss the apps.
I assume the very reference to that browser makes many people scoff and immediately tell others how much better other browsers are, as a web developer myself I understand the short comings of Internet Explorer (what a lot of people don’t realise OTHER browsers have flaws too, yet IE gets most of the hate from the public). Well If you feel a little open minded you might be surprised to hear that Microsoft are making sure that people who may have not been a fan of past iterations are having less and less to complain about with Internet Explorer 11, I prefer to use the desktop version however the touch app is also amazing and is something I need more time to spend on. I am using it as my default browser now, mostly due to how well it runs and how it looks, I got sick of Google Chromes massive search bar.
Also, if you haven’t seen it yet, watch this amusing ad Microsoft made for their browser;
Despite that, a lot of people do still hate IE relentlessly but some people never change.
A new app that comes with 8.1, a very nice feature for people that like to read a lot of articles. Essentially if any of you ever used ‘Pocket’ on android, it is the same kind of deal, if you find an article you really want to read but don’t have time to at the moment, you can save it to your reading list by simply going to your side-menu and ‘sharing’ it with your reading list, on the app all your shares are available to read and it dates them to when they were added. A pretty great feature I will have more fun with later.
A previous app from Windows 8, it is more deeply integrated into the system and it is a wonderful addition to the OS, it makes it very easy to access, add and remove files on the cloud from your file explorer.
Zune was a cool piece of software but Xbox music takes it to the next level, I have used quite a lot of music players before but none of them match just how intuitive and easy this app makes music selection and playback. The best part of the app is that its integrated with the sound, so if I am in the middle of some work with the app playing in the background with a song on, if I wanted to change that song I just need to press the volume button and it shows up with the volume with the addition of the current track with music player options and the album cover. I can pause or change tracks which is fantastic. Many of the other players I have done this before but it was a ‘always on top of other programs’ thing that is always on screen and is a bit distracting. Xbox music gets it right and oh, did I mention there are millions of songs to listen to apart from your own library? Yeah, that is pretty awesome. It also has a beautiful design, might I add.
The scope of Windows 8
Windows 8 was not just envisioned as a OS standing by itself, Microsoft have a brilliant vision that connects their Windows Phones, Xbox consoles and Windows 8 together and it is such a powerful concept that, for example on the way back from University, I might want to play some Battlefield, but I want a cool playlist to go with it, so on the bus home I can go on my Windows Phone, check out the Xbox Music app, put a playlist together and then once I get home, I go on the Xbox and the playlist is already there, ready to play as I game, then later on I decide I want to listen to that playlist on my laptop as I work, it is also there. The fact that nothing needs to be singled out on a certain platform is amazing, because despite all 3 devices being so very different yet offer core features, is fantastic and I could start talking about Xbox Smartglass, that connects a tablet to your xbox but I will stop there.
Whilst I have missed out many features and there is a lot more to discover with this update, I absolutely adore Windows 8.1, it is early days and yet I am building it up around me to be my personalised work space that allows me to maximise my efficiency as a developer, designer and as a well-informed human on all the latest news and social updates about my peers.
And the fact is, this is just the beginning of a large vision, its been a hard road to get there, but Microsoft listen very closely to its consumers, it completely changed its vision for the Xbox One (which in some ways, was a shame in my opinion). They try to do their best to offer the best experiences that can only be found on Windows, whilst I am a massive fan of other operating systems, I believe Microsoft nailed 8.1 and hopefully the adoption of the OS should rise when people realise the potential it brings to the table.
Thanks so much for reading, I hope it was a rather informative article and if you have any questions, send them to my askbox on my blog!