Learning Windows 8.1

Adopting Windows 8 has not been a smooth ride for me. I got the idea of where the product was going, I just wasn’t a big fan and as such I dug my heels in and offered the software engineer equivalent of “we shall not be moved.”

That said, one cannot hold back the ocean with a bucket any more than one can hold back the direction Microsoft are taking with their newest operating systems. Windows 8 has been installed on my gaming PC for over a year now, but I haven’t really been using it. Rather, I’ve been working around it while trying not to get any on me.

I decided a month ago to dive in with both feet and purchased a 10” Asus Windows 8.1 notebook. I had two main goals; first to learn Windows 8.1, and second to get a development platform I could use while watching TV on the sofa. The former was to overcome my resistance to the new OS, while the latter was due to a busy year at work and wanting to see at least a bit of my family in 2014.

Adopting the Windows 8.1 Mindset
This was the part that I had obstinately avoided until now. Once I mentally made the shift however, the rest was easy. The key part to understanding Metro is uninstalling all of the crap that comes there initially. The best way I could find was to right-click all of the bright colored squares for apps like Finance and Health and click the Uninstall button that appears in the bottom bar.

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Clicking uninstall for a few more apps gave me a fresh start. I even installed a couple from the Windows Store, most notably FaceBook and Twitter. I kept the Mail app as it turns out to be easy to use and a rather nice piece of software. The few I wasn’t sure about went into a group called Trash.

App Groups
Groups are a feature that was introduced with Windows 8.1 that allows you to group applications together into a named category. That’s pretty handy when it comes to making sense of an otherwise unstructured view.

I copied the group names I use on my iPad and quickly created Daily, Social, Stuff, and Trash. The latter two are where I put apps I don’t know how to categorize yet and those I think I might want to get rid of respectively.

Full Apps List
Getting to the complete list of apps on my machine via search was getting tedious, especially in cases where I wasn’t sure of the name of the application I was looking for. Not all applications are named the same as their installers and some come with utilities that differ in name from that of the main program. In this case, the complete apps list can be helpful. On a touch-screen, swipe upwards to reveal the complete applications list.

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There is also an arrow that can be clicked (look in the bottom left in the screenshot above) that will switch between the Start view and the Apps view. Right-clicking on an app in the Apps view offers the ability to pin it to the Start view as well as to the task bar for use in Desktop mode.

Furthermore, the Apps view groups items by publisher, similar to the Windows classic Start Menu concept. This makes finding newly installed applications a lot easier.

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I’m still feeling it out, but I feel like I’ve made it over the first few big humps. Learning new ways to do old things is often uncomfortable, especially when the new way doesn’t appear to solve any new problems. Without a touch-screen, the whole Metro/Apps/Start changes feel like they detract rather than adding.

However, and I say this with a drum roll, when a touch-screen is present I’m actually starting to like the new way. I find Metro a lot easier to use when I can swipe the screen and tap on the app I’m looking for with my finger. I’m still not convinced that on a three-monitor setup pushed to the back of my desk, I’d want to reach out and touch the screen for everything. My hand is already on my mouse, and for that I’d like the real start menu back.

On a small touch-screen laptop like this ASUS however, I’m sold. The system works well.

I got mine at BestBuy. You can also buy at Amazon here:

ASUS VivoBook X200CA-DB01T 11.6-Inch Touchscreen Laptop (Black)

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