Who would ever want to buy a new computer and be forced to start using Windows 8? Well, this guy right here for one.
The truth is, ever since Windows 8 came out, I abhorred the thought of buying a new computer and having to use Windows 8. Every review I ever saw of it displayed these atrocious looking “modern” windows with big square blocks meant for tablet users. I was a happy Windows 7 user, and intended to keep it that way.
Then, my laptop died. I was in a predicament where I had no choice but to buy a new computer. I was informed by MakeUseOf colleagues that with Windows 8.1, you can revert to Windows 7 if you want to. So with that assurance, I purchased an ASUS Flip.
Giving into the next generation of Windows was probably one of the best decisions I could have made. If you haven’t yet – and you’re still clinging to Windows 7 like I was, I’m going to show you how moving to Windows 8 can boost your efficiency and make you far more productive at everything you do on your computer.
Quickly Opening Apps
The first thing many people noticed (and hated) about Windows 8 was the disappearance of the Start button in favor of this busy start screen with live tiles. It was a train wreck. In fact, it was because of all the bad press that a lot of people decided to put off buying a new computer.
Thankfully, with Windows 8.1, Microsoft took that negative feedback into account, and brought back the start button (among other things).
Yes, the Start button brings you to the live tile screen and all things metro/modern, but nevermind all that. We’re looking for efficiency – and what you can do on that screen will provide you with that. All you have to do is start typing the name of the app you want to open, and there it is.
The search menu immediately pops up, you can click on the app, hit enter, and it launches.
This is a beautiful thing. You avoid all of the Start > All Programs > etc… clicking nonsense from Windows 7; by simply clicking the Start button and typing the name of the app, you launch an app in simply two clicks and some typing. The time saving benefit of this can’t be understated.
If you’re like me and you really prefer working from the desktop most of the time, you can configure the computer to boot right to the desktop when it starts up. Just go to Control Panel > Taskbar and Navigation and click Show My Desktop Background on Start.
Now you can work from the same sort of desktop UI you were comfortable using in Windows 7, and you can launch any program from the Start menu in a few seconds – faster than you ever could with Windows 7.
One-Search Desktop and Web Results
Speaking of the search dropdown menu; another fantastic time-saving feature in Windows 8.1 is the ability to search both your computer and the Internet at the same time.
To enable this feature, just go to PC Settings > Search and Apps and turn on the option to “Get search suggestions and web results from Bing“.
Now, for example, if you want to get your local weather, don’t even waste time opening a web browser. Just click the Start button, and start typing the name of the town or city where you live. You’ll see the local weather, as well as a list of most relevant web search items.
The coolest thing is when you click on those results, you see the web information that’s available in a beautifully laid out format. For example, when I searched for “map of main towns“, the results page (still not having to open any web browser), revealed the top web pages available on the topic, as well as actually map images available along the left side of the results page.
You can click on any of the websites to finally open your default browser and visit the site.
Or, you can actually install content-provider apps from the Store and view information right on your computer. No browser required.
One of my favorite apps for this is the Wikipedia app. Search for detailed encyclopedia-like information using the Windows search feature, and get the wiki results and information instantly.
It is easy to see how quick access to nearly unlimited information can save a ton of time for anyone who frequently needs to look up facts or other information on the web. Save yourself some time and install the Wikipedia app and do all that research right on your computer in seconds.
Easy Access to Help and Settings
One of the biggest issues I had with all previous versions of Windows was the fact that the Help was virtually useless. It wasn’t so much that information couldn’t be found there, but the Help menus and navigation was so convoluted and difficult to navigate that I stopped even trying.
If you had the same frustrations with Windows Help, you will be thrilled with Help & Tips on Windows 8.1. To get to it, just click the Start button and type “help“, then click on “Help + Tips“.
You can use the search field to find exactly what you’re looking for, or use the well-categorized sections that are displayed to drill down to what you need. The organization of these menus is light-years ahead of what used to be available.
Again, if you simply can’t find a particular settings menu on your computer, the Start screen search feature comes to the rescue. Just type “settings” and you’ll see a long list of Windows settings available, or if you know more specifically what you’re looking for, just type it in and you see it show up in the dropdown.
No more digging through the control panel to try and find what you need. If there was ever a time-saver in switching to Windows 8.1, this is it.
Multiple App Views
The next big time saver on Windows 8.1 is a combination of ways to get access to the applications you currently have open.
If you’re a long-time Windows 7 user, then you’re most certainly used to the ability to pin apps to the taskbar and quickly see a live mini-preview of that window. Yes, you’ve still got that in Windows 8.1.
Well with Windows 8.1, you’ve got many more options available to preview, open, and close applications. The coolest feature, in my opinion, is the same sort of app-switching functionality that you’d see on Android or iOS tablets.
To enable easy app switching, just go to the PC Settings > PC and devices > Corners and edges.
Enable “Allow switching between recent apps“. Once you do that, you can simply move your mouse to the upper-left side of the screen to see a slide-out open showing all of your recently opened applications.
And if that’s not enough to make you smile, then you’ll want to start playing around with the “Snap view” feature. Unlike the limited “snapping” in Windows 7 when you dragged a window to the right or left extreme side of the screen, Windows 8.1 has a load of new features that make snap view so much more useful.
Making it happen is simple. If you swipe in from the left side of the screen, you can choose from the preview list of open apps. Drag the one you want to open onto the screen and hold it until the split bar shows up. Just drop the app on the side where you want it. You can resize the split to wherever you like.
You’ll notice in the picture above, I have an app open on the left, and the desktop on the right. This is why the snap feature is so much cooler on Windows 8.1. This is a split screen with a fully-functioning desktop view on one side – not just splitting two windows on the screen. Both sides are working independent of each other.
You’ll hear people tell you that you can’t resize apps on Windows 8. Well, that’s not true, as you can see. Just snap the app and then resize the split to your preferred view.
How is this a time saver? Well, if you only have on screen to work with and you really need side-by-side windows to see information on one side for your activity in the other, this is a fast and easy way to get the job done – without having to worry so much about the two windows overlapping or otherwise interfering with the other view.
Fast Cloud Drive Access
Mounting a cloud drive as an actual drive on your PC isn’t new. For quite a while now, you could mount a synced drive to Dropbox, Google Drive or Amazon Cloud Drive.
However, the ease with which you can do this on Windows 8.1 is astonishing. Of course OneDrive is essentially embedded as a drive right from the moment you fire up your PC out of the factory.
Maybe using OneDrive as your own cloud storage solution is enough. However, if you’re like me – messing around with all sorts of ways to mount external FTP and file storage accounts as virtual drives – then you’re going to love how seamlessly cloud services like Google Drive or Dropbox mount like a regular drive in Windows 8.1.
Here’s a money-saving top: If you want to use non-Microsoft services like Google Drive, you might want to avoid the Store completely and just download the app available from the outside service.
For example, GDrive Pro, a Store app that lets you mount a virtual drive that’s synced with your Google Drive account, costs $3.99. However, you can just head right over to download Google Drive for Desktop straight from Google for absolutely free.
The truth is, Windows 8 gave a lot of potential computer-buyers a very bad taste in their collective mouths, forcing people to start looking for alternative solutions like Chromebook or some Linux distro.
Thankfully, Windows 8.1 came along just in time. The tweaks and features added to the latest version truly made this latest version of Windows an enjoyable OS to use. Windows 10 is certainly on the way, and Tina suggests that it might make us even more productive than ever before, but if your computer is dead and you’re dreading buying one of those Windows 8.1 systems in the electronics store, fear no more. You are sure to enjoy this fast and productive OS, once you get the hang of it. Besides, you can still downgrade to Windows 7 or upgrade to Windows 10 for free once it’s available.
Are you a Windows 8.1 user? Has your opinion about it changed since you’ve been using it? Share your own opinions about Windows 8 productivity in the comments section below!