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Windows 8.1 deep-dive review: Well, it's a start

Preston Gralla | July 3, 2013
The preview of Windows 8.1 brings more cohesion, less frustration and a direct login to the desktop. But is it enough to save the OS?

If you hover your mouse over the lower-left-hand portion of the Start screen or while you're in a Modern app, the button appears. It also appears on the desktop's taskbar (without your having to hover your mouse).

But calling it a Start button is a stretch, because that implies that it does what the Start button did in previous versions of Windows — that is, launched a menu that lets you browse and launch your apps, search, find links to various Windows locations and services, and so on. Instead, it's just a task switcher that switches you between the Start screen and whatever else you were just doing. I rarely find myself clicking the Start button for the simple reason that it doesn't really start anything — except my blood boiling about how useless it is.

The Power User menu makes it easier to shut down or restart your device.Click to view larger image.

However, Microsoft has taken one Start button feature from earlier Windows versions and made it more accessible in Windows 8.1: the ability to shut down, restart or put your device to sleep. Pull up the Power User menu and click Shut down to find those options.

Internet Explorer 11
In Windows 8.1, Microsoft has addressed a serious Windows 8 shortcoming: the close-to-useless Modern version of Internet Explorer 10. How seriously can you take a browser without the ability to create and use bookmarks, or that won't allow you to have more than 10 tabs open at a time?

Not very. And so I simply didn't use the Modern version of IE10.

In Windows 8.1, that's changed. Like every other browser out there, IE11 lets you have as many sites as you want open in separate tabs. And — be still my beating heart! — you can actually bookmark pages as Favorites. The bookmarking feature includes the ability to organize Favorites into folders.

However, the Favorites feature still isn't perfect. The Favorites in the Modern version of IE don't show up in the desktop version of IE, although the desktop IE Favorites do show up in the Modern version. That's something that should be fixed.

You can now also open tabs side by side, so that you can view more than one tab at a time, each in its own window onscreen. Normally you'll be only able to view two tabs this way, but on high-resolution displays, you can view up to four.

The new Internet Explorer also has improvements under the hood: notably, its addition of WebGL, a JavaScript API that renders interactive 3D graphics and 2D graphics. WebGL allows websites to essentially deliver the same interactive experiences as game and multimedia apps, but from inside a browser. Competing browsers such as Chrome already have this. In a world in which HTML5 and associated technologies will become standard, the lack of WebGL in Internet Explorer was a serious shortcoming. It's a shortcoming no longer.

 

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