Make us your home page

Windows 8 is (sort of) improved

Microsoft’s logic: You’re supposed to think of TileWorld’s Start screen as an expanded, tile-based version of the Start menu. 
It’s the same items, just spread across your screen.

Microsoft’s logic: You’re supposed to think of TileWorld’s Start screen as an expanded, tile-based version of the Start menu. It’s the same items, just spread across your screen.

Just about one year ago, Microsoft gave us two new operating systems.

One was a new version of Windows, the one for use with mouse and keyboard. The other was a new operating system for tablets called ''TileWorld.''

All of this might have been fine, except for one tragic miscalculation: Microsoft mashed these two new operating systems together into something called Windows 8.

Now you had two Web browsers to learn. Two completely different Help systems. Two (actually three) control panels. Two kinds of programs: the traditional ones, which have menus and overlapping windows, and TileWorld apps, which don't have either of those things.

PC sales plunged 14 percent in the months after Windows 8's release. Microsoft spent a year trying to fix Windows 8. Now, you can download the result: Windows 8.1. It's free to anyone who already has Windows 8, and it will come preinstalled on new computers.

The changes to TileWorld are nearly endless — and terrific. The anemic, pared-down starter apps, like Photos and Mail, have matured. Now you can edit photos in Photos (not just look at them) and drag email messages into folders. The muddled Music app has been redesigned, smartly and handsomely. A suite of utility programs is there now, right where they should have been the first time around: Alarms, Calculator and Sound Recorder. There are all-new apps, too, such as Food and Drink, Health and Fitness and Reading List. It lets you save Web pages, email messages and Twitter posts for use when you have no Internet connection.

There's now a full-blown Help and Tips app for TileWorld, which is clear, concise and crisp. In Windows 8, Microsoft made the mind-blowingly frustrating decision to rig the Search function so that it could find either programs, settings or files — but not all three categories at once.

Now you can; in fact, Search throws in search results from the whole Internet.

The on-screen keyboard is better now, too. You can swipe your finger across the Space bar to view alternative Autocomplete suggestions.

Finally, Windows 8.1 is even more tied in to your SkyDrive, a free, 7-gigabyte online "hard drive."

These are all wonderful and welcome changes. What you may have noticed, however, is that these changes are solely for the benefit of people who've bought Windows 8 tablets and touch-screen laptops — all nine of them.

On the other hand, almost nothing has changed for people who use the real Windows, the desktop Windows.

And none of the changes listed above address the elephant in the room: the jarring juxtaposition of TileWorld and the traditional Windows behind it.

Fortunately, Microsoft has taken a few steps toward reconciling these two wildly different worlds.

The big news is that the Start button is back on the desktop, in the lower-left corner. Yet incredibly, despite the wails of the masses, clicking it still doesn't open the Start menu. Instead, it just takes you back to TileWorld.

Microsoft's logic: You're supposed to think of TileWorld's Start screen as an expanded, tile-based version of the Start menu. It's the same items, just spread across your screen. So clicking the Start button does, in a way, take you to your Start menu items. (If you prefer the real Start menu, you can still install Classic Menu or another free app that brings it back.)

Furthermore, you no longer need some piece of shareware to make your PC start up to the desktop instead of to TileWorld; there's a buried setting to do that, too.

There are still three different places to change settings on your computer — two in TileWorld, plus the traditional Control Panel. But at least more of the Control Panel's settings are now duplicated in the TileWorld settings panels, so you don't have another environment switch to change them.

We should be grateful for these baby steps. Unfortunately, all of it is a giant exercise in rearranging crackers on plates on deck chairs on the Titanic.

The fundamental problem with Windows 8 hasn't changed: You're still working in two operating systems at once. There are still too many duplicate programs and settings, one in each environment. And you still can never live entirely in one world or the other.

Windows 8 is (sort of) improved 10/25/13 [Last modified: Sunday, October 27, 2013 6:57pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, New York Times.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. HQ2 watch: As deadline looms for Amazon headquarters pitch, one metro bows out


    If there's one national business saga to keep up on these days, it's the frenzy by metropolitan areas — including Tampa Bay — to make their best pitches to Amazon in the hope of being chosen as the new location for the giant online retailer's second massive headquarters. HQ2, as it is called, would create …

    Cities across the country are trying to land Amazon's second headquarters, known as HQ2. In Birmingham, Ala., giant Amazon boxes were constructed and placed around the city as part of its "Bring A to B" campaign. [Ali Clark/Bring A to B Campaign]
  2. Shares in Tampa's Health Insurance Innovations rebound from stronger earnings report


    TAMPA — After a sharp drop in its stock price in August and September, Health Insurance Innovations on Monday announced strong revenue and net income gains in preliminary numbers for its third quarter of the year. The company also announced a $50 million stock buyback over the next two years meant to bolster its …

    After losing more than half its market value between August and September, shares in Tampa's Health Insurance Innovations are rebounding."The new share repurchase program underscores our confidence in our business strategy, financial performance, and the long-term prospects of our company while also allowing us the financial flexibility to continue to invest in our business," company CEO Gavin Southwell announced Monday. [Courtesy of LinkedIn]
  3. Trigaux: Campaign aims to leverage tourism ads to recruit millennials, businesses

    Economic Development

    TAMPA — Tampa Bay's unleashing one of its best weapons — a cadre of successful entrepreneurs and young business leaders — in a marketing campaign already under way but officially …

    Erin Meagher, founder of Tampa coconut oil products company Beneficial Blends, is part of a group of business savvy millennial entrepreneurs and managers who are helping to pitch the work-live-play merits of the Tampa Bay market in a new marketing campaign called Make It Tampa Bay. The campaign is backed by Visit Tampa Bay and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. and aimed at recruiting more millennial talent to relocate and stay in the Tampa Bay area. [Courtesy Tampa Hillsborough EDC, Visit Tampa Bay]
  4. Florida gas prices drop 25 cents on average over past month


    Gas prices are on a downward tear post-hurricane. Tampa Bay fell to $2.34 per gallon on Sunday, down 10 cents over the week, according to AAA, The Auto Club Group. Across the state, gas fell 7 cents over the same period to average $2.47 per gallon.

    Gas prices across the state fell 25 cents over 31 days. | [Times file photo]
  5. Entrepreneur expands interests with Twisted Crafts


    SOUTH TAMPA — Playgrounds of Tampa owner Mike Addabbo is expanding into the do-it-yourself industry with his new endeavor: Twisted Crafts.

     Jennifer and Michael Addabbo pose in their latest entrepreneurial enterprise: Twisted Crafts. Photo courtesy of Twisted Craft.