The greatest software you don't know how to use (yet)


Hey there, Tech Savvy fans! I hope you all had a great Fourth of July. The parades were a lot of fun. If you were at the Nisswa, Pequot Lakes or Brainerd parade, I’d love to hear what you thought of our float this year.

This week we are keeping it short and simple. The weather is too nice to be stuck inside and if you’re reading this outside put it down, read it later and go have some fun in the sun with your family. I had one of our Tech Savvy friends, whom I had a chance to meet at the Marketplace show this April, asking that we touch on Windows 8. Well, 8.1 actually. I know, we don’t know anything about Windows 8, how can we be moving ahead already?

Let’s take a quick minute and break this all down. Windows 8.1 is really not completely new, as we’ll get into. It takes into account things that are working and things that need to be tweaked. This process is fairly typical in software releases, hence the .1, .2, and other versions you see tacked on to the names. What happens is as soon as something is released it immediately continues to be developed; this improves performance issues and can help identify problems that users will encounter. When enough small fixes, or bugs, are detected a new release is issued. Sometimes, in the case of major flaws that weren’t detected, a new release is issued even though it only fixes that one issue. This process continues until that software is discontinued. This can be called a number of things — end of life, unsupported and numerous others. Once a piece of software reaches that point you will usually not see official releases, but some developers continue to work on improvements and release them separately. This is much the case in Android and using custom phone ROMs.

Anyway, back to Windows 8.1. Why is this release important? A lot of reasons actually, the most important (IMHO) is that the general public had issues with the first release. It wasn’t that the software wasn’t good, or that it was incomplete; Microsoft has a long track record of building complete and good software. The issue people have had is that Microsoft also released their Surface tablet roughly around the same time and tried to assimilate their OS into something streamlined for both types of devices. What this created was a system that Windows Mobile users were familiar with, but forced them to use a Desktop side for certain things and it took desktop users and forced them into a UI (User Interface) that they were largely unfamiliar with. This in itself isn’t a terrible thing — anytime something new comes out there is a faction that vehemently opposes it because it bucks the trend. Look at when the first iPhone came out — some flocked to it and other shunned it as a waste of time. In my mind, the issue with Windows 8 was that it took away too much of the operation that desktop users were familiar with and saddled the people familiar with mobile into a system that felt heavier than they wanted.

In a nutshell you could say that Microsoft tried to blend the two worlds and those worlds were not ready for the change. A good example is looking at the general operation of Windows 8. Having used it on laptops, desktops and mobile, I will say that having a touchscreen really helped me get a feel for the basic operation a lot faster. The issue of course is that 90 percent of desktop users do not have touchscreen enabled computers yet so they can’t experience the faster learning track. On that same note I will also say I hated trying to use the mouse to navigate through Windows 8.

OK, so what can we expect in 8.1? Let’s check it out.

One of the first things those who upgraded to Windows 8 noticed was the lack of the start button — that little button on the bottom left that you could use when you didn’t know what to do or where to, well, start. It kind of felt like Microsoft threw us overboard, then threw us a life preserver, but it wasn’t tied to anything. By adding the start button back it will bring a lot of familiarity back to the desktop side and give you a place to turn to when the going gets tough.

On that same note, the update will also allow you to boot into a more traditional desktop setting. I will admit I may not recommend that right out of the gate because there is actually a lot to like about some of the RT side, it just takes some getting used to. That being said, for those that don’t like the layout of RT, or just prefer to stick with what they know, this will be a huge benefit.

The Sonar Search. Bing (sonar is always what comes to mind) has been steadily pushed by Microsoft for years now, trying to take back a little of what Google has. The race now is to have the most appealing search and assistance interaction software available. Android has Google Now, Apple has Siri, and Microsoft wants you to Bing things. They each have their strengths, but what Microsoft is trying to do, it seems, is create the personalized interaction of Siri with the accuracy and precision of Google Now. By doing both they would have software that would be useful in a research or business function and also, dare I say ... fun?

These are the main things that stuck out to me, but there are loads of other improvements being made. Many of them are behind the scenes, as most updates usually are, and they will improve performance with Windows Explorer, Internet Explorer, navigation and control, access to Sky Drive and tweaks that allow you to customize the screens and images more to your liking.

All in all the changes make a lot of sense and I say that credit should be given to Microsoft for taking heed of what their consumer base was telling them and for listening. I think they will see much more satisfaction with this update and people will feel more at home using it.

It’s worth noting that the update won’t actually be officially released until later this year and right now it’s only available as a preview. Really, preview means Beta and Beta always means that there are still kinks to work out and things to change. However, the fact that they do have it available for people to test out should mean that it is at least usable and for those waiting for changes like this it would be a good option to check out.

I’m anxious to see what you all think of the changes when they are released. If you download the preview, please write to me and let me know what feature change you like best so far, I’d love to hear it!

Thanks, Tech Savvy fans, enjoy this great summer weather. Better late than never, right?