I have been running the Windows 8 operating system on my secondary PC every since it was released by Microsoft as a first beta. I had my gripes with the system but could work around most of the issues so that things went from being a huge nuisance to a tolerable experience.
The moment Windows 8.1 became available I switched to that, and noticed that it was a big step forward in many regards. I recommend it to anyone who is running Windows 8, as it makes life a lot easier.
That said, it is still not the Windows 7 version 2 that we all hoped Windows 8 would be, and it is unlikely that it ever will be.
That does not make it bad right out of the box, but it is certainly different and if I had to choose between Windows 7 and Windows 8, I'd probably pick seven all day long.
Issues in Windows 8.1
The main issue for me is the dual-interface of the operating system. It is highly impracticable even though it works better in symbiosis in Windows 8.1 than in 8. This can be attributed mainly to several changes that Microsoft introduced, such as the ability to use the same desktop background on both interfaces, the option to click on the start button to go to the start screen, or the option to load the desktop by default.
But even if you do not want to use the Modern interface at all, you may land on it eventually. Some file types, images for example, default to the photo app installed on the operating system. You click on a photo in File Explorer, and are taken to the photo app that launches in full screen. This may look lovely if you load photos that are of sufficient resolution, but if you have ever loaded a 400x300 image in the full screen photo viewer, you may have noticed that it does not work that well for lower resolution images.
This can easily be changed on the other hand. Just install a different image viewer and make sure that it is associated with all image types. Problem solved.
The start button that Microsoft added to the operating system is a visual representation of an improved Windows-X menu that was available in Windows 8, and nothing more. You can use it to click to go to the start screen, or access select functionality like the control panel or the shutdown button right from there.
There is a solution for that as well. Install any 8.1 compatible start menu application and you will get your full start menu back. I really like StartIsBack+ for that, but there are certainly a lot of other choices available.
The revamped start screen with its two new app sizes is certainly a step in the right direction. But there are certain issues here that make it impracticable to use. Whoever thought that it is a good idea to move all newly installed apps and programs to a secondary screen from where they need to be added to the start screen, has not really thought it through that much. This may work well for 20 apps or so, but if you have installed hundreds, it gets messy on that screen and the noise on it hinders you from finding newly installed apps fast on it.
Just click on the screenshot below to know what I mean. It is showing only half the installed apps on a 1920x1080 screen.
The solution? Add a section to the beginning that lists newly installed apps and programs. Or add an option to the installation dialog and settings to give users options to change the behavior.
If you install lots of apps, you either have the option to make them all tiny on the screen, which means that you will be able to access them without scrolling but will run into identification issues as there is no text underneath them indicating which app it is you are hovering over, or use the larger tile sets and scroll horizontally for a while depending on which app you want to launch.
While it is also possible to use search to start apps, it is not likely something that most users will do, especially not on touch screens.
The new Store interface may look shiny and all, but it is a nightmare to navigate. You cannot really find out what is new globally anymore. Yes, there is a new & rising listing that is linked from the Store's start page, but that only lists some new apps and not all of them.
The only way to browse all new apps is to jump into each app category, e.g. games, sports, business, or productivity manually, select the All listing there, and switch to the newest filter. Do that for every of the 20 or so categories and you have spend an hour going through all new apps instead of the minutes that it would take you otherwise.
Another gripe that I have are the two control panels that are still there. You get the standard desktop control panel which you can now open from the start button easier, and the Modern control panel that you open when you are on the Start screen. I'm not sure why there are two control panels, as it makes it difficult to configure the operating system. Why not create one control panel for everything, and link from both locations to it instead?
Right now, you have to not only remember the menu that you find specific settings in, but also if you find that menu on the regular desktop control panel or the new one.
To be perfectly honest: I think that without the start screen, Windows 8.1 would be a great successor to Windows 7. I cannot understand why Microsoft did not think about merging the desktop and Start interface, instead of using two different interfaces for different activities.
If I'd use a tablet or notebook with touch, I might have a different opinion on the system. But even then, I cannot really see myself touching the screen all the time for functionality. My arm would get tired really quickly, and I'd likely switch to the mouse anyway for most operations.
To sum it up: Windows 8.1 is a step in the right direction. It addresses several concerns that users had in regards to Windows 8 and is a great update for Windows 8 users regardless of how the computer is being used. If you disliked Windows 8 before, it won't convince you to start liking it now though.