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Windows 8.1 Review

From Facebook to the full-featured Mail app and modern Outlook to a “peek” bar in the modern version of Internet Explorer 11 to the new Windows Scan app to the new Bing logo, you now get nearly all of the promised Windows 8.1 extras.

We are still waiting for the touch versions of the Office apps but that’s the way things work in Microsoft’s new ‘continuous development’ world. And of course you get the interface changes and SkyDrive integration we saw in the Windows 8.1 Preview.

The Start button is back, you can boot to the desktop and use the same image for your Start screen as your desktop background.

SkyDrive is built in to sync files – on both Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 RT – as well as settings and the layout for your Start screen and desktop taskbar.

But Microsoft’s second bite at the convergence of PCs and tablets doesn’t back away from what we still want to call Metro; in fact there are more built in modern apps than in Windows 8, more settings you can change without jumping to the desktop and more options for how you place modern apps on screen.

The question is how well these two worlds sit together, and how much of an improvement Microsoft has been able to deliver in a year.

Installing Windows 8.1

If you already have Windows 8, upgrading to Windows 8.1 is very simple. It will be the first app you see every time you open the Windows Store and the installation happens very quickly.

You don’t have to reinstall your desktop applications or your Windows Store apps, and all your files are still there (as are libraries and the icons pinned to your taskbar.

 

Windows 8.1

 

If you sign in with a Microsoft account you haven’t used before, you might have to use a code that Microsoft emails or texts to you (if you’ve set that up in the past) to confirm it’s you; that works like trusting a PC in Windows 8 but you don’t have to do it as a separate step.

If you have Windows 7 (or earlier versions), you have to install Windows 8 (the same process as when Windows 8 first came out) and then upgrade to Windows 8.1.

If you’ve been trying the Windows 8.1 Preview, you can’t upgrade directly to the RTM version (which Microsoft warned people about all along).

If you can’t revert to Windows 8, you still do the update from the Windows Store and your files will stay on the system, but you’ll have to reinstall your desktop programs.

If you’ve already upgraded another PC using the same Microsoft account you’ll see tiles for the Windows Store apps you have installed on that other PC (marked with a little download icon) and you can tap on the tiles to install them.

Once you’ve got into the Windows 8 and 8.1 world, upgrades become almost seamless (previews aside). You just have to get there.