() - Q. Should I install Windows 8.1 now that it's out? And can I make it seem like less of a stranger to me?
A. Yes, if your PC runs Win 8, by all means install the free Windows 8.1 update that Microsoft shipped two Thursdays ago. This sizable download - 2.81 gigabytes on my ThinkPad - smooths out many of the rough patches in Win 8 that have driven some Windows users to seek out PCs running the now 4-year-old Windows 7.
(Microsoft briefly yanked the 8.1 update for the mobile-optimized "RT" version of Windows 8 used on devices like its Surface tablet, but that didn't affect the desktop edition. The one installation glitch I've heard of on standard PCs involves a nag about "Secure Boot" not being configured correctly; you have to fix that by adjusting the computer's BIOS settings at startup.)
If, however, you still spend most of your time in the traditional Windows desktop, not Win 8's touch-optimized Start screen and its interactive live tiles, some extra settings adjustments are in order.
Fortunately, they're all in the same place. Switch over to the desktop, right-click the taskbar, select Properties and then click the Navigation tab in that settings window. Click the checkboxes next to the following options:
- "When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start." This will have your computer boot to the desktop instead of Start.
- "Show my desktop background on Start." This is a little change that can make Start and its Apps view look less alien.
- "Show the Apps view automatically when I go to Start." This lets Windows 8.1's Start button, which normally flips you over to the Start screen, operate more like the traditional Start menu - except that Win 8's Apps view list doesn't make you open sub-folders to get at some apps.
(If you miss the old-school Start menu's ability to provide shortcuts to the Control Panel and your Documents folder, you can still restore it with third-party utilities such as Stardock's Start8. But I find it easier to rely on shortcuts to those things in the taskbar.)
You should also consider two secondary options in this window:
- Unchecking "Search everywhere instead of just my apps when I search from the Apps view" means Win 8 won't waste your time showing non-app results when you're just trying to type the name of an app.
- And checking "List desktop apps first in the Apps view when it's sorted by category" pushes the Start screen's apps to the side.
Back in Win 8.1's Start screen, you may also want to undo one privacy option Microsoft includes in a list of recommended settings you can accept after updating to 8.1: a Web-prediction service that requires sharing your Internet Explorer browsing history with Microsoft so it can make an educated guess about what Web pages to queue up in the background (for instance, the next page of a story broken into three, four or more chunks).
To opt out of this, open IE from the Start screen, click or tap in the lower-right corner to bring up the "Charms Bar" list, select the gear icon, select Privacy, scroll down, and disable "Flip ahead with page prediction."
Tip: OS X Mavericks can tell you which app ate your battery
The other free operating-system update this month comes from Apple. OS X Mavericks ensures you can't miss some of its changes: Right after a successful installation, it prompts you to enable iCloud Keychain's encrypted synchronization of saved passwords among your Macs and iOS devices, while its Dock adds shortcuts to Mavericks' new iBooks and Maps apps.
(Travelers to our nation's capital should be wary of that last addition: Maps still doesn't know that a segment of Interstate 395 in Washington east of the 11th Street Bridge closed almost a year ago, so it routes drivers into what's now a large pile of dirt.)
But one addition in Mavericks is a lot less obvious. Its version of Activity Monitor - the helpful utility that can reveal which programs have eaten up an inordinate amount of memory or processor cycles - also reports the "Energy Impact" of each app, both at the moment and averaged over time. That's a great addition (hat tip to Lifehacker's Adam Dachis for pointing it out); can we get this in iOS next, please?
Is anything else particularly pleasing or problematic in Mavericks? Please let me know.
Rob Pegoraro is a tech writer based out of Washington, D.C. To submit a tech question, e-mail Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/robpegoraro.