Windows 8.1 brings some great new features, from a Start button and boot-to-desktop option to SkyDrive integration and a much more robust Modern interface. However, Microsoft is removing some features that were present in Windows 8.
It’s possible some of these features will make an appearance in the final version of Windows 8.1, but don’t count on it. What we see in the preview release is probably about what we should expect in the final release.
Windows 7 Backup & System Image Recovery
Windows 8 introduced a new, simpler backup solution known as File History. However, it also included all of Windows 7’s old backup tools, which you could use to create system image backups. However, Microsoft noted that Windows 7’s backup tools were considered deprecated.
With Windows 8.1, these deprecated backup tools are no longer present. Windows 8.1 still allows you to import backup images created with Windows 7, so you can access your old files, but you can’t create a Windows 7 backup or a system backup image anymore. The advanced startup options menu no longer includes a “System Image Recovery” option to restore from a system image.
If you want to create a system image backup or restore from one, you’ll need to use third-party backup software.
The Windows Experience Index
The “Windows Experience Index” provides a meaningless performing rating number by running tests in the background and rating your computer’s CPU, memory speed, graphics hardware, and hard disk data transfer rate. It has now been removed in Windows 8.1, and the number no longer shows up in the System Information window.
If you’d like to run any of the tests to view reports, you can still run the winsat command from a command line.
We’re fairly happy to see this go. The Windows Experience Index likes running itself to generate updated ratings after graphics card driver updates, and can consume a lot of system resources running benchmarks in the background — all to update a meaningless score. To prevent this from happening in previous versions of Windows, you had to disable the task manually in the Task Scheduler.
Libraries aren’t actually removed in Windows 8.1, but they might as well be removed for the average Windows user. Libraries no longer appear by default in the File Explorer app. In its place, you’ll find SkyDrive — Microsoft doesn’t want you to save your images and documents to your Pictures and Documents libraries, they want you to save them to your SkyDrive folder.
This decision is somewhat confusing, as Modern apps like the Photos app depend on libraries. if you want to view photos from a folder in your Photos app, you have to add it to your Pictures library — but the libraries are now hidden by default.
However, you can still re-enable the hidden libraries feature for now. To do so, open the View tab on the ribbon, click the Navigation pane button, and enable the Show libraries checkbox.
SkyDrive Sync Options
Windows 8 includes deep SkyDrive integration, so you can now use your SkyDrive cloud storage without installing additional software. However, Windows 8.1’s SkyDrive integration is fairly short on options. You can’t choose the location of your SkyDrive folder if you’d like it on another hard drive with more space instead of your system drive. SkyDrive also only downloads files for use offline when you open them or make them available offline, and there’s no easy way to tell at a glance what files are available offline.
If you’d like more SkyDrive syncing options, you can still install the SkyDrive client app on Windows 8.1. It’s unclear if Microsoft will continue offering this client application for Windows 8.1 in the future.
A Hidden Start Button
Steven Sinofsky and the rest of the Microsoft Windows team insisted that Windows 8 was better off without a Start button on its taskbar. Microsoft now disagrees with this line of thought and has re-added a Start button.
If you’re a Windows 8 user who bought into Microsoft’s vision of a Start button-less taskbar being superior, you’ll be disappointed to find that Windows 8.1 now imposes a Start button on everyone. Microsoft has swung from “no one gets a Start button” to “everyone gets a Start button” without stopping at “people can have a Start button if they want.”
If you want to get rid of the Start button, you’ll have to use some sort of third-party utility. We may see this option appear in the final version of Windows 8.1, but no one can say for sure.
Messaging App and Facebook Chat
The Messaging app, part of the communication suite, is missing in action in Windows 8.1. The app package is now just “Mail, Calendar, and People” — no Messaging. This isn’t a big surprise — Microsoft wants to consolidate their messaging platforms into Skype. Skype isn’t included in the Windows 8.1 preview, but we’ll probably see the Modern Skype app included by default in Windows 8.1.
However, the Modern Skype app doesn’t contain support for talking to people on Facebook chat, as the Messaging app currently does. Microsoft says that a Modern Facebook app is on its way, so they’ve likely given up on developing Facebook chat on their own.
Photos Services Integration
There’s a new Photos app in Windows 8.1, which finally includes some basic photo-editing tools — that part is an improvement.
The Photos app in Windows 8 brought together photos stored in different places, including Facebook, Flickr and SkyDrive. Unfortunately, the new Photos app only works with images stored on your computer. It no longer even includes integration with Microsoft’s own SkyDrive service.
Microsoft has said that Facebook will be offering photo support as part of a Modern Facebook app and invited Yahoo! to write their own Flickr app.
Let’s look at a few Modern apps and how they’ve evolved since release:
- The Photos app no longer allows you to view photos from Facebook, Flickr, or even SkyDrive.
- The Messaging app, which allowed you to chat on Windows Live Messenger and Facebook, is no longer present. It will be replaced be a Modern Skype app that only allows you to chat on Skype, and not on Facebook.
- The Calendar app no longer connects to Google Calendar. It can now only connect to Microsoft services like Outlook.com and Exchange.
These apps were clearly supposed to be “hubs” — rather than having a single app for every service you’d use, all your photos, messages, and calendar events would live in a single hub app that brought together your content from everywhere. Now, Microsoft is saying a Facebook app is on its way and encouraging Yahoo to build a Flickr app. Microsoft would probably like Google to build a Google Calendar app, too — they’re clearly in no rush to add support for Google Calendar using its new API.
It seems Microsoft is leaving the idea of Windows Phone-style “hubs” behind and moving towards single, isolated apps for every service, like you’d find on Android and iOS. Perhaps Microsoft was never really behind the idea of hub apps and was only including support for popular services to jump-start Windows 8.
The biggest missing feature is definitely the removal of system image backup and restore, so people who depend on Windows’ integrated system image support will have to look for other dedicated backup and restore applications.
Most other removed features aren’t particularly important, although the shift away from smart hub apps to service-specific apps removes one of the Modern environment’s distinguishing features.