8.1 = Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

First of all, let me preface this by saying that there is a lot of good stuff in Windows 8.1. However, I can't help but feel that there's as much bad in it as there is good.

I know, people are going to say that this is just because it's a Preview Release... but I'm not talking about bugs, I'm talking about design changes that just don't make things any better. I've already addressed elsewhere on this site that I think the addition of the Start button on the desktop just makes WinRT apps more confusing for new users, so I'll skip past that one.

The first three have been addressed in other threads (two by Chefgon, one by Hugo Bavaris):

  • The new Start Screen customization method is horrible (though many of those customizations themselves are nice- small and large tiles, plus four rows on my Surface makes for a much nicer view)
  • Getting rid of the old Snap View means you lose some great functionality (though of course the new variable width Snap View is nice to have, it doesn't mean we should abandon what worked great in 8)
  • Universal search is great. Universal search at the expense of being able to search any app from wherever you are is not (there needs to be a button at the bottom of the Search pane to give you the option to select from all your apps)

The problem is that there's much more going wrong than just those things. Inconsistency runs rampant throughout the OS. Metro IE11 moves the tabbed browsing to the bottom app bar... and then the Microsoft PDF Reader adds tabbed browsing (which is great), but puts those tabs on the top. Same thing as what I said about the start button... how are users who are new to this stuff supposed to ever learn if you have to do things differently depending on what app you're in?

Similarly, the search bars that developers are now being forced to put in their apps are all over the place. Say what you will about the Charms bar's discoverability, but there's a huge advantage in having system-wide functionality that is always in the same place. (And unfortunately, I wouldn't be shocked if Microsoft continues to step back from the Charms bar; they're already telling developers to use search boxes, print buttons, and even a button for DLNA Play To support in their 8.1 guidelines).

Plus, Microsoft added new stuff to the "Change PC Settings" app. That's great. But why does that mean that I can no longer right click on a Wifi network to have the PC forget it, or to switch it to a metered connection? The latter of those two things is buried deep in "Change PC Settings" and the former just doesn't exist any more.

The new multiple monitor scaling is a great start... but it continually overrides my IE11 (Metro) default zoom settings because it's tied to both displays (so if I want my Surface Pro built-in screen at 125%, it puts my work monitor at 83%). Changing as a default is good, but as soon as the user picks something, the OS shouldn't override it ever.

Syncing tabs is great, IE11 needed that to compete... but apparently I can't ever remove a device's tabs from that menu (long story, but a vhd install that I did of 8.1 was deleted, and no longer exists, but its tabs are still stuck in my list). And for that matter, it's probably a good thing to separate out Frequent and Bookmarks which were in the same bar in Metro IE10... but wouldn't it be nicer if it remembered which option of the two that the user last viewed?

The Photos app adds great photo editing support... but now I can't connect it to my Skydrive, Flickr, Facebook, or Skydrive-connected devices? Really?

Like I said above, there really is some great DNA in Windows 8.1, just like there was in Windows 8. It's just driving me crazy how for every (admittedly great) improvement, there's something equally as annoying subtracting from that. I'd love to hear if anyone else agrees or disagrees, or has other things I missed that are just as much a step backwards... or even just if anyone bothers to read a message that is this long. ;)