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Windows 8.1 RT and Pro Preview, first looks.

Sunday, July 14, 2013 in Technical Articles (Views: 3419)
Windows 8.1 was released by Microsoft about 2 weeks ago, and no, not a full version, just the first preview.

Before you run out and get it, there's a few things to note:
- If you like running the newest and latest, this is for you.
- Now the stupid have quit reading. For those still with me, this preview is only for those who know what they are doing and don't mind reinstalling everything later on.
- If you have Windows RT, the upgrade is like dropping acid, you've bought the farm and will not be able to roll back to 8.0.

The install process was a little bit, well, awkward. You had to apply a hotfix which would, in turn, allow the Windows 8.1 update to appear in the Store. The update itself on both the Surface Pro and RT were well over 2GB, which is to be expected. The download happened per machine, and was, once started (less the download), fairly painless. It did take a while, and felt like more a whole OS upgrade than just a simple OS update. It did take several reboots and several minutes, but overall, nothing broke, which was the most important part.

Some things I noted in the Windows 8.1 update. Some may be specific to RT, so I will note that as such.

Here are some specifics for RT:
- Skydrive for Windows RT 8.1 finally syncs files that you choose to sync, making the device actually productive offline and resolving Micosoft's typical "hope the stupid user doesn't catch this lie" of "all your stuff is synced everywhere. With 8.0, that was never true.
- If you used a local account with RT, you will be forced to a Microsoft account. If you don't want a Live account, buy a Mac or use Linux, until they require one.
- Your boot device is encrypted in RT 8.1, but Bitlocker is not supported for secondary drives (like the SDXC formatted as NTFS). So, keep your docs on the boot drive.

In general, Windows 8.1...
- The big one is the return of the start button, and Microsoft's way of saying "we listen to our customers and respond". They did, by spitting in those said customer's faces and reminded the customer they listened to them and the answer is still "screw you". The start button, added to the desktop, simply brings back the Windows 8.x start screen, similar to hitting the Windows soft or hard key on the tablet or keyboard. You won't see a "Windows 7" style list of apps appear. Third party utilities will still be at your aid if you want them.
- If you truly despise the Start screen, you can now boot to the desktop instead with the above mentioned start button. Apathy, pass it on.
- For an offline domain connection, I noticed the response time was greatly improved and you were able to hit the start menu/desktop faster.
- Many of the 8.0 apps felt like someone threw some example code together for Visual Studio and released it just to have it out there in the store. Some of the apps I have tried actually feel like they have been tested and ready for online and offline use.
- Libraries now can include media from the SDXC slot. Not sure if this is because I formatted the drive as NTFS and encrypted it, but removable media has always been a "no-no" for the libraries.
- One example? The music app was terrible in 8.0. The player would hardly function offline, and files it couldn't read for whatever reason essentially hung and threw errors. Apparently, it is now able to read these files and detect its offline presence. It is a massive step forward.
- The search includes more options. I am still warming up to this a bit, because I didn't mind the "old" way of just finding programs. Perhaps the search has a "show me less crap I don't want to see" option. Haven't looked for that yet. It is useful, if you're into that sort of thing, not for me.
- It is easier to manage the icons on the start screen and organize them. If you are the type who likes 300 icons on your desktop, this may be for you.
- I have said Windows 8 by itself without a touch screen was painful at best. Microsot has worked hard to make ops on a keyboard and mouse more pleasant.

From the manageability side, you can remove your SCCM client, unless you feel like using SCCM 2012 R2. Unfortunately, the trend in beta software is that it becomes a bottomless pit of test software (and makes little sense why). So, if you install Windows 8.1, you may as well speed up your system by removing the SCCM client (or create new hierarchy for just R2 and Windows 8.1).

There are more features added, and I haven't ripped apart every bit quite yet. The build itself is pretty stable, I have really only found one flaw, which is Outlook Web Access is able to do everything but reply to emails on the newer versions of OWA full client. So, some call that a bug, it's a scripting thing. Still, not being able to reply is nice, and comforting in an uneasy way.

If you do want to run the newest, latest, and debateably greatest, I say give it a whirl. I am overall happy with it, and I have become numb to the idea of the start screen.


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