ILNews

Technology Untangled: Windows 8.1’s good points bundled with annoyances

Stephen Bour
February 26, 2014
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technology-bourI have heard a fair number of complaints about Windows 8, and now the revised Windows 8.1 PC operating systems since they were released. There was enough anecdotal evidence to cause me to delay my purchase of a new computer for as long as possible. Even my casual attempts to examine and work with this new interface proved off-putting. As more of the court reporters in our office switched over, it became harder for me to assist them with problems without having a similar computer of my own. So, I finally bought a Windows 8.1 laptop. It is different, and it is annoying in many ways, but it does have its good points. Today’s article will cover some of my impressions of Windows 8.1.

If you read no further than this paragraph, here is the most important advice I have to offer. Be sure to choose a laptop that has a touch-enabled screen. Windows 8.1 is clearly designed to work best with a 10-point multi-touch screen. Part of the frustration that I had during my initial attempts with 8.1 was the result of working via mouse touchpad on computers with conventional screens. Yes, you can navigate by swiping and tapping on the touchpad alone, but it really is a sub-optimal experience. Spend the extra money and avoid the frustration.

Windows 8.1 doesn’t really strike me as “designed for business.” It seems a lot more like it is designed for amusement, distraction and fun ... and, oh yeah, it will also run your business software. The Windows 8.1 “look” and operating interface is different to say the least, and it definitely does take some getting used to. There are, however, plenty of useful tutorials available online, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying to use and learn. Here are some things I have noticed.

The opening Start screen is very cluttered with little windows, known as tiles, designed to launch each app. This interface, officially dubbed the Metro UI, seems custom-designed for people with ADD. For example, the News tile is constantly distracting me with updates. Many of these dynamic tiles continuously scroll with changing pictures and information. There is so much clutter, it cannot fit on one screen. You literally have to swipe up and down, left and right to see it all.

Another small annoyance, the Bing Weather tile obviously knows my location and dutifully scrolls the temperature and the name of the Indiana city where I am, but the default readout is in degrees Celsius! What? Does it think I’m Canadian?

After many years of bowing to Microsoft’s odd convention of clicking the “Start” button at the bottom left to shut down the computer, now there is an “improved” method. Their new preferred convention is to sweep in from the right edge to open a number of iconic choices, none of which say “Shut Down.” You have to choose Settings, Power, and then Shut Down. Hardly straightforward. By the way, the given name for these icons is “Charms.” How cute. That hardly sounds business-like to me.

Thankfully, if you click the proper tile you can still find a vaguely familiar Desktop, similar to older versions of Windows. And after much persuading (due to customer complaints), Microsoft brought back the conventional Start button as part of the retooling from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1.

Annoyingly, you must use a password each time you turn on the computer. There is no option to turn it off. I assume this is intended to improve security, but all it really does is give the illusion of security. I feel no safer with this password that is forced upon me, because much like a smartphone, virtually every app you use on the computer includes permissions to violate your privacy at every turn, not to mention the cajoling to back up your data to the cloud (also known as Microsoft SkyDrive). Some data is automatically sent to SkyDrive by default! I don’t really trust the security of any of it.

Unfortunately, whenever the computer is on the main Start screen, my full name is unsecurely emblazoned in the upper right-hand corner. I can’t remove it, and I can’t change it. It is the name I entered when registering the computer. Do I really want any passerby knowing my name when I am using my computer at Starbucks? Curiously, you cannot even use a new Windows 8.1 computer if you do not already have an email address. You need one to receive the registration code info necessary to initialize the unit.

Successfully navigating this computer requires an orchestrated mix of screen touches and swipes, touchpad clicks, and standard keyboard strokes. No one input method does it best for all needs. It takes a little bit of each, and it takes some time to figure it all out. Funny thing now, after several weeks of reaching out and touching the screen of this newest computer, I find myself trying to control all my older computers by screen touches. At least it shows that I am getting more “in touch” with this new system.

I know that many of the annoying features can be custom-configured more to my liking, but the point is why should I have to spend the time and go through the trouble?

The arrival of the touch-screen-enabled Windows 8.1 system now further blurs the lines between PC and tablet. Some of these touch screen PCs allow you to fold over the screen or remove the keyboard completely to convert to a tablet-shaped form factor. But from my experience, a true tablet such as an iPad offers a better tablet computing experience than a touch screen PC. While the PC and the tablet continue to converge, I think there will remain a distinct and separate niche for each.•

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Stephen Bour (bourtech@iquest.net) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD and courtroom presentation support. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.
 

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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