Moving from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1 – a simple guide !

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The initial release of Windows 8 was aimed very heavily towards the use of touch screen devices and ended up alienating a lot of existing Windows 7 and XP users, most of whom were still using desktop and laptop devices without a touch screen.
To their credit Microsoft recognised this blunder fairly quickly and rushed out Windows 8.1 which centred the whole experience around the desktop again. In terms of public perception this was too late and the damage was already done, but to those who actually try it, Windows 8.1 is a fresher, faster way to use a Windows PC and offer many advantages over Windows 7.

The main cosmetic difference is that instead of a desktop screen and a program menu, there is now a Desktop screen and a Start screen - which is really just a program menu with big icons. There is also a third screen called the “Apps” screen which is a complete expanded list of all programs/apps on the machine and is just an expanded version of the Windows 7 programs menu.

Learn to love the Windows key !

The largely unused (in W7) Windows key (to the left of the space bar) is now a key navigational tool. The windows key switches between the desktop and the start screen. If ever you get lost, hit the windows key!

Your favourite programs can either be pinned to the taskbar on the desktop (as in W7) or as big icons on the Start screen. Or you can do both !

To pin an app or program just right click and you will get the “pin to” option on a menu.

To name or rename groups on the start screen just right click over the top of the group.

To rearrange groups, minimise the groups by clicking the bar in the left bottom corner of the Start screen.

To get to the “Apps” screen from Start – click the arrow in the bottom left. To get back to Start click the up arrow at the top of the Apps screen.

Use the corners

If you move the mouse to the top or bottom right of the screen the “charms” menu appears. This contains the “Search” “Share”, “Start”, “Devices “and “Settings” buttons. Pretty self explanatory.

Moving the cursor to top left displays a small picture of the last app you were working on, so if you switched to email while working on a Word document, a move to the top left allows a quick way to switch back to Word with one click.
Bottom left always bring up the Start Icon which bring you to the Start screen.

Two ways to do almost everything

Although the settings charm appears when you move the cursor to the corner there is an alternative “Windows 7” way to change almost everything. Control panel still exists as do most of the other links to change settings such as right clicking on the desktop to change screen resolution, or personalise your Windows theme.

Try forgetting everything you have ever learnt and use search

The search function in Windows 8.1 has been vastly upgraded and uprated.
Most of the navigation tools referred to above are the long way round! The real key to productivity in Windows 8.1 is in using search.

If you hit the Window key and start typing, Windows 8.1 will search apps, help files and everything else on the machine to find what you want.

A quick way to start Excel is to hit the Window ley and type “ex”, excel will come up on a list of results and you can then select it and start Excel. This approach works with programs, apps, pictures and files and almost everything else.

Apps and programs

Many Windows 7 “programs” have been remodelled into Windows 8.1 apps. This distinction is pretty trivial but is meant to give a similar look and feel to mobile “apps”.
However, they both run the same way under Windows 8.1 and are equivalent in all senses apart from Look and Feel.

Somewhat annoyingly several manufacturers and software producers have written an “App” whilst there already exists a perfectly good “program” to do the same thing. Lenovo is no exception and there is a Lenovo “Settings” app which presents many Lenovo settings in a simple application that are already accessible from more familiar places such as the Lenovo Solution centre. It is simply a case of preference which you use.

Many apps (including Windows Explorer) have a more modern “look and feel” which includes a full screen view. Some people find this disconcerting as the familiar “minimise” bar and “Cancel” cross are missing from the top right corner of the App window. They are not missing, just hidden – just move the cursor to the top right and the normal tool bar will appear.

And if all else fails, hit that Windows key !

New and good things about Windows 8.1

It starts up much faster!

You can define a 4 character PIN to replace your Windows password. This makes it quicker to sign in.

File backup is now File history.
 Windows 7 had a somewhat cumbersome file backup program to protect your files. This has been replaced by “File History” in Windows 8.

You will need an external drive to enable this feature. Once you plug in an external drive and make sure “File History” is turned on (hit Windows and type “file history” to search for it and switch it on) then after an initial period while it backs up all your data files, it will then keep a real time backup of all your data files, saving each version on the external disc as you change them.

This is a much more secure way of keeping a backup than the intermittent (and easily forgotten) Windows 7 backup. You do need to purchase an external drive equal to or larger than the size of your data files though. About twice the size of ALL your data (pictures music and documents) should be sufficient. The bigger the disc the more versions of each file it will store. This version history is very useful if you ever delete a large chunk of your file that you didn’t mean to. File History enables you to recover all previous revisions of the file.

Windows 8.1 has much improved recovery from crashes. Anybody who has watched Windows 7 attempting to “repair” a damaged system and waited many hours in vain for no result will appreciate this!

It is advisable to create a “recovery drive” as recommended by Windows 8. If your machine comes with a “recovery partition” on the main drive (like all new Lenovo machines) it will copy the entire recovery partition to the recovery drive.  A large USB key (64GB) is best for this, so the machine can be started even if the main hard disc drive fails.

You can change your Windows 8.1 user account from a local account to a “Microsoft Account”. This will back up all your setting and last used files so that you get the same user experience on every Windows 8.1 computer you sign in at.

Virus protection is built in to Windows 8.1 with “Windows 8.1” which runs in the background. No addition virus protection is necessary, but you can of course run your own paid for software if you wish.

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