I am running Windows 8.1 Update 1 — some people are calling this Windows 8.1.1 and should be available to the general public the first week of April 2014. There are many small enhancements throughout but the task bar is the one thing that really stands out to me. As you can see in the image below there are traditional icons and modern icons intermingled on the task bar. What’s interesting is that the modern icons don’t have the same rich feature set as their traditional counterparts. Notice in the two Lync icons that only the traditional icon has my presence indicator — the modern version is just a static icon. Likewise with Internet explorer. You don’t see it in the screenshot but the modern icon only shows a thumbnail of the active website — it does not show a preview for every open tab.
This is undoubtedly a transition release until Windows 9 is available. In Win9 we should see enhanced icons as well modern apps running in a windowed environment. All these are features I asked for when Windows 8 was originally released 18 months ago.
(Click to see full-size image)
Whether you like it or not, the Modern Windows is here. After a lackluster reception of Windows 8.0, the 8.1 update addressed many of our concerns — mainly around usability on non-touch devices. However, this was simply a minor point release and there is a long ways to go until the modern Windows can reach the maturity of a product like Win7. Below are the items at the top of my list for Windows 8.2, 8.5, 9.0, Windows.Next or whatever you want to call it.
- A unified app store between Windows, Windows Phone, and Xbox is a must. I know Microsoft is working behind the scenes to make this happen but this is huge to get developers on board on all platforms. If Microsoft can pull this off, conceivably, a developer can write one app to run across the phone, tablet, laptop, PC, and XboxOne. Obviously, this is a difficult task but it is not impossible.
- Don’t forget about the desktop. I’ve talked about it numerous times before, but companies like mine have invested countless dollars in training and traditional desktop programs. If we could throw this investment away — which we can’t — just to start over with a new set of apps and more training most people in my position would evaluate other alternatives instead of simply rolling out a desktop-less version of Windows. Look no further than my last post for my suggestions of how to evolve the desktop: ../windows-8-1-desktop-improvements/
- Find my device: This is one of those features that has been baked into WindowsPhone from the very start. It’s part of the OS, no app is required. There are now similar offerings with the Find My iPhone and various Android apps. By going to Windowsphone.com you can login and lock, erase, ring (even if your phone is on silent), or geo-locate your device. I was surprised that Win8.0 didn’t have this, even more surprised it wasn’t included with 8.1. So until this happens us corporate types will need to keep paying for third party services like Computrace.
- Bing Vision Services: Again, this is core WindowsPhone functionality that needs to be baked into Windows.next. This includes the music tagging services, bar code scanner, text translation, etc..
- Voice control. The quality of speech recognition has improved immeasurably since the first release of WindowsPhone7. So why isn’t it available in Windows 8.1 today? Windows 8.1 still has the same antiquated voice services from Windows 2000 which requires that you train the PC to hear your voice. You have to know the syntax it expects and there are very little natural speech commands. I realize that natural language queries require internet connectivity but what device isn’t connected these days? I hear that the “Cortana” service will take care of this requirement but we mayhave to until for a year or so.
- Live Tile organization. The jump from Win8 to 8.1 provided significantly improved features to manage and arrange your app tiles. This needs to keep moving forward with the next version. My suggestion would be collapsible tile groups. Today you can name a group and reposition it relative to the other groups in a linear fashion. The ability to collapse these groups into a vertical band would be a huge improvement how space is managed. The argument against this idea is that it hides the live tiles. My response is “who cares?” Let me manage my workspace how I want.
- Social Network Integration: There are two levels of integration here, and again, these are WindowsPhone features that should have been included with Windows from the beginning.
- In WP, the ease of which you can share a photo or other item to Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn is often overlooked. It is really a great feature. Don’t forget about Instagram.
- The WP PeopleHub is one of those simple, yet highly effective baked in features. It combines all your local and social contacts into a unified list. From here you can take action (post to Wall, tweet, call, send email, call on Skype, etc). There is a People App in Windows 8.1 but it doesn’t offer the same level of integration as the phone.
- Notification Center: This one is tricky and could clutter up the clean UI. I realize that each tile is essentially its own notification center but there needs to be a central store. I don’t think the iOS/Android swipe down method works best for Windows, but then again I don’t have an answer. Perhaps, the notification center needs its own tile. Better yet, how about a notification charm or a flyout from the charm bar?
- Precision cursor control. Again, I must be spoiled from using WP8, but why doesn’t Win8.1 allow you to precisely place the cursor where you want without using arrow keys?
- App switching enhancements. Windows.Next needs a touch initiated modern version of Expose to find all your open apps. The Alt-tab mini tiles along the left are not obvious enough.
- Streaming flexibility. I find it baffling that after all this time I still have a hard time streaming from Win8.1 to my xbox 360, or from my phone to my tablet, etc… Quit messing around with consortium and just make this work.
- Txt message syncing from my phone to tablet to xbox.
- A better Photo viewer app. Ok, I know this is just an app, but it needs some work. Today it is really a pain to view a large number of photos. There is no easy way to switch back to thumbnail view and you can’t sort your favorites from the junk pile. I miss the star rating system of the old Windows Live Photo Gallery tool.
One of the top three postings on my blog (in terms of page views) was my January 2013 article on How to Fix the Windows 8 Desktop. The sole purpose of this article was to highlight that there are still mouse/keyboard desktop users in this world and Win8.0 was missing a multitude of features for this large user base. As I stated over and over in the comments, I wasn’t condemning Win 8 itself – just the desktop usability. Now Windows 8.1 is available and there have been significant improvements to the OS in nearly every place you look and in many places you can’t see. But what about the desktop? Is it more usable than Win 8.0 for non-touch users? Below I take a look at my original list of suggestions and see how 8.1 addresses them.
So what has changed in the Windows 8.1 Desktop?
I won’t go into much detail on each item so I encourage you to check out the original post for justification why I want each feature? There is also a very healthy discussion and debate.
||Win 8.1 Status
|Only available with 3rd party plugin
||The Start Button has returned in 8.1. If you are in the anti-start-button crowd then you can disable it. Good decision by Microsoft and it is proof they do listen to customers.
||Only available with 3rd party plugin
||Although the Start Button is back, there is not an updated version of the start menu you are used to. This may not be what traditionalist had in mind, but the experience in 8.1 is definitely an improvement over 8.0. In 8.1 there are two screens — your Modern Start Screen and a new “all apps” screen – similar to the two screen modal in Windows Phone. Now when you install an app it is listed in “all apps” and not automatically pinned to your Modern Start Screen. In 8.0 the start menu was the Modern UI screen and other than tile placement there was no way to sort or organize your apps. In 8.1 the Start button takes you to the ”all apps” screen that can be sorted alphabetically, by most used, by date installed, and by category. It is a serviceable replacement for the real Start Menu but if you’re making the jump from Win7 to Win8.1 it does looks different and takes some time getting used to.
|Boot to the Desktop Option
||Only available with 3rd party plugin
||Yes, this is now available in 8.1. For us Corporate types, having a start button and the ability to boot to the desktop will make migrating to Win8.1 less painful for our users. In fact, this is probably the number one reason most corporations skipped Windows 8.
|Trashcan docked on the taskbar
||Still not possible. I don’t think this will ever happen since the desktop is now considered legacy and there is very little development occurring. However, it would have been one small item that would have made life easier for non technical people.
|Pin Modern UI apps to the desktop or taskbar
||Only available with 3rd party plugin
||Only available with 3rd party plugin
|Access Windows Store from the Desktop
||No option that I am aware of
||No option that I am aware of
|Preinstall/Integrate Skydrive to the desktop
||Desktop Skydrive had to be downloaded and installed manually.
||The Skydrive Desktop app is now preinstalled with Windows 8.1. In fact, it seems built in and not a separate app.
|Bring Back Free Windows Media Center
||This is only available as a $9.99 download from the Windows Store
||I have no idea what’s going on here. I think they have moved all new Media Center development to the Xbox One.
||Only available with Windows Media Center or 3rd party codec install (try explaining that to your grandma, your boss, or any other sane human.)
|Built-in Image Resizer
||No built in option. Numerous 3rd party options available, but I prefer this ultra simple tool.
||No built in option.
|Share From the Desktop
||Nothing can be shared from the desktop.
||Screenshots of the desktop can now be captured and shared with the Share Charm. This is actually a good idea since taking a screenshot without a keyboard often requires phalange gymnastics to hit the right key combo. This is an improvement over 8.0 but I still would like to be able to share a web page, a document, or other object from the desktop — not just a screen capture of what I’m look at. The screenshot sharing is a little akward since there is no easy to save the screenshot, only share it through an app or email. The share options need a “save locally” option.
|For the first few years of my blog’s existence, my WordPress security was mainly security-by-obscurity. I relied on the fact I averaged less than 100 views per day, so why would someone hack my site. Well, my traffic grew considerably and my site started getting attention I didn’t want. Besides, security-by-obscurity isn’t real security since most hackers don’t employ common sense when targeting sites. My site was getting hit with all kinds of attacks but most were iFrame injections that redirected users to another site.
Take my advice and implement these simple steps so you don’t have to learn the hard way like I did.
Think of security in layers. The more layers you apply the more secure your site becomes but the more overhead there is for you, the site owner. My suggestions below go 1.5-2 layers deep in the security model. I think it is a good balance between good security and manageability. While not a comprehensive list, it is a good start that will thwart most attempts at hijacking your site. Take my advice and implement these simple steps so you don’t have to learn the hard way like I did.
- Change the default Admin user name to something unique. The first hacking attempts are usually targeted at the admin account with a weak password.
- This should be common sense to all, but your password policy needs to multi-facetted to thwart brute force dictionary attacks. Your password needs to meet at least three of the following requirements, more if possible:
- Password length should be 8 characters at a minimum
- Passwords needs to have at least one number
- Passwords need to contain one capital letter — not necessarily at the beginning
- Passwords need to contain one special character such as ~, !, $, &, etc
- Passwords should limit the number of repeating characters
- Passwords should be changed every 90 days
- Keep WordPress and all plugins updated. Many of the minor releases are security related and rarely add new features.
- Many attack vectors are aimed at legacy WordPress code that is left behind after various WordPress upgrades. The free plugins called “WP-Cleanup” and “Look-See Security Scanner” do a great job cleaning up old unused files. Look-See Security Scanner in particular did wonders for me since my WordPress has been updated dozens of times over the past few years. The scanner plugin is updated in-step when new version of WordPress are released.
- Another step I took was to implement two-factor authentication through a plugin called Duo Two-Factor Authentication. This plugin requires you to enter a numeric coded each time you login with your admin username and password. The code changes each login and new ones can be emailed to you or sent via TXT message. It’s free, but you must register in order to associate your site with your email address or phone number.
Like I said above, this is not a comprehensive list but these are simple security fixes that will dramatically improve your site’s security. Take my advice and don’t learn the hardway.
preface: A follow-up to this article has been published outlining the improvements in Desktop mode from Win8 to Win8.1 Check it out: http://www.bowlesonline.com/windows-8-1-desktop-improvements
This is not a commentary on the new Windows immersive modern UI. This is a note (perhaps a prayer list) of what Microsoft could EASILY do to make the desktop usable again for corporate users such as myself and those who do not have a touch screen (you know, 99% of the installed base). I did a non-touch, non-guided focus group with a few of my 6,000 users. The results were disastrous.
A New Windows Chief
Now that Steven Sinofsky is out as Windows Head Honcho, Julie Larson-Green and Tami Reller have taken over. We all know Sinofsky is as stubborn as he is smart. That combination led to some crazy decisions with Windows 8, and is really hurting adoption at home and in the workplace. Even tough I have Win8 at home, I will not be deploying Win8 to my 6,000 users until these usability issues are addressed. JLG & Tami can step in and save Windows and save face without sacrificing all the work and Steve’s brilliant future visioning with relative ease.
So What’s the Problem with Win8?
|As much as I enjoy Win8 on touch devices (and it is really the foundation to a fantastic experience), it is equally frustrating with a mouse and keyboard. I truly LOVE and HATE this operating system at the same time. I’m not alone in this complaint. The overwhelming point of contention worldwide is the nearly absurd lack of usability with non-touch devices. Ask any non-touch user about simple tasks like a simple shutdown. The culprit is twofold: The removal of the traditional start button and the inability to boot directly to the desktop. Windows has always been about choice – sometimes absurd level of choice for the end user. With Win8 that’s not the case. You boot to the new UI whether you want to or not. Thankfully, several software companies have recognized the huge need here and stepped in with their own quality solutions. Check out Pokki’s start menu (free), Star Dock’s Start8 ($4.99), and ClassicShell (free). All of these options give you a start menu and allow you to boot to the desktop. I’m running the free Pokki add-on now and it is very simple to install and use. I actually prefer the look of Start8 much better but I don’t want to pay the $4.99. The problem with these solutions is that they are add-ons known only to the technical world. What’s Grandma to do when she fires up her new PC? I can’t overstate what a huge issue this – just do some reading and you will find many complaints about the same topic. Each of the start menu replacements all have seen downloads in the millions. Just think of the millions of eyeballs that are looking at the Pokki App Store everyday instead of using a native Windows 8 feature.
Just think of the millions of eyeballs that are looking at the Pokki App Store everyday instead of using a native Windows 8 feature.
Why Did This Happen?
So why did Sinofsky make these asinine changes? They haven’t stated publicly, but the general consensus is that they want to drive as much eyeballs and revenue through the Windows Store as possible. This strategy is backfiring. By forcing people away from the desktop, sales are not what they should be, and there are now significantly fewer visits to the Windows Store than they had projected.
How can Microsoft Fix the Windows 8 Desktop?
Here’s how JLG & Tami can throw the world a bone, do damage control, without admitting a few of Sinofsky’s decisions were completely disastrous. Before Windows Blue or 8.1 or whatever is released, the Windows team needs to release a “desktop enhancement pack.” This actually needs to happen VERY soon. The pack will replace lost functionality and give us new features. At a minimum, here’s what it needs to include:
- A traditional start button and menu that has a new Win8 look. We don’t need Aero just a clean, very functional start menu. They can even put a permanent icon, that’s really huge, pointing us to the new UI.
- An option to boot to the desktop or the new UI. Give us the choice. On my touch devices I will default to the new UI. On my non-touch PCs, I will boot to the desktop.
- A way to dock the trash can to the task bar. I wish I could put a large trash icon by the clock somewhere so it doesn’t get buried under a pile of open windows. This is a total usability feature for your techno-challenged fiends and relatives.
- Allow pinning of the immersive (Metro) apps to the Win8 desktop or taskbar. This is actually a request of a proficient, but non-technical family member. I set up the mail app for her business account but upon booting she immediately goes to the desktop. The only reason she goes Metro is to get to the mail app. If she could pin it to the desktop then she could live in the desktop all day. I looked around and saw some solutions for metro app pinning but they only worked in the betas. Furthermore, I would like for the metro apps to remember their last position. If it was pinned in the narrow format on the left, then it should be there next time I open it. And before you claim that desktop and metro apps don’t work well together, you can easily snap the desk side-by-side with any metro app today.
- An icon for the Windows store could be placed on the start menu and on the desktop. This would alleviate fears of losing visibility to the revenue generating Windows Store. Put it next to the start button so it gets accidentally clicked! Keep in mind I see the Pokki start menu offering me app suggestions every time I click on their start menu replacement . Too bad this isn’t the Windows Store offering suggestions.
- The Skydrive desktop app needs to be pre-installed. The Metro version is already pre-installed.
- Add an option to install Media Center (for free). Media Center had the best DVR I have ever used. It was so simply and clean before Win8 made clean cool. Too bad no one really knew about it.
- Add an option to install a DVD codec (for free). In case you didn’t know, Win8 cannot play a DVD unless your manufacturer installs the proper codec themselves. You read that right, Win8 cannot play a DVD.
- With today’s media pervasiveness it’s crazy there is no built in image resizer. Bring back this old Image Resizer PowerToy.
- Why can’t we use the Win8 Share Charm to share from the desktop? It makes perfect sense to use this charm to share photos, URLs, etc. Try it and you’ll get a “Nothing can be shared from the desktop” message.
What else would you include in the DESKTOP enhancement pack?
We are selling our house and four acres in Tulsa. This is a fantastic area! Please take a look: House and Land for Sale in Tulsa
Oklahoma Wall Art Photos
Even though my wife is the one who earns a living with photography, I’ve been asked over the years to sell some of my photos. I usually oblige and order a print. I’ve decided to make this easier on everyone and create my own photo art store. I’ve got a few photos in the store now and will be adding more over time. Go check it out! http://clients.gentryfoto.com/oklahoma
There are photos from Tulsa, Stillwater, Edmond, Oklahoma State University, UCO and various other locations across the state. If you would like to see one of these photos with a special edit, just let me know and I’ll see what I can do. Thanks!