Skip to main content

Microsoft leaks show much-needed Windows 8 upgrades

New technology sometimes requires users to develop new habits. At one point, we all had to learn about double clicking to run a program and right clicking to pop up a menu, and with Safari on the iPhone, we had to learn to "unpinch" to enlarge Web pages or photos.

Likewise, Windows 8.1 assumes that users won't have problems learning a few new habits; like invoking the Charms toolbar to search and change settings, switching between the desktop and modern app interfaces, and swiping (or right-clicking) to reveal app menus and switch between apps.

Unlike many Internet commenters, I'm one user who hasn't had too much trouble with acquiring these new habits. But I can certainly see where the interface might cause noggin scratching.

The root of the problem, as I see it, is that too many of the interface's features are hidden from view. Yes, you can simply start typing from the Start screen to find apps (and old-school Windows programs), just as you could in Windows 7's Start button menu. But there's no way to know this from just looking at the Start screen. Another example is the power-down option, which you could easily miss if you didn't dig into the Settings Charm.

With Windows 8.1, Microsoft offered some help with potential usability pitfalls thanks to the very obvious and clear Help+Tips default app. I'm sure this has saved many a Windows 8 user from many a quandary. But it doesn't address the surfacing of commonly needed tasks.

I'm not a big fan of leaked early builds of software, since they often don't accurately resemble what's finally released. But I have to say that I'm encouraged by what I see in the latest Windows 8.1 Update 1 leaks. Both of the hidden features mentioned above are surfaced by clear buttons at the top of the Start screen.

I'm actually more excited about the surfacing of these oft-needed features than about the keyboard and mouse updates being touted by the tech press.

I can fly around the interface with keyboard and mouse already, and once you're in desktop mode, there's no difference from Windows 7 in terms of traditional input. The alleged new mouse and keyboard options mostly affect new-style Windows 8 apps, whereas most mouse and keyboard users are more interested in desktop apps.

It's unfortunate that so many users have held off upgrading to the new OS version from fear of the new interface, thereby denying themselves of several major benefits of Windows 8 and 8.1. These include much faster startup, better file moving procedures, the ability to mount disc image files, just to name a few. If the leaks are real, I'm encouraged that Microsoft is taking some of the mystery out of using Windows 8, so that more users will enjoy these benefits.