Windows 8.1: The Return of the Start button

We are sure you have all heard talk about the new version of Windows 8 that is being released soon.  It is known as Windows 8.1.  The beta version is out now, and the release version will be shipped to manufacturers next month so they can use it for the upcoming holiday season.

You are all probably wondering when and if you should start planning your own upgrades.  While it is never too early to begin planning, we would advise you to wait until the true release version is ready to begin upgrading.  The version available now is still a beta version.  It does not allow itself to be ‘uninstalled’.  The only way to get rid of it is to format your disk and start over with your original operating system.  The other reason is that Microsoft has not included an upgrade path to the full release version.  Once again you will have to format and start over.  If you are a true geek and just can’t wait, we recommend installing the beta on a separate partition, or an external drive.  Reports claim there are great difficulties installing it on a virtual machine.

Windows 8 has been quite an adventure for Microsoft.  The full version was not available for the last holiday season, so they missed that opportunity.  The developers concentrated on getting the RT version ready for their Surface tablet.  The RT version only frustrated serious users because of its limitations.  This is why you have heard so many negative opinions about Windows 8.

It is also a true shift in design for Microsoft.  It represents the greatest change in form since the shift to Windows 95 from 3.1.  (And, yes, we are old enough to remember that happening.)  Everything is different.  The design is geared toward those who are used to using smart phones.  Your programs are now “apps”.  Your media is by default played by the almost useless Xbox media player.  Worst of all, they took away our START button.

And so, less than a year since the release of Windows 8, we have the next version, 8.1, about to be launched.  Microsoft says this is because they want to speed up the life cycle of their products; going a year between versions instead of three or four.  There are many in the industry who feel this upgrade was rushed into production because of lower than projected sales and a large number of complaints.

Windows 8.1 does fix a number of features that received criticism.  The page on which all the apps are displayed is now much easier to organize the way you want it.  The Xbox media player issue has been addressed.  You will now be able to set your system to boot to your desktop view (reminiscent of Windows 7).  And, yes, they are giving us back our start button!!!  (Although it has greatly reduced functionality.)

So, who should consider upgrading?  Well, anyone whose business software will require Windows 8 or higher to run properly.  And all of you who are currently using Windows XP.  As of next April, Microsoft will stop supporting XP.  There will be no more updates, or security patches.

Does this mean that XP will suddenly stop working?   Absolutely not.  What this does mean for XP users is that now is the time to research and plan.  The main reason you will need to look at upgrading those systems involves their function.  Will the software being used on those machines need to be upgraded, and what will be the requirements for the new software?  Do you access secure websites with those systems that will require Internet Explorer 10 or higher?  (Windows 8.1 will be shipped with IE 11, XP cannot upgrade past IE 9.)  Chances are an upgrade to Windows 8.1 ( or to Windows 7 for that matter,) will require a hardware upgrade as well.

We would recommend taking a look at Windows 8 and the infinite number of websites talking about 8.1.  If you don’t want to abandon the familiar at this time, you will need to purchase copies of Windows 7, or new systems loaded with Windows 7 now.  At a time in the near future you will not be able to get your hands on them.

If you are unsure of what to do, contact your IT specialist.  We are sure they would be happy to meet with you and help you evaluate your options.  If they won’t, find one that will.

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