With new and appealing features like booting directly to the desktop, a refined app store and multi window mode for Modern apps, Windows 8.1 feels like a huge improvement over its predecessor. However, there's a reason why Microsoft isn't calling its upcoming operating system Windows 9 or even Windows 8.5. The changes Microsoft made are more evolutionary than revolutionary, with a lot of Windows 8's usability problems still unaddressed.
Here are 8.1 problems of Windows 8 that the new operating system doesn’t solve.
Still No Start Menu
Perhaps the most controversial feature of Windows 8 is the new Start screen that replaces the traditional start menu and Start button. For traditional windows users who like to work on the desktop, being transported to another screen just to click a shortcut that brings them back to the desktop seems jarring. Usability expert Raluca Budiu has even called this sudden loss of context a "cognitive burden." Microsoft heard user complaints but intsead of bringing back the old-fashioned Start menu in 8.1 it put a Start button in the lower right corner of the screen that takes you straight to the Windows 8 Start screen. This isn't much of an improvement, because users already had at least four different ways to get to the Start screen, including the previously invisible Start button that sat in the same space and appeared when you hovered the corner.
Mail Client Doesn't Support POP Mail
It's only one of the most popular email protocols in the world, but try telling that to Microsoft, which still doesn't support POP accounts in its default Windows Mail app. Fortunately, there are several alternatives for POP users, including installing a third-party mail app or running Windows Live Mail on the desktop.
No Explorer for Modern UI
Even if you love Windows 8's Modern UI, you can't live in it 24/7 because there are a number of key built-in apps that only run in desktop mode, including Windows Explorer, the program you use to browse folders and copy, move or delete files. When you pop in a USB stick, slide in an SD Card or attach a hard drive, the only way to manage the files on those external devices is to use Explorer in a window on the desktop. If you think using Modern UI with a mouse is a hassle, just try dragging those tiny folders and files around with just the tip of your finger.
Low Information Density
Microsoft's new operating system lets you split the Modern UI screen between two or more, but most of its default and third party apps still fit very little information on the screen at one time, using giant fonts and images that look good but force you to do a lot of scrolling. In his scathing critique of Windows 8, noted usability expert Jakob Nielsen complained about what he calls "low information density" apps in Windows 8. Comparing the Los Angeles Times' Windows 8 app to its website home page, he noted that the app had a third as many headlines visible on-screen at once. Windows 8.1 does nothing to address this issue.
No Persistent Status Info
Quick, what time is it? If you're on Android, iOS, BlackBerry 10 or even Windows 7, you can answer this question without so much as touching the screen. However, if you're using Windows 8 or 8.1 the clock, battery level, Wi-FI connection status and even key notifcations remain hidden. Microsoft knows that users want a place for status and notifaction information because it introduced the system tray for Windows in the 1990s.You can still view the tray in Windows 8.1's desktopmode, but if you're using a modern app, you'll need to launch the Charms menu to see this curcial information appear. Like its predecessor, Windows 8 does pop-up notifications that appear briefly in the upper left corner but go away if you don't act on them for 5 seconds. Once notifications disappear, they are gone for good, unlike on Android, which provides a large notification drawer.
Two Internet Explorers are Worse Than One
Internet Explorer is the browser that's so nice they created it twice, once for Modern UI and a second time for the desktop. These two dispirate browers are based on the same code, but have different sets of tabs and windows, making them function as two different programs. Windows 8.1 adds some neat features to Internet Explorer such as unlimited tabs and multi-window support in Modern UI, but it leaves this artifical wall between the two versions of the browser. Chrome for Windows 8 has just one browser that allows you to switch between Modern UI mode and desktop mode by changing a setting. Better still, when you switch back and forth, all your open tabs and windows are preserved. Why hasn't Microsoft done the same?
The Shutdown Function is Still Buried
You're working on the plane, feverishly trying to finish that PowerPoint presentation when the flight attendant tells you to completely power off your laptop right away. What do you do? If you're on Windows 8 and you know where to find the hidden option, you have to take take four steps: launch the charms menu, click the settings button, click the power button and then click "Shut down." Windows 8.1 doesn't do anything to make the shut down function easier to find. However, it does have a second hidden shutdown option that's also several clicks away and appears when you go to the desktop, right click the start button and select Shut down from the Shut down menu (yes that's shutdown twice).
Microsoft Still Decides What UI You'll Use and When
In its early years, Windows was a program that you can on top of DOS, the commandline operating system that all PCs used from 1981 until about 1995. If you wanted to run a DOS program, you could use it either in the new windowed environment or at full screen. When Windows 7 came out, users who were more comfortable with Windows XP were able to make that operating system look and feel like its predecessor. However, with Windows 8 and 8.1, Microsoft decides what UI you'll use for each application. If you want to run one of the millions of so-called "desktop apps," you have to run it in desktop mode and if you want to run one of the new "modern" apps, you must run it in the full-screen Modern mode. There's no logical reason why you shouldn't be able to run a Modern app in a window -- a third party app called Stardock ModerMix lets you do this -- or run a dekstop app in full-screen Modern Mode.
The Entire Desktop UI Appears as Just One App
We often complain that Windows 8 and 8.1 have a split personality with two competing UIs. However, from a task management perspective, the desktop is not a second interface but an app that runs on top of the Modern UI. When you swipe in from the left to see the task menu, the desktop shows up as just one thumbnail, no matter how many windows you have open on it. Windows 8.1's new split-screen mode for Modern UI also treats the entire desktop as just one app, allowing you to open it in just one window while you open whatever Modern apps you want in the second and third windows.