Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Upgrading to Windows 8.1

Screenshot of the Start screen in Windows 8.1

Yesterday I upgraded to Windows 8.1. I run Windows in a virtual machine on my Mac using VirtualBox, and I upgraded it from Vista almost exactly a year ago. The process was reasonably smooth, in comparison to last year’s debacle, but it wasn’t without some minor incidents.

Getting started

First of all, I wasn’t quite sure how one would go about upgrading. So I opened up Internet Explorer and searched Bing, and it told me to open Windows Store, the app store for Windows 8. So I did, and… nothing. I couldn’t see anything that would suggest what to do next.

Thankfully this page came up with a possible solution. I hadn’t booted Windows 8 in a few months and so I was behind on installing fixes from Windows Update. 35 updates were presented to me; after the first run, all but 1 of these failed, so I rebooted and tried again. This time 4 installed correctly, but again, the others failed. Finally after another reboot I got the rest to install, and so I then rebooted again. This time, upon opening the Windows Store app a full-screen button for installing Windows 8.1 came up.

The first attempt at downloading the update failed, but then it got under way on the second attempt.


At this point I went to bed and left it to install overnight. I woke up to find the installer asking me to agree to the new license agreement, and to enter my details for my Microsoft Account. Then, it did a little housekeeping, and before long I was back at the Start screen, freshly upgraded. Post-upgrade, there are a couple of contextual tutorials that show you how to do things in the new ‘modern’ interface, which helps.

The verdict on Windows 8.1

I haven’t spent much time with Windows 8.1 post-upgrade but it does seem to be a minor improvement. You can do more things in the modern interface without dropping back to the Desktop – Control Panel, for example, has been largely replicated. However, I still find it harder to navigate than before, with some apps hidden away on the ‘All Apps’ menu, and it’s more difficult to find the ‘Shut Down’ button than on Windows 7. And the new interface is still over-optimised for touchscreen computers – even with an Apple Magic Mouse with sideways scrolling, it still takes longer to do things. Having to hold the mouse pointer in a small corner of the screen to then bring up menus is slow compared to clicking.

Using Windows 8.1 makes you realise why Apple keeps OS X on desktops and iOS and touchscreen devices. Having the old desktop and new modern interface in the same operating system feels like a kludge, especially when you get booted out of one into the other unexpectedly (which happens now and again). And trying to enable it for both touchscreens and mouse-controlled computers results in a compromise that disadvantages the latter, in my opinion.

I don’t think these problems are insurmountable, but let’s just say that I hope there’s a Windows 8.2 that fixes them.

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