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Windows 8.1 Preview: Steer clear

I installed Windows 8.1 preview edition (opens in new tab) and now I wonder why everyone is agog over the update. The changes are quite minor and actually reemphasise the psychotic nature of the OS.

Things slide out left and right for reasons unknown, error messages are hidden here and there, and it never quite acts the same way twice – or so it seems. It still defaults to the Metro screen although thankfully Microsoft trimmed those horrible full screen apps down to a few.

In some instances, the Explorer button leads to a slicked-down Bing; in other instances it leads to the MSN homepage with a Bing search box at the top.

In my opinion, this GUI is not healthy. And as regular readers know, I've been struggling over the past couple of years trying to pin down all the problems I have with Windows 8. When Windows 8.1 (opens in new tab) was rolled out it was supposed to fix the awkwardness of Windows 8, but it's made it more schizoid, not less.

Personally, I install Classic Shell (opens in new tab) onto plain vanilla Windows 8 and the whole thing becomes speedy and usable.

I wanted to try out the product before adding Classic Shell and was hoping I wouldn't have to add it, especially on a beta product.

All in all, this is what I hear Microsoft saying: This as far as we are going to go to assuage any concerns over the Metro (or whatever we call it) interface. The desktop is out or will be soon. Get over yourself. We know what's right. Do as we say and shut up.

I don't mind modernising something if you can prove to me it's better, but all the evidence suggests it's not. It takes longer to do things, longer to organise things, and longer to find things. And it has elements that are senseless.

A good example of the schizoid nature is the way you move from app to app. Hold down the flying Windows flag key with the tab key and a tray comes out from the left side of the screen showing some apps that are running. But these are only the Metro apps; nothing else will be there. If you hold down Alt-Tab, you get all the apps and programs running. If you select one of these programs, it will minimise the rest whether you want them minimised or not. And you can always slam the cursor into the upper left-hand corner and begin to click. You will cycle through from app to program to app to program.

And then there is the shutdown issue with Metro apps. Instead of having a simple box to shut them down, we have to go back to 1990 keyboard commands and hit Alt-F4. There is a mouse option too. If you push the cursor up to the top middle, you get a little grabber hand that you then click on and pull the app all the way down to the bottom and off the screen. Voila! The app is closed. This is one of the dumbest things about Windows 8, especially when you have a 27in monitor. I guess a simple Quit button is no good.

And I thought Windows 8.1 was supposed to reintroduce the Start Menu. Where is it then? There's an icon but when I left click on it, I do not see any of the shortcuts I expect. If I right click I get a useless menu of junk commands I never use.

If you are still on the fence about moving up and away from Windows 7, you can download and play with Windows 8.1 beta. Personally, if I had a healthy Windows 7 system, I would change nothing. Keep it for as long as you can. Then decide if you want to change the way you operate. While you're at it, you may as well look at a Mac.

If you do end up with a Windows 8 system, quickly load Classic Shell and maintain a machine that is not nutty, frustrating, and weird.