The missing pieces from the Windows 8.1 preview

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.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

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.

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