With Windows 8.1 heading out to millions of users this coming month, I've collected the tips I've already written for Microsoft's latest OS version and will be adding to it regularly going forward. Here's a single place where can go to find what you need and master Windows 8.1.
Install and Upgrade
It's the Windows 8.1 Upgrade tip you've all been waiting for: The ability to download a Windows 8.1 ISO—a file from which you can make DVD- or USB-based bootable media—using your legally acquired Windows 8 (as in 8.0) product key.
A lot has changed in the past year: Where Windows 8 was available as an upgrade from all supported versions of Windows at the time—XP, Vista and 7—Windows 8.1 only offers a truly seamless upgrade from Windows 8. And if you try to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1, you will discover that your options are quite limited, and that you'll need to reinstall all your applications and reconfigure all of your settings. Fortunately, there's a simple tip that will help you perform a full upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1.
With Windows 8.1 generally available, those with Windows 8 Enterprise have noticed that they cannot upgrade their OS to the new version using the normal Windows Store-based installer. Here's what you need to know to get upgraded to Windows 8.1 Enterprise.
New and improved in Windows 8.1
While Windows 8 provided a simple control for using a favorite photo on your lock screen, Windows 8.1 expands that personalization by providing photo slide show capabilities from the lock screen. And you can pick photos from your local PC, SkyDrive, homegroup or home network too.
While Microsoft offered a decent range of Start screen personalization capabilities in the original shipping version of Windows 8, it has dramatically improved things in Windows 8.1, offering a truly customizable experience. In this release, we can now choose between far more background and accent colors, and Start screen tattoos. Including some new animated options. And beyond that, there are some less obvious improvements you should be aware of.
If you’re using Windows 8.1 on a device with a high resolution screen, you can bump up the Start screen tile density and display more tile rows on the screen. This interface, which also exists in the initial versions of Windows 8/RT, takes on additional interest with Windows 8.1 because of the coming proliferation of devices with high DPI screens.
The enhanced Smart Search in Windows 8.1 commingles results from your PC, SkyDrive and the web, providing universal search functionality with the power of Windows. Microsoft bills this functionality as more efficient and intuitive, but it's also a bit controversial and not for everyone. Fortunately, you can configure how Smart Search works. And you can even turn it off.
One of the more interesting new features in Windows 8.1 is what I call Auto-Snap, the ability of certain actions in this OS to automatically enable Snap and place two Metro apps side-by-side. For example, when you open a picture-based email attachment in the Mail app, it opens side-by-side with Mail in the Photos app. Some people don't like this behavior, but this simple tip will ease a bit of the pain.
Windows 8.1 includes an interesting new app called Reading List that is designed to run side-by-side with Internet Explorer and others apps that contains articles and other reading material you wish to save for later. Using this app, you can create a virtual reading list and return to your saved articles at a later time. It's just missing one key feature that would put it over the top.
In Windows 8.1, Microsoft has changed a key behavior of Metro-style mobile apps: When you drag from the top of an app down to the bottom of the screen, it no longer closes the app. And thanks to an interesting addition, you can optionally restart an app this way now as well.
It sounds silly, but one of the issues with Windows 8.1 is that the OS no longer pins newly installed apps on your Start screen. So you need to know where to find these apps, and then how to pin them to the Start screen—or, in the case of desktop apps, to your taskbar—so you can access them more easily going forward.
In Windows 8.1, Microsoft has taken the obvious and useful step of letting Metro-style apps automatically update in the background, a feature that was sorely lacking in the original release of Windows 8/RT. But there's one problem with app auto-update that may be bothersome to some. Fortunately, you can turn it off if you want to.
Internet Explorer 11
Windows 8.1 includes Internet Explorer 11, a major new revision to Microsoft's web browser. This is particularly true in the "modern" mobile environment, where IE 11 offers a dramatically improved feature set when compared to its predecessor. So before you start browsing, make sure you've configured IE to work the way you want.
One of the most useful new features in Windows 8.1's Internet Explorer 11 is the ability to open tabs from other PCs. Though available first on other browsers, it's a welcome addition to IE 11 and works with both the mobile and desktop versions of the browser.
A new Reading View in Internet Explorer 11 makes reading web-based content better than ever. This handy new feature turns basic web pages into beautifully laid-out articles with no advertisements.
Anyone who upgrades from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1 will quickly notice that the new version of the OS is more cohesive and mature. These improvements can be found all over Windows 8.1, and most notably in the enhanced integration between Microsoft's bundled Windows Store apps and its online services. And here's a fun example: You can use Bing to make playlists in Xbox Music.
While most agree that the further integration of SkyDrive into Windows 8.1 is a good thing, some have been griping that there's no way to change the location of the SkyDrive folder. But it turns out you can very easily change where your SkyDrive files sync. You just need to know the secret.
When Microsoft first released the “touch-first” Windows 8/RT in late 2012, customers cried foul. Here was an OS that seemed designed almost solely for the non-existent audience of Windows tablet users while ignoring the needs of over a billion traditional PC users. Well, Microsoft listened. And with the Windows 8.1 update, Windows 8/RT users finally have a first-class desktop experience in which you can almost completely obliterate every trace of that touch-first “Metro” interface. Here’s how.
When the Windows 8.1 Preview appeared in June, some upgraders noticed that this new OS version omitted what had previously been a crucial recovery tool: The system image backup that had debuted in Windows 7. But system image backup is indeed available in Windows 8.1. It's just really well hidden.
If you followed the saga of Windows 8/RT’s inability to integrate a micro-SD card (or other removable storage) with the system’s built-in libraries and Metro-style apps, I’ve finally got some good news: This now works seamlessly in Windows 8.1, as it should have all along. But since this is Microsoft, there’s some bad news too: Libraries are now much harder to use in Windows 8.1, so you’ll need to do some digging.