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One of the biggest objections to Windows 8 was the way it unceremoniously dumped new users into an unfamiliar interface without a compass or a roadmap. Windows 8.1 tries to make up for that shortcoming with some hints like the one shown here, which points out how to access the charms menu. There's also a useful set of tutorials that are available on the Start screen.
More snap options
A common complaint about those "chromeless" Windows apps is that they couldn't easily be arranged on the screen. That's a special source of frustration for anyone with a large desktop display. Windows 8.1 completely overhauls the way immersive (aka Metro) apps can be arranged. More importantly, it gives app developers a way to automatically open a new window alongside an existing one. So if you click a link in an email message (as shown on the left here) the window shrinks to occupy half the screen and a browser window opens alongside.
The new snap behavior also makes it possible to open separate instances of Internet Explorer or mail, so you can have two web pages or mail messages open side by side using the touch-friendly immersive Internet Explorer or Mail app.
Start screen customization options
The bright tiles introduced in Windows 8 are still there, but the Windows 8.1 Start screen packs a lot of changes, many of them shown here:
- You have four tile sizes instead of the two in Windows 8. That means you can shrink utilities to roughly the size of a desktop icon and pack four into the space previously taken by one small tile. The new Large tile size allows more information in live tiles for information-rich apps like News, Weather, and Mail.
- The Start screen background can be set to the same as the desktop, making the transition to the Start6 screen less jarring.
- The tiles for desktop apps, like the Office programs in the second group on this screen, now pick up the color of the program icon.
- You can quickly select multiple tiles and resize or move them as a group. Windows 8 made you perform each of these actions one tile at a time.
- New programs aren't automatically added to the Start screen. That's s small victory over the forces of chaos and clutter.
And as you'll see on the next page, there's an alternative to the Start screen.
(PS: If you use desktop apps exclusively and hate the new-style Start screen, a few small tweaks can change your experience for the better. See The Metro hater's guide to Windows 8.1 for details.)