Microsoft is set to release version 8.1 of its operating system next week, and the update is more than just a service pack. There are many changes, with the Start button and Boot to Desktop leading the publicity list. But there is more to it than just those two items. PC Settings, a modern Control Panel-like center for customizing your computer and its settings, has been compressed, despite also adding features.
The differences between Windows 8 and 8.1 are not hard to spot once you place the two versions side-by-side. Here is a quick comparison of PC Settings between the two operating systems. In the image seen below, Windows 8 is on the left, while Windows 8.1 is pictured on the right side.
As you can see, the older version contains a much longer list, scrolling off the bottom of the screen, while Windows 8.1 is much more compact, requiring no scrolling down to find what you want. None of the options have gone away, they have simply been merged in an effort to add more efficiency in the new operating system.
Microsoft’s cloud storage solution is the new addition here, providing a quick overview of your account. File Storage provides information on your used and available space, but you can also choose to automatically upload photos (it’s set to do this by default), choose what settings sync between your Windows computers and control metered connections to save bandwidth.
Enter a Product Key
This option was not part of Windows 8 PC Settings and, as the name implies, it is simply a place to register your computer or enter a newly purchased key if you are doing an upgrade – such as regular to Pro. There is also an option to purchase a key right here, as well as to call support.
In addition, the screen tells you the key currently in use, though don’t get too excited, as it is all X’s except for the last 5 digits. Finding your entire product key remains a black art.
PC and Devices
This is a consolidation of two or three (depending how you look at it) previous categories in Windows 8 – Personalize and Devices, with a bit more. Under this heading are a number of sub-categories that allow you to change the image on your lock screen, setup Bluetooth, change power and sleep settings, view installed devices and play around with keyboard, mouse and display settings.
This simply allows you to make changes to your user account – change your picture choice, choose a different password and add or remove other users. Passowords supported included the usual set of characters, plus the ability to use a picture or a four digit PIN.
Search and Apps
This allows you to clear search history, add apps, control notifications (including “quiet hours”) and set defaults, such as web browser and music player.
A word of caution here for the tinfoil hat brigade: by default everything in privacy is turned on (as in not private). Your webcam is on. Your microphone is on. Your computer, and various apps, know where you are. Apps can access your name, picture and account information. In fact, I can see you right now! Okay, not really, but its something for the security conscious to be aware of. Each can be turned off individually.
Choose your wifi network, enable airplane mode, setup a proxy and control the Homegroup. Homegroup is the interesting thing here, as it readily supplies the password needed for other computers on the network to be able to connect to you.
Time and Language
There’s no point in spending much time on this — you get the point. You can change the settings that you originally chose during Windows 8.1 setup. The time could be handy for those who travel frequently, but I doubt many are looking to alter the language setting.
Ease of Access
I hope few of you require this, but thankfully Microsoft has included it for those who do. This provides access to have commands spoken for those with a hearing disability, magnification of the screen if you have trouble seeing, as well as a few options to make changes to the keyboard and mouse settings. You can also alter the visual and touch feedback.
Update and Recovery
And so we reach the bottom of the list. I wish I could tell you this was some miracle option that could save deleted files or data from dead hard drives, but it’s not all that. However, it does allow you to view Windows update history and, if you go to the File History section, will permit you to easily backup documents, music, pictures and more. Its off by default, but I recommend enabling it and plugging in an external drive and making a copy just in case things go horribly wrong.
Recovery is a rather handy option, as it allows you to “refresh” your PC without losing any data. In other words, its almost like reinstalling Windows. However, if it comes to that, then that option is here as well. As is Advanced Startup, which lets you boot from a USB or DVD, change firmware and more.
As you can see, while PC Settings are still similar, they are also much different, with more options and a condensed and easier to navigate list. Its just one of the many improvements that Microsoft has made for this release, and it should ease the pain that many customers were feeling with Windows 8.