Microsoft released a preview of Windows 8.1 yesterday which interested users can install on their systems. It is not really recommended to do so on productive systems, considering that you will lose access to all installed programs and apps once you make the upgrade to the final version of Windows 8.1
The new version of Windows introduces several changes and also improvements. A basic example is that apps that you install are not automatically added to the start page anymore. This may look like a small change but it means that you will have to find out how you can pin apps to the start screen, or where you find those installed apps after all.
1. Boot to desktop
Microsoft has implemented a boot to desktop option in Windows 8.1 When enabled, you are taken directly to the desktop of the operating system so that you bypass the start screen of the operating system.
You can search directly from Windows 8.1's start screen just by typing, but instead of getting results sorted into three different groups that you need to click on to find what you are looking for, you do get a unified search experience. That's however not all, as Microsoft has integrated web search results as well.
Depending on what you search for, you may be taken directly to an application, program or tool on the system, or to a search results page that displays local results next to web results.
The results may look different depending on what you are searching for. A search for Steam displays the locally installed Steam application next to the first ten Bing results, links to Windows Store apps and related searches.
A search for Berlin on the other hand displays a map, information about the city that include attractions and the current temperature, videos, local results and more.
3. Working with tiles
Microsoft has introduced two new tile sizes in Windows 8.1 You can now make them 50% smaller than the smallest size in Windows 8, and twice as big as the biggest size in the operating system.
That's however not the only change that you will come across. To change the size of one or multiple tiles right-click them all on the start screen and select the resize option from the context menu at the bottom of the screen. Here you can change the size to Large, Wide, Medium or Small.
Wide and Medium are the two tile sizes of the original Windows 8 system, while Large and Small are the two new tile sizes.
Multiple tiles can be dragged and dropped to new locations easily once they have been selected, and also uninstalled which can be quite useful as well if you want to uninstall multiple apps in one go.
4. New apps
Not all apps are displayed on the start screen by default. The new Calculator and Alarms applications for instance are not highlighted here. To add them, open the Apps view, right-click those new apps and select the Pin to Start option from the context menu.
5. Desktop Wallpaper on Start
If you prefer a unified look and feel, it is now possible to display your desktop wallpaper on the Start screen as well. You need to get back to the Taskbar and Navigation properties, there to Navigation, and check the Show my desktop background on start option to enable that.
This displays the desktop wallpaper, or a solid color if you prefer that, on the Start screen as well.
6. The Start button menu
The Start button does not display a start menu on the desktop when you click on it. It instead opens the start screen interface. You can however right-click it to display a context menu with options that were previously available in the lower left corner of the screen or by using the shortcut Windows-X (which works just fine still).
It displays a shut down option that you can use to change the PC's power state. Other options include opening the control panel, run box or search.
Libraries are not displayed by default anymore in Windows Explorer. While you see the Documents, Pictures and Music folder listed here on top of the folder structure and in the left sidebar, libraries are nowhere to be found.
To display them, right-click on the sidebar area in Windows Explorer and select Show libraries from the context menu that opens up.
8. Display address bar and tabs in Internet Explorer 11 all the time
Internet Explorer 11 when executed on the start screen hides the address bar and open tabs after some time. That's great for small-screen users who want to use all of the screen's space to display websites. If you are running a large screen or resolution, you may want to display the address bar and tabs at all times to access them faster.
9. Access newly installed apps
New apps that you install are not automatically added to the start screen anymore, they are instead listed on the all apps page. To get there, click on the small down arrow displayed on your start screen.
You were previously able to right-click to go there, but that option seems to have been removed by Microsoft. If you are using touch-based input, you can swipe up to access it.
Here you see all installed apps sorted by name and on the right of that all desktop applications sorted by name as well.
New apps and programs are highlighted by a new sign underneath them. While that makes them easier to spot, it is not really that easy because of the color bomb effect that is going on here. You can however sort the apps by date installed instead so that new ones are highlighted right at the top left corner.
You can alternatively use the search to find apps that you have just installed provided that you can remember at least part of the apps' name.
10. Accessing Apps
The Taskbar and Navigation properties window that I have mentioned in tip 1 holds two all apps screen preferences that you may find useful as well.
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