My Google Nexus 4 has been playing up lately: taking ages to connect to WiFi and burning up battery extra quickly. Time for another factory reset, I thought, so plugged it into my PC to backup my ebooks, music files and photographs only to discover that it no longer showed up in Windows Explorer.
It turns out that a recent Windows 8.1 update has prevented many Android users from connecting their devices.
This afternoon—after having made sure that last night’s backup happened successfully—I upgraded my PC to Windows 8.1 Pro (64-bit). It had been running Windows 8 Pro (64-bit), so just a 0.1 upgrade! Unlike last year’s botched attempt, this time it was successful and took less than an hour.
Only three applications complained:
8GadgetPack didn’t run until I’d installed the latest version.
Microsoft Windows Mobile Device Center 6.1 reported that it was incompatible. No problem: I’m not using a Windows Mobile phone now. I’ve uninstalled it.
SteelSeries Engine reported that it couldn’t initialize. I had suspected my SteelSeries Sensei mouse to be the main culprit in last year’s failed upgrade, so I wasn’t surprised. Downloading the latest version seems to have sorted this.
I’m still using two applications to tweak the Windows 8.1 experience:
Start8—Adds the classic start menu back to Windows 8/8.1.
Decor8—Personalizes the Windows 8/8.1 start and login screens.
What a relief to finally get it installed, and without any problems whatsoever. Dear Microsoft, I wish it had been this straight-forward seven months ago. But thank you.
I tweeted my progress through the upgrade:
Third attempt at upgrading to Windows 8.1… Hopefully this won't be the car crash that the first two attempts proved to be.
The Windows RT upgrade (for Surface tablets) was removed from the app store until they could figure out what was going on. Microsoft released a “recovery image” yesterday to try to address the issue. Time will tell if it has worked, I can’t see past the search engine results noise of it having been removed.
The Windows 8.1 upgrade disappeared from my Windows 8 store for a day or two as well, but re-appeared last night. I’m still not going to try to upgrade again until I know for sure that it will work.
Windows 8.1 was meant to address some of the criticisms of the original Windows 8 release, particularly the removal of the Windows start button and that Windows 8 boots to the new Modern/Metro UI start screen, rather than to the desktop.
I have to say that I have been a huge fan of Windows 8 since the beta. I had the beta installed on my laptop right until the RTM edition was launched. Since then I’ve defended Windows 8 to everyone and anyone.
Windows 8 has been, by far, the fastest, most stable, most secure version of Windows I’ve used (since my standalone, not-connected-to-the-internet version of Windows for Workgroups 3.11 in the mid-90s). My desktop PC boots up and is working within about 20-30 seconds. Compare that with my Windows 7 Dell beast of a PC at work which can take about 10 minutes to start up and become fully responsive.
As for those two criticisms about the lack of start button and not booting directly to the desktop, well Start8 from Stardock (USD $4.99) addresses both those issues.
Firmly ticked is the configuration option in Start8 that reads “Automatically go to the Desktop when I sign in“.
I rarely use any of the Metro UI applications (occasionally TV Catch-up, the Steam tile app, and a couple of games with the boys) so it makes sense for me to jump straight to the desktop. This application saves me a click.
To be honest I installed Start8 mostly to make the PC more accessible to my wife Jane, who uses it occasionally. I didn’t want her to have to bother with the convoluted Windows 8 nonsense of Win+C > Settings > Power > Shut down, or Win+C > Settings > Control Panel to access the Control Panel. I reality though, I use those features most.
I also have to confess that I really like the Windows 8 start screen. My grumble about the traditional Start menu in XP, Vista, 7 is that it’s a mess. It lists everything that is installed and gives everything equal status.
The Windows 8 start screen allows me to customise it for my own needs, my own priorities.
And if I want to see everything: Win + Q takes me there.
I can pin to the taskbar those applications that I use most frequently, the rest I can pin to the start screen and arrange into named groups. It’s so easy my four year old boys can use it.
I used another paid-for application from Startdock to customize the background of my start screen: Decor8 (USD $4.99).
A desktop-centric Windows 8 PC
This gives me the best of both worlds: the speed and stability of Windows 8 coupled with the desktop-centric focus of Windows 7.
In each version of Windows that I’ve used I’ve tweaked it and wrestled with its user-interface to give me the experience that works for me. With Windows 3.11 I used Calmira, in Windows 98 it was power toys and TweakUI, in XP I created my own toolbars. Why should this operating system be any different? Surely that’s one of the beauties of Windows.
I really don’t understand these grumbles of “I hate Windows 8 and the Modern/Metro UI!” To be honest, I don’t notice the juxtaposition of desktop vs Modern/Metro UI much. I ignore most of it. I don’t have a touch screen, I have all the Windows desktop applications that I need and only occasionally dabble with the odd Modern/Metro app. And Start8 and Decor8 allow me to quickly tweak the rest
And so back to Windows 8.1. I would rather like to upgrade sometime soon.
I tried it on Friday.
It all seemed to be going well until the second boot when it halted the screen that Windows 8 shows when it’s booting up. The little spinner just kept on spinning… for about 30 minutes. So I rebooted the PC… and it did the same until it quickly flashed up a blue screen of death (BSOD) and about 10 minutes later returned me to Windows 8 and a message similar to this one but with error code 0xC1900101 – 0x40017.
I’ve been closely following, and contributing to the thread on the Microsoft Community. People have had limited success it would appear with certain workarounds working for some but not others: uninstall graphics card drivers, uninstall SteelSeries Engine software, unplug everything, etc.
I have a SteelSeries mouse. I could uninstall it and try the upgrade again, but do you know what? It’s 2013. Why should I have to? Modern operating systems should just work and upgrade without any kind of hardcore hardware geekery.
I’m going to wait until either Microsoft have figured out a way for the operating system to work around or quietly remove incompatible device drivers or until Steel Series have made their drivers compatible with Windows 8.1. Which in my opinion they should have done by now.
Windows 8.1 was code-named “Blue”. It looks like they omitted “…Screen of Death” at the end of it.
Disappointing, and at a time when Microsoft is fighting to stay relevant this seems to me to be a terrible blow to its reputation. As I said, I’ve been almost evangelical about the stability and reliability of Windows 8. I’m not at all confident about upgrading to 8.1 now. That’s not a good thing.