Not surprisingly I started the rather lengthy download, at least if you like me are on a 6-7 Mbps ADSL connection, as soon as it became available in the windows store last Thursday. By Friday evening I had both my main PC and my tablet updated to the latest version of the OS. So I have only used the new release for a fairly short time but I thought that I would just write down my first impressions anyway. I did already have the 8.1 RTM preview installed on another machine as well so it is not like this is the first time I lay my hands on Windows 8.1.
There are indeed some good things in this release although I have to say that I am still a bit underwhelmed by the improvements and I am not sure that I consider all of the changes improvements at all. A lot of it is cosmetic and some of them are really not “wow a new feature” but things that should have been in there from the first release. Most of the good things were known from the preview as well.
Maybe the best known “feature” is the new start button. Well, return of the start button it is not, but it is better than nothing and if your needs are not to high it makes it possible to use Windows 8.1 on a desktop PC without having to resort to installing some 3rd party app.
Another new feature is on the start page itself. Finally you can have some reasonably sized tiles on your start page. The previous rather large size of the smallest tile was just no good on a small tablet with limited screen real estate. This is really a feature that should have been available from the start. Unfortunately, if you are putting URLs on the start page then you are out of luck since that ridiculous tile style with a tiny image in the middle and a small text just gets shrunk and the text goes away. So you are left with a tiny image in the middle of a mostly empty small tile. That is just a joke. I have not found a way of renaming a tile once you have put it on the start page either by the way which is a stupid omission.
You can also use your own background now. Another should-have-been-there-from-the-start feature. In addition the way you rearrange the icons is improved making it less easy to inadvertently move icons around when you just wanted to scroll the page.
Another rather large change is the new SkyDrive integration. Unfortunately it seems that however decided on features for this geared it for mobile devices only. The new off-line/on-line management is of course great for such devices with limited drive space. That the SkyDrive app now allows you to browse the local file system is also a good improvement that again should have been available from the start although the name of the app is of course now somewhat misleading. Unfortunately they decided to remove useful features as well. Specifically you can no longer use the SkyDrive web interface to browse and get files from a Windows 8.1 PC. That is big step backwards and typical of the new Microsoft who seems not to care about people actually doing real work on their machines. Also, the integration do not seem to be thoroughly tested. On several occasions the system got totally confused when trying to save documents ending up browsing SkyDrive instead of my local folder. It seems especially confused when using libraries. I even got a file system process failed dialog popping up in desktop mode once.
Then we come to the mail app which one would think should be among the most used app on the machine. It has received a few new features of which I cannot say I care very much. What it has not received is a combined inbox. What kind of crap is this Microsoft?! You have it on WP8, you even had it on WP7 and you have it on the mail client you get with Windows Live Essentials. Actually, that mail client is really a more useful option on Windows 8, at last on Desktop systems even though it is not using the modern UI.
As I already mentioned in my first impressions from the RTM preview the photo app have gone backwards. Luckily it got back the option of viewing your SkyDrive which makes it somewhat usable. Unfortunately it still cannot browse other PC’s any more nor can you tell it to browse folders on, for instance, my NAS drive which makes it totally useless on my tablet. Again, Microsoft fails to take into account the needs of people using their devices for anything else than the basics (or more likely for anything else than they themselves use it for).
I already mentioned the confusing search, the store app update, the food and drink app (which is actually quite nice) etc. in the above mentioned post about the preview and nothing have really changed so those impressions stay the same. Unfortunately the stability seems to have gone down though. When using my tablet last evening both the browser and the mail app just closed on me for no obvious reason and no just once. Multiple times.
I think that in general this release is an improvement over the last one for me, at least on tablets, but it is totally devoid of any wow-factor. Quite a few of the “features” included should really have been there from the start and some of the “improvements” are really downgrades as far as I am concerned. As I said I am not really impressed. Having said that I have, for obvious reasons, not used this release for very long so I might discover things that makes me become more positive…or negative.