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Windows 8.1 for the User

Though most of the Build conference focused on improvements for the developer and network administrator, there have been some improvements to make the new OS more palatable to the end user as well.

General Enhancements

Windows 8.1 supports a higher screen DPI. There are currently laptops running Windows 7 or 8 that the operating system that have a DPI that exceeds what the OS can handle.

Desktop UI Enhancements

The reintroduction of the Start Button is already well known, so there isn’t really anything more to say about it. Windows can also be configured to boot directly into the desktop, bypassing the Start screen. The goal is to allow the user to work entirely in the desktop mode if they so choose.

WinRT UI Enhancements

In Windows 8 the settings UI was a mess. A given setting might be found in one or more of four different places using the UI conventions of four different eras…

  • Control panel applets (Windows 95)
  • Microsoft Management Console (Windows 2000)
  • Hierarchical control panel (Windows Vista)
  • Change PC Settings window (Windows 8)

While Windows 8 does not do anything to actually solve this problem, it does expose more functionality through the Change PC Settings window. This will hopefully reduce the amount of searching that users will have to do.

Search has been unified so that you no longer need to rerun the search multiple times to see the matching list of programs, files, web, etc.

Multiple monitors are now supported with an unlimited number of WinRT applications running at the same time. A novel feature of this is “App Share Screen” which allows an app to open another app in side-by-side mode. Contrast this with desktop applications where the newly launched app will partially or fully hide the first application.

If a WinRT application crashes while in the background, the user doesn’t have a way to know what happened. This could cause a serious problem for real time communication problems like Skype. To address this, Windows 8.1 will automatically restart WinRT applications that crash.

Background transfer tasks (e.g. file downloads) can now use the notification system to inform the user when the download completes. Background transfer tasks will also automatically switch networks mid-transfer if a faster connection becomes available.

Power Management

Connected standby is a power mode that Windows 8 can enter when idle for long periods of time. The machine will occasionally awake to run background tasks like checking for new email messages. In addition to general efficiency improvements, connected standby is now available when the device is attached to an Ethernet cable. Previously it was only supported when using wireless Ethernet. It should be noted that not all machines support connected standby.

Windows 8 devices with mobile broadband can act as WiFi hotspots for other devices. Unfortunately this required the device to stay active even when it and the tethered devices are not actively transmitting data. With 8.1, the host device can enter a low power state and instantly awaken if a tethered device starts making network requests.

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