Windows 8.1 is now usable without touch

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.

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TOPICS: Windows 8, Windows
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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

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205 comments
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            • Why?

              You must hate iPads and touch smart phones. Personally when a screen is on and running I can't see a single smudge on my touch enabled screens. This is coming from a neat freak who cleans them like crazy when they are off because I see the smudges then but it has nothing to do with usability and is just my own oddness.

              And as far as germs, you think that keyboard and mouse are clean? Think the arm rests on the chair or the phone or light switches, etc are clean?
              Rann Xeroxx
              • Are you seriously going to argue

                that using touch on a horizontal surface (phone, tablet) held close is the same as using touch on a vertical surface at arm's length?
                baggins_z
                • Large touchscreens do not have to be used in a vertical position

                  I have a 23" touchscreen at home. It can be quickly adjusted from vertical to almost horizontal with one hand.
                  I find that it is most comfortable at an angle similar to a drafting table when I am sitting. This brings it slightly closer me than a traditional monitor. I bring it closer to parallel to my bench height desk surface when I am standing.
                  My second 23" monitor is not a touchscreen and is fully adjustable on an articulating arm beside the touchscreen.
                  I find this set up very comfortable and I do not experience any "arm fatigue".
                  Naturally, I still have a mouse and keyboard and I use them when they make the most sense.
                  Kiwi_Sprinkle-Glotz
                  • Exactly

                    Well said, Kiwi_Sprinkle-Glotz. I'm amazed at how hard this is for some people to grasp...
                    Ndiaz.fuentes
                    • yeah, right...

                      ... come over and try that with my 30 inch HP ZR30w screen, no, really, please do, oh and see how nice it looks with idiot finger smudges on it while you are at it... horses for courses dufii...
                      btone-c5d11
                  • even harder to grasp

                    Even hard to grasp must be the warnings that doctors have put out for years.. Even OSHA has standards warning to reduce neck tension and strain, the monitor that you work with should be head height so that you need not look up or down to see (15 to 20 degree straight out and down without tilting your head.

                    https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/computerworkstations/components_monitors.html

                    So if your touch screen is sitting out from you at a drafting table level, you're most likely looking down and that can cause strain. (in other words you're doing it wrong .. lol)
                    TG2
              • Nuts

                You must not use a computer for real WORK!

                Touchscreen keyboards are HORRIBLE!

                Touch screens are OK for children & their games but REAL MEN need a REAL keyboard!

                As to germs, the screen is just as germy!
                jimbritttn
                • You know these types....

                  Just another iHole.
                  ubangeee
                  • Rann is one of the most credible

                    Posters on ZDNET.
                    Luke Skywalker
                  • no...

                    ... just another variant of user, and one without a smartarse mouth too...
                    btone-c5d11
                • Hiding Somewhere?

                  Haven't you heard of a stylus?

                  Never heard of Swype or SwiftKey?

                  Those proficient in using Swype can out type a touch typist. I know I produce more efficiently wiyh it ( I am an awful typist - Swype increases my efficiency by about 50%).
                  onefussyone
                • Touch screen + physical keyboard

                  Having a touch screen doesn't mean you must use onscreen keyboard. I use physical keyboard on my tablet unless I am hold it by my hands. But it is pretty rare as I don't like holding a tablet no matter it is 7" or 8" or 10".
                  WillyThePooh
  • Just mod it

    I'm sure to make the OS function the way you needed it to, you modified it by installing your apps on it to run your equipment. Same holds true to the start menu. Can't move to the new Start Screen, install Classic Shell or Start8 and remove all Metro apps (to remove file associations) and turn off charms and boot to desktop. Now its the fastest, most secure Windows out there.

    And in the fall we should be getting some new updates and rumor has it the return of the start menu with tiles. They are also working on interactive dynamic tiles and new drag and drop functions from the side apps charm. After that modern mix like functions will be baked in.
    Rann Xeroxx
    • Windows 8.1

      I am afraid I don't agree. I am way past the ridiculous Moron-Interface problems and now struggle with the endless performance and compatibility problems. The idea that W8 is faster is a myth, just run Advanced-Systemcare or one of the countless system cleaners on W7 and it is much faster than WAIT and you do not have to waste time finding settings that are now buried in illogical menus.
      W8 only works properly with about 75% of the software that I have tested thus far, whereas W9 it's closer to99%, and for me that is what matters.
      techietubby
      • W9?

        I assume you mean 99% with Win7 not W9
        gtvr
  • It's not that bad anymore.

    I was visiting my parents last week and they have a laptop with 8.1. It really wasn't so bad, I was very positively surprised! Getting to the settings, search and so on just by swiping over the trackpad was pretty nifty and the desktop itself works just like it does in 7.
    I didn't even miss the start menu to be honest. In 7 I open everything with the search feature, so as long as I have quick access to that I am golden.
    As for the Metro desktop, I mainly ignored it. For me it doubled as a giant start menu, so to say, which worked pretty nicely.
    mathiasappel@...
    • Start Screen

      And that is why it's called the START SCREEN and not the Metro desktop. You hit it on the head.
      hafenbrack
      • What is it called if i check 'Boot to desktop'? The Finish Screen?

        What is it called for those who ignore it like the plague?
        j4w4
        • Luddite

          I think that is the term you are looking for.
          Emacho
        • iPad

          I guess the iPad with its "start screen" of icons is "the plague" as well.
          Rann Xeroxx