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by JB Burke

Q. Now that Windows 8.1 has been released should I upgrade from Windows 8?

A. That's a very good question, and one which we covered recently at the Special Topics SIG meeting of the Prescott Computer Society. It's true that Microsoft 8.1 includes many changes and updates to Windows 8, not the least of which is the return of the Start button. More on that in a bit.

The most significant changes in Windows 8.1 are to the Metro interface. That's the new Start screen which features all those tiles. Many of the apps that are standard on Windows 8 have been upgraded to make them friendlier and more functional. And the Metro interface is improved, allowing you to change the size of (some of) the tiles on the screen. Plus you can make your Metro background the same as your desktop wallpaper, so it seems more familiar. The tiles can be more easily moved about and resized, so you can better personalize the screen. The Search function has been improved, so that it now not only searches your computer but the internet as well, via Bing of course.

Another change is that you can now tell Windows 8.1 to boot directly to the desktop rather than to the Start (Metro) screen. There you will find the new Start Button. However … left click on it and it takes you to the Metro Start screen, not the traditional Start Menu from Windows 7 and earlier. Right click on it gives you back such goodies as Control Panel, Device Manager, File Explorer and Shutdown.

Windows 8 and 8.1 are faster to start up and shut down than Windows 7, so that's good. And with the addition of some software – such as Classic Shell (free) or Start8 ($5, my favorite), you can bring back the Start Menu and remove some of 8.1's more annoying traits. Only time will tell if Microsoft's attempt to glue together a touch screen (tiled) interface to the classic desktop will be successful. But these programs can make things less painful while we await the verdict.

Published: Courier 11/17/13 - Page 3C