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What’s With Win 8.1

I took the plunge yesterday and updated my Samsung Slate to Windows 8.1. Here’s what I found.

Windows 8 had a lot of early problems for me. While the idea of the touch-screen app was wonderful, the reality was not. They were largely unstable, and some didn’t work at all. Mail and Calendar especially were completely useless because they wouldn’t connect to the services and accounts I needed, even MS Exchange servers. Uninstalling/reinstalling apps didn’t help, and even re-imaging didn’t help.

Installation

Since we’re using an enterprise version, auto-update through the Store wasn’t an option. I downloaded it from our subscription site here at work and tried to install it from a thumb drive. But the supplied tool kept failing. Finally I burned it to a DVD, which is kind of wasteful.

Aside: Another .iso file for a software package had the same problem. I ejected the thumb drive and stuck it into the Slate and ran the install app — and it worked.

Personal files: When you install, you’re offered a choice to keep your personal data or do a clean install. I chose to keep my personal data, and even so they were wiped clean.

My photos were gone, but fortunately I’d backed them up. You can tap on the Pictures masthead and get two choices: SkyDrive and Pictures Library. My SkyDrive still had everything, but that’s what you’d expect. Other SkyDrive items such as my OneNote notebooks were of course intact. It pays to have Dropbox. And Google Drive. And SkyDrive.

Anyway, once installed many of my settings were still there. My start screen was the same, and it kept my picture login, though not the gesture associated with it.

Network: My home network was still there. The work network, which is a hidden network, had to be reconfigured.

Mail: I had a ludicrous amount of trouble with the mail app in 8.0. It just didn’t work. Literally days went by before it first downloaded the messages from the mail servers. What’s more, I could run Exchange and Gmail accounts, but not my personal IMAP account. That’s all fixed — but it crashes. I had to reboot to get it working again. And synching is still a little slow.

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Calendar: It still won’t accept Google Calendar. This is a non-starter for me because I use Exchange for work, and Google for personal, and I’d really like to see them all in one place. Fortunately we have Office 2010, and the Outlook app … Not Responding*. Changing views from week to month seems to flummox it. Likewise going from October to November. Why is this so hard?

There is still no built-in way to sync, but the gsyncit app seems to work. Using it unregistered, you can only sync one calendar account, and a limited number of contacts and tasks, but that’s all I really need.

Bluetooth: Was hopeless in 8.0. It would connect to wireless keyboards and Windows Phone, but that was about it. 8.1 connects perfectly with my laptop and with my phone. And even connecting to keyboards is faster.

News: This app — which should be worth its weight in gold — was very unstable in 8.0. But I used it anyway because of its convenience. The upgrade kept my favorite sources, which is great. It seems to behave better with popups on the news story pages, something that always had me force-quitting and restarting the app.

User Interface: New wallpapers. The ability to do micro-sized tiles is nice. Some I hardly use and a tiny icon is just right to keep them out of the way.

App Store: It kept a good list of everything I had installed so I could re-install them. Handy, but only on the Win8 side. In “classic” mode (I keep calling it the Windows 7 side, but it annoys people) I had to go out and find Firefox and Chrome again. It did lose app details, like my Netflix and Evernote logins. Apps are still categorized, so you can sort through photo apps, productivity apps, security etc. Just swipe up from the bottom.


*(Not Responding): I theorized a while ago that the new Microsoft logo ought to have the words Not Responding in it somewhere. That hasn’t changed.

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