The missing pieces from the Windows 8.1 preview

The missing pieces from the Windows 8.1 preview

Summary: Windows 8.1 is chock-full of new features, but the preview is not a zero-sum release. Microsoft left out a handful of interesting features that had been included in Windows 8, and it also slashed functionality from some features. Here's a list of what's missing.

TOPICS: Windows 8

Microsoft says they listened to customer feedback when planning Windows 8.1. That may be so, but they also made some engineering decisions to slash features and omit unfinished apps in the preview release. If you’re currently using Windows 8, you might want to be aware of these missing pieces.

A few features that were in Windows 8 are not in Windows 8.1 at all. Here’s a partial list:

  • The legacy Windows 7 Backup program, which allows you to capture an image backup of your system, is gone. The associated executable file and DLL (Sdclt.exe and Sdcpl.dll, respectively) are gone, as is the Windows Backup service. The opportunity to restore a backup created using that tool is still there, but you can’t create a new image backup of your device running the Windows 8.1 Preview.
  • If you go to the System Properties dialog box, you’ll find that the Windows Experience Index is no longer displayed, and there appears to be no way to make it appear. You can still run any of the individual Windows System Assessment tests (Winsat.exe, with its many switches) and view the saved results. But there's no easy way to see the composite numbers.
  • The Messaging app, which lives alongside Mail, People and Calendar in the Windows 8 unified communications suite, is not present in Windows 8.1. Its absence probably reflects Microsoft’s decision to deprecate its messaging clients in favor of Skype. But still…

In addition, there are a handful of features that have been removed from existing apps. Two in particular are worth calling out here.

The Windows 8.1 Preview version of the Photos app gets new editing functions, but it no longer allows you to browse images from SkyDrive, from shared network folders or from third-party services such as Facebook and Flickr. This app certainly feels like it’s only half-baked. (Via Twitter, @colinizer points out the possible reason: a "complete rewrite" of the ap in XAML instead of HTML plus JavaScript.)

The most significant change is in the implementation of SkyDrive, Microsoft’s cloud-based storage service.

In Windows 8, you had to download and run a Windows utility to synchronize SkyDrive files with your local PC. In Windows 8.1, this SkyDrive sync capability is built into the operating system. (You’re asked when you set up a new user account whether you want to use SkyDrive.)

This change is good news for Windows RT users but potentially confusing for just about everyone else. The Windows 8 desktop sync utility is removed without notice when you install the Windows 8.1 Preview. That would be fine, except that there’s no replacement for some of the important management features in that utility.

So why does that matter? Well, as it’s implemented in the Windows 8.1 Preview, the SkyDrive folder contains only symbolic links to files in your SkyDrive online storage. It looks like any other folder, but you’ll notice a delay when you open a file as it’s downloaded. When you open or download any file from SkyDrive, Windows 8.1 creates a local copy and synchronizes it with the online copy. You can also right-click any file or folder and choose Make Available Offline to force it to sync.

But the removal of the first-party sync utility means that, at least for now, there is no supported way to change the folder where synced files replicate. In fact, there’s no way to see which files and folders are being synced except to right-click on an item in File Explorer and see which of the two options is available on the shortcut menu.

Some of these omissions will probably be sorted by the time Windows 8.1 ships in August, but there’s no guarantee. One distinct possibility is that a feature-complete version of Windows 8.1 will be released as official in August (“released to manufacturing” seems like a weird label in an era of digital distribution), with app and feature updates trickling in over the next few months.

I’m sure I’ve left out a few items, which you, my loyal readers, will be certain to remind me of. So I’ll probably be updating this post with some additions for the next day or two.

Topic: Windows 8

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  • Favorites Folder

    I like to relocate my profile folders to separate the OS from my data, for the most part. While I can move the Favorites foldert, once I do so, I can't add any favorites. So, I have to keep SkyDrive and Favorites in their default location.
    • The message app

      The message app is gone in 8.1. it's a bad thing because it was simple to use an could synch fro many sources. I thing that Skype is an awful software to use as message app. I pretty much everything about it.
    • WRT Skydrive?

      In Windows 7 I moved my Skydrive to another Partition (I keep my system disk as small as possible). Is this not possible in Windows 8?

      And I guess I don't understand how the Favorites you are referring to work because in W7, it is just a series of shortcuts to Folders in other Locations. Since my pictures, movies and most other stuff is on my F: partition (I'm organized much like a Network Drive structure) Every thing works just fine. Are you saying this capability is not available in W8?
      • IE Favorites

        I am referring to IE Favorites. If I relocate the Favorites folder under my user profile to another place, say the D: drive, Windows 8.1 will let me perform that action. But, once I visit a website and attempt to save it to Favorites, nothing happens. When I return the folder to its default location, I can save websites again. Not a show stopper by any means, but I like to keep as much of my profile away from the OS partition as possible.
  • Sadly, probably not human

    This is probably a bot, so don't waste time and energy replying.
    • Well, this is embarassing

      The previous comments have been removed, and now I look like a moron. How amusing...
      • Welcome to ZdNet

        where we control what you say.....
      • OK,

        what evidence is there that you're not?
        • About the same amount of evidence...

          ... that proves that you not an asian TS with a penchant for donkeys.

          Just because I refrain from playing the insult game, does not mean I can't do it.
          • Dammit...

            *you are not
      • Re: Well, this is embarassing

        You're lucky. Previously I thought they took out all replies, direct and indirect, when deleting a spam/inappropriate posting.
  • Any chances

    These are either coming later or were just curiously omitted from the beta? A number of apps are getting updated, but we can't test them. I might be mistaken, but messaging just does Skype and Facebook. If facebook's official app is released in conjunction, why have a redundant app? If you send a Skype IM it appears in Skype and messaging. Unless there are others services, other than not needing to use an official app (which most users are more familiar with from iOS and Android), what purpose would messaging hold?

    I guess all of these changes or omissions aren't as significant until RTM. Apparently it's a slow news time or something.
    • changes or omissions aren't as significant until

      "... changes or omissions aren't as significant until RTM."

      Completely disagree ... without microsoft explicitly saying something along the lines of "this preview is not complete, here's a list of things that have been disabled while we retool their functionality" or something like that ... you realize now, that microsoft is chock full -o- "indian givers" .... like the pilgrims before .. give the indians one thing.. take it back later.. give them someting of little value, take something far exceeding that value from them...

      The preview should not be "assumed" incomplete ... it should be explicitly stated so .. Microsoft knows what they are and aren't working on, and if they aren't saying anything at all, then they are quite possibly testing the waters, to see what kind of uproar is created from those using the Preview ... to decide if its worth it to them to turn those features back on.

      It matters. You may not think it does.. but its left us already with a half baked concept for what the OS should be.. and those that shouldn't have to .... working to get the functionality back that they lost (ie, start menu replacements, re-associating files to bypass launching in their half-usable metro app, etc) ... it all matters.. and microsoft is continuing to prove they don't care until the people show them it matters to them.
      • "indian givers"

        That's not what it means.
        Gray Hawk
        • Indian givers

          But what about Pakistanies!
      • "Indian givers"

        Along with the colourful description...

        Nothing like a little afternoon racism and history rewriting....
        The Werewolf!
      • ...

        You do know what the word preview means don't you?
        Koopa Troopa
    • There were many App beta updates...

      in the preview. We could test many of them, but they were all Microsoft Apps.
      Thomas Kolakowski
    • Re: Any chances These are either coming later or were just curiously omitt

      Depends on whether you think this is a beta or pre-beta release. A beta is supposed to be feature-complete, with nothing left to do except wring out the bugs. If this isn't even up to beta quality, then that means pushing back the release timetable.
      • coming or omitted?

        "a beta or pre-beta release"
        A special to increase the general level of FUD in the universe. MS wants to discover what things it can get rid of so that its development effort will be lower for Win9.