Windows 8.1 is now usable without touch

Summary:There was no excuse for the unusable mess that was the initial Windows 8 when used with a keyboard and mouse. With all the latest updates it's not bad at all, especially with two monitors.

Before I go praising what Microsoft has made of Windows 8 lately, I should point out that it's probably too late. From a branding perspective, Windows 8 has been ruined. Too many people say "Oh, that's the one that sucks, right?" Whether it actually sucks may not matter anymore.

It's way better than it used to be since the last update to Windows 8.1. I recently bought a new duded-up desktop from Dell with which to do software development. I have no particular need for Windows 8 on it, but Dell charges an extra $50 for Windows 7 now and I decided to be bold as well as cheap. This system comes with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 645 adapter to which I have connected two displays, one big, neither of them touch-enabled. The two-monitor setup is always cool, but especially useful for software development.

I quickly realized that one of the monitors can have the desktop interface and the other the newfangled Modern, née Metro UI. This can be very handy. Combine it with a simple trick that most Windows users don't seem to know — Alt-Tab to move between running apps — and I'm having none of the problems moving around that I had with the initial Windows 8 edition.

There is still the Start button issue, but if I really want it I can just get one of the many Start button replacement programs (the most famous seems to be Start8). Alas, these programs don't have much of a future since Microsoft will bring the Start button and menu back some time soon, completing the admission of failure of their first approach.

The taskbar, as you can see from the image below, now includes both Modern and classic desktop programs. Almost all of the installed programs I'm likely to run are pinned to my taskbar, so I rarely have need of the Start menu anymore; my hack for when I do need it is that I have pinned the Programs folder to the Windows Explorer icon you see on the taskbar. Note that I have the Control Panel there too.

Win8.taskbar
The left side of my Windows 8.1 taskbar.

Once you're inside a program, the shell isn't much of an issue, and even the Modern UI apps are much easier to deal with. You can easily close them with the X that shows up at the top-right corner when you put the mouse at the top. If you move the mouse to the bottom, the taskbar shows up. And as I already said, the Modern UI apps show up now on the taskbar. I could set the system to boot into the desktop but I haven't. All I have to do is click the oversized desktop tile to get there.

Perhaps I'm overstating the image problem that Windows 8 faces. Even the most catastrophic Windows failures sell license numbers in the hundreds of millions, and it's not like it was healthcare.gov. Still, Windows 7 was a tough act to follow and remains a safe choice, at least for larger businesses which have an easier time putting it on new systems than consumers.

Perhaps all it will take is "Windows 8 Second Edition." That worked well for Windows 98.

Topics: Windows 8, Windows

About

Larry Seltzer has long been a recognized expert in technology, with a focus on mobile technology and security in recent years. He was most recently Editorial Director of BYTE, Dark Reading and Network Computing at UBM Tech. Prior to that he spent over a decade consulting and writing on technology subjects, primarily in the area of sec... Full Bio

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