Windows 8.1 Update 1 – Are you serious!

Posted on March 12, 2014


Having now had the Windows 8.1 Update 1 installed since it was inadvertently leaked last week I can only hope that the version leaked is a Beta, a work in progress, in fact a VERY early work in progress if not Alpha.

Headlining the attention Microsoft was giving to this Update was the meant to be acknowledgment of Desktop + Keyboard + Mouse users over the Touchy Feely new User Interface (UI).

For those of you who live on a tablet and the Touch UI is wholly suitable I completely agree you will probably not understand the misfit the touch UI has on large 21+ inch and multi-screen non-touch rigs many users have especially in corporate environments. These are not going away in a hurry and for many touch is simply not a practical option unless you want to live with your nose pressed up to your screen with all the short focal length damage that will do over time, not to mention the mess fingers make on the reflective surfaces of large screens. By way of litmus testing, whenever I go into Microsoft office, which is at least once a week somewhere in the world, I ask how the receptionists are getting on with their Touch all in one desktop PC’s. 95% of them seem to opt for mouse and keyboard, touch is seen as a second class citizen. This reinforces the general consensus we see from Corporates and Enterprises who continue to favour desktop receptive Windows 7, seeing Windows 8 as an ill-fitting desktop choice. If you require further proof just reflect on HP’s decision to reverse back into preinstalling Windows 7 across certain product lines, albeit using Windows 8 downgrade licensing.

So for you touchy people out there with your tablets, just pause before reeling out the ‘resistance to change’ mantra like a broken record. Desktop users have a real need and Microsoft is unusually being reluctant in their support. So hopes were high with the Update 1 that certain factors would come to the fore such as:

  1. Prioritised boot to desktop where users are either not running a touch enabled devices or simply don’t want to use the Touch UI.
  2. Setting desktop apps as the default NOT the screen hogging dual tasking Windows 8 affairs.
  3. Start Menu, NOT the sad nod to Desktop users with the Start Button that bounces them into the Touch UI.
  4. Windowing of Windows 8 Store apps, so these can co-exist alongside traditional desktop apps in an efficient use of screen real-estate multi-tasking mode, instead of the totally inefficient split screen mode that they adopt.

Numbers 1 and 2 seem to have been addressed. Albeit with a complete lack of clear admin settings where users can manually tweak or adapt to suit.

Point 3 is simply ridiculous when you look at the 3rd party aftermarket demand for this feature. Microsoft is showing a complete lack of any form of acknowledgment to end user requests and this continues to be a BIG issue for users who are self-remediating, so I do not understand what Microsoft issue is with not delivering this as an option.

Point 4 is a complete mess, whoever signed this off as an acceptable solution must have been in engineering not user interface design, which is why I sincerely hope the version of the Update 1 I have is not RTM code (Release to market). Why?

  • Putting a top window frame of a Windows 8 Store app with options to shrink to taskbar or close is clunky at best and does not constitute Windowing, it’s an embarrassing kludge. It offers the capability to shrink to the task bar or close the app, no scalable Windowing capability. As for the benefit of this I struggle to see. The implementation is clunky, looks appalling like a retrofit, and does little to add usability apart form make a problem even more glaringly obvious and frustrating. For users with large desktop screens and or high resolutions they require the ability to have the ability of floating app Windows so they do not get forced to stretch across more screen than they have functionality to fill. This implementation does nothing to support desktop orientated users, Windows 8 apps still go full screen assaulting users retina’s with an expanse of colour that makes a mockery of the real desktop multi-tasking capabilities of the Windows 8 OS.
  • As with the token Window top bar there is now a pop-up Desktop Task bar along the bottom screen edge of a Windows 8 Store app. This is again little more than a throwaway token gesture to desktop users which when clicked on bounces you into the Desktop.
  • The ability for Windows 8 apps to be be pinned to the Desktop and or task bar in Desktop mode looks promising, but looks is all you get. Once clicked they open to consume the whole screen in a completely alien desktop user behavioural experience, not the floating Window expected of a Desktop environment. Delivering a shortcut launch benefit only that probably creates more disorientation by adding to the application User Interface behavioural fragmentation.

Of serious concern is a memory issue that may be ‘by design’ but I would suggest could lead to problems. The Windows 8 Store apps seem to sit hogging memory even when apparently closed with the X in the top right of the new token Window frame. You would expect the applications to close fully. But no, it appears that they drop back to 0% CPU usage BUT hang onto memory. See the image below, the Health app and settings app were both apparently closed by clicking the X in the App frame, just as you would traditionally with a desktop app. BUT below you can clearly see they are sitting hogging memory in the screen grad from the Task Manager utility:

So much for this Update 1 being designed to support lower powered Tables. This memory issue alone will turn it into an OS that will simply grind to a halt and require frequent re-boots as users lack the technical knowledge to know any better.

Aside of the desktop user hopes that have been dashed, there are some nice tweaks under the bonnet, with improved OneDrive management and some additional Admin settings. But these are overshadowed by the compounding mess being made of the UI and further behavioural inconsistencies.

In summary the desktop supporting changes are just adding to the OS’s identity crisis, I struggle to see how this will address the corporate/enterprise adoption as a desktop platform. Why Microsoft chose not to implement these desktop changes consistently with what users are familiar with as Desktop application behavioural experiences we can only guess. Instead the half-way house (not even that, the 10% way house) clunky execution simply exacerbates and highlights the poor integration of the touch UI and desktop, making Windows 8 Apps look and feel even more alien and poorly suited for large, multi-screen and or high resolution systems.

It is unbelievable how an experience OS vendor in the face of so much constructive feedback pointing consistently to clear remediation requirements can ignore its consumer’s volunteered goodwill and compound matters undermining what is under the bonnet some great tech.

My only conclusion is we will look back on Windows 8 as a brave example of open/pubic software testing for what we can only hope will be a kick ass Windows 9. For now Windows 8.1 Update 1 may just have taken Windows 8 one step closer to being a truly Vista grade legacy.