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What you need to know about Windows 8.1

Published: Thursday, July 4, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
(AP file)
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gives his presentation at the launch of Microsoft Windows 8 in New York in this October 2012 photo. Microsoft has retooled the latest version of its Windows operating system.

The Windows 8.1 update addresses criticisms surrounding Microsoft’s flagship platform. Here’s why you’ll need it even if you’re using a previous version of Windows.

The first thing Microsoft wants you to know about Windows 8.1 is that it brings back the Start menu. Unfortunately, this isn’t precisely true.The update places a Start button in the lower left-hand corner that brings up the new Start screen when clicked. But it doesn’t restore the tried-and-true Start menu, as most people are expecting.

Worse, the Windows 8.1 Start button isn’t always available, depending on the app. This lack of consistency is a far cry from decades of relying on Start as the one commonality between applications. Microsoft will tell you that you can access the menu in other ways, but this is still a major change. Windows 8.1 doesn’t eliminate the need to learn the new Windows 8 interface, and it won’t make your computer behave like Windows XP.

Nor does it change the fact that Windows 8 is designed primarily for tablets, and therefore relies on a touch-swipe interface instead of the traditional (and, Microsoft would have us believe, obsolete) keyboard and mouse.

Windows 8.1 lets you customize your PC to look more like previous versions of Windows. You can also download third-party apps that recreate the Windows XP experience. I think both of these methods put people at a disadvantage. What happens if you move to a new job where you can’t change the settings or install special apps? If you’re going to have the computer skills to succeed, you need to know how to use Windows at its default. That means getting to know Windows 8.

Criticisms notwithstanding, Windows 8 is a technical marvel. It runs smoothly and isn’t a memory hog as some versions have been in the past. It’s refreshingly compatible with older hardware and peripherals, and it can run on Windows 7 hardware, so you don’t have to spent zillions for a basic PC. Windows 8.1 goes even further toward making this a rock-solid operating system, if Microsoft can get developers and users to embrace it.

From a security standpoint, Windows 8.1 is what you’ll need going forward. There’s no way to protect older PCs from the latest Internet threats. Only newer versions of Windows can run modern antivirus software and web browsers, so you’ll eventually have to upgrade if you want to continue living in a Windows world.

Microsoft hasn’t done the best job of explaining how to use Windows 8. If you search you’ll find some tip sheets and video tutorials, but they’re not going out of their way. To me this looks like a missed opportunity to gain goodwill with their client base. Fortunately you’llfind articles and guides online. I’ll post some on my blog.

For the moment, Windows 7 is your safest bet if you don’t want Windows 8. No matter what your opinion on this latest version of Windows, you’ll need it to harden your computer against viruses and malware.

• Triona Guidry is a freelance writer and IT specialist. Her Tech Tips blog ( offers computer help and social media advice. She can be reached at or via Twitter @trionaguidry.

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