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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?

A powered-up search
Search has been considerably improved, which wasn't that difficult, given how poor Windows 8's original search feature was. Previously, when you did a search, you didn't see all the results on a single screen. Instead, you had to highlight the category you wanted to search through (such as Settings or Apps) and you'd see just those results.

In Windows 8.1, search has become more universal and far more powerful. You now get results from the Web (including graphics and videos) as well as local files, apps and settings, all presented in one interface.

If you like, you can filter to search only settings, only files, only Web images or only Web videos.

A great addition is the so-called Search Hero, which takes results from your device and the Web, and aggregates graphics, videos and information onto a simple-to-browse page. Here you can not only click to get more information, but if you search for a musician, you'll be able to play music right on the page, via a widget from the Xbox Music app. I find this feature especially useful, because it lets me search for and play music without having to launch the Xbox Music app.

How does Windows search do all this? The page you click to is essentially a Bing results page.

Keep in mind, though, that many searches you do won't display results this way, because many searches don't have a rich set of results including Wikipedia entries, photographs and videos.

This isn't to say that search is perfect. It still has its quirks. For example, if you're in the Windows Store, you can't simply start typing in a search term as you can on the Start screen. Instead, you need to display the Search charm, and then do a search.

New and updated apps
Internet Explorer isn't the only Modern app that Microsoft has done work on. It's upgraded others, and included new ones as well. And in doing so, it's addressed a major Windows 8 shortcoming: the general awfulness of its Modern apps. Those apps have been extremely underpowered and feature-poor, anemic and touch-focused.

In Windows 8.1, that's changed. The Photos app, for example, now does more than just allow you to view photos, as it did in past versions. Now it includes some very good editing tools. Is it as powerful as Photoshop? Of course not. But it has plenty of features, including color editing, brightness and contrast changing, special effects, cropping, rotating, red-eye removal and more. I've used it several times for simple editing chores such as removing red eye and cropping, and found it simple and straightforward.


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